Ellsberg Says Assange, as a Journalist, Can’t Be Tried Under Espionage Act

In an interview with Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says the Espionage Act, under which he was indicted, cannot apply to Julian Assange because he is a journalist. 

Speaking during an online vigil for Assange organized by Unity4J.com, Ellsberg told Lauria that the motive for U.S. leaders to protect their secrets and go after Assange has nothing to do with their mantra of “national security.” 

“The purpose is not to protect national security, but to protect the asses of the people who wrote the directives” of classified material, most of which should never have been classified, Ellsberg said. 

Ellsberg, 87, said that as a publisher and journalist, the Espionage Act cannot be applied to Assange, as it should not have been applied to Ellsberg for non-spying activities when he released the Pentagon Papers revealing that the U.S. government long knew it was losing the Vietnam War but continued lying to the American public. 

“Julian is not a whistle blower per se, but a facilitator of whistleblowing,” Ellsberg said, “…the point being that as a journalist, he can not fairly be tried under the Espionage Act.”

As one who only received classified material and published it, “It is essential that Julian Assange not be indicted, be convicted, or be extradited to the United States,” Ellsberg said. 

You can watch the entire 38 minute and 17 second interview here:

49 comments for “Ellsberg Says Assange, as a Journalist, Can’t Be Tried Under Espionage Act

  1. September 8, 2018 at 10:38

    oh Danial Ellsberg, thank you for speaking out,, we need this, people to come forward,,Julian is more of the 4th estate than any other journalist today , He told the public what we need to know, to see through our gov’t and the totalitarian state the gov’t is involved in the installment of,,, This is an economic,(Koch brothers) depopulation, Kissinger, surveillance NSA, CIA et. al. organization, NSA,collects data, CIA, carries out the actions designated by above information. NSA sells all data to foreign entities, what data,,???, what foreigners???? Does this entail Treason by that exchange????? NSA considers itself a corporation rather than part of gov’t,, it stated it did not want congressional oversight “at any cost” ,Snowden papers , what does that tell you? These fuckers wanna take over the world for themselves and kill off as many of us as they want… kill with impunity. Wellstone, Hastings, are two I can mention… Where are “their” investigations for these two deaths. Sorry guys but democracy is at stake and I must speak out.. you cannot be above the law. The rule of law no one is exempt, Kavanaugh must not be elected, he can write the law,,,for these guys for a totalitarian state,,, aBortion is a distraction… not the real event, like the constitution convention is a takeover they can rewrite the constitution anyway they want,,,, this is a planned coup… nicely done though. Over decades… amazing,, We have to fight this we have tooooooo
    Regards,.Barbare Guillette

  2. Nate
    September 8, 2018 at 10:04

    Julian has done more for America than Hillary Clinton has. Hillary is a actual crimal. She had top secret classified email in her home server! Free Julian!

  3. September 7, 2018 at 10:15

    How excellent explanation! Thank you.

  4. mrtmbrnmn
    September 6, 2018 at 18:03

    Just watched “Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man In America”. I well remember those days. You were heroic. The NY Times was heroic. Likewise the other newspapers who followed. What a difference 4 decades makes! The NY Times and its media Coven are now malpracticing journalism. Turning your heroic & important actions inside out and upside down. There is nothing heroic about being the Amen Corner and propaganda delivery devices for a lying & conniving, corrupt & illegal Deep State.

  5. William
    September 6, 2018 at 17:43

    The U.S., my country, is guilty of so many crimes that it is difficult to know which to address first. The monstrosity that the great American democracy has morphed into cannot be curbed or changed until every blog and news source of any kind recognizes and
    states clearly and without obfuscation the obvious fact that the mainstream U.S. media is owned or controlled by Jews. Now that is
    simple enough and could be verified or refuted quickly by any competent reporter. But no competent reporter is going to mention such an outlandish idea on his own, nor could he. No major print or electronic media outlet would ever, ever, ever allow such a truth telling
    to occur. And that, my friends, is the truth, the hard truth. And no one above the rank of corporal will ever disavow this truth.
    The mighty U.S., betrayed by its own congress, has become a mere vassal of Israel, the perpetrator of the greatest and most successful
    fifth column in world history.

  6. Crystal Anne Mourad
    September 6, 2018 at 17:19

    There is way too much secrecy in gov’t. Thank God for Assault and those like him. We are a gov’t BY the people not dictators or bureaucrats!

  7. Hide Behind
    September 6, 2018 at 11:56

    Sorry , not!
    To those outside borders of US, who and what do you belong?
    What citizenship do you hold, and is your government truly sovereign?
    How much influence does the US Leadership and your own leaders, shared is of common integration?
    Does your oil and Natural gas not fall under power of Petro Dollars?
    Can the US call for and get to hold your nations banking systems, payments from nations , freezing assets such as Iran, Libya, and other nations?
    Has US not extradited people’s from your nations that US say are criminals, such as financial, (And let’s not forget those nations who aided and took part in renditioning Arabs to torture center), of brought suit against banks that legally broke none of your laws?
    Do your nations have true speech laws, hate speech and State Security restrictions, as to State Security control over media, how he’ll do you find out what they have restricted as even their telling you breaks State Security.
    Does your nations buisness, even at cost to its own people, not automatically stop trade with nations US orders embargoes upon.
    You sit in your perfumed outhouses, all the while your nations political and financial leaders think their sh.. doesn’t smell.
    Rule of law, what and heck is Rule of Law? Laws are restrictions, any law can be passed against singular or group actions, limits upon speech¿¿¿¿,
    It is not the written laws that matter, it is the “Spirit of the Law” that should be paramount!
    If one cannot understand that concept, then there are no boundaries placed upon those who write the laws.

  8. September 6, 2018 at 11:09

    During the IRA bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, which lasted from the 1970s to the 1990s, extradition requests of known terrorists living in the U.S.A. to be returned to the U.K. were fiercely fought in U.S. courts for years, and were mostly turned down. Some of those terrorists were wanted for murder. As Assange has not murdered anyone, or committed a crime that amounts to an act of terrorism, or treason, in the U.K., any extradition request from the U.S. government might be counter-productive, as it would lead to court actions opposing extradition, which could be very lengthy. It could even end up in the European court of Human Rights.

    At the moment, Assange is only wanted for jumping bail in the U.K. and, as he is not a U.K. citizen, charges of treason do not apply. It defies belief that a citizen of another nation can be charged with treason in the U.S., when he can’t betray a country to which he doesn’t belong, as such, and certainly not while on foreign soil. Under British law, the U.S. cannot bypass the British legal system and neither can the British government, come to that.

    The journalists that committed the “acts of treason” in the U.S. worked for the outlet that published the Wikileaks material, The New York Times.

  9. James Odling
    September 5, 2018 at 23:31

    More on your mention (about minute 14) about KPFA not being all aboard for defense of Julian, please.

  10. Mark Perantoni
    September 5, 2018 at 21:52


  11. jsinton
    September 5, 2018 at 20:49

    Bullshit! It depends on what he did exactly, doesn’t it? Journalists have legal limitations, do they not? Since we don’t know what’s in the sealed indictment, then we don’t know anything yet. Please don’t grasp at straws and expect me to buy it.

  12. mike k
    September 5, 2018 at 19:11

    The deep state has no respect for any laws. The illegal detention of Assange and so many others proves that. If they consider you a problem, they have seven ways from Sunday to get you.

  13. September 5, 2018 at 19:03

    Thanks Dan for clarifying this issue. Many on the left were turning their back on Julian over Russia Gate the action a real FREE Press should be doing, except they are also corporate owned.

  14. September 5, 2018 at 17:55

    Today in September 2018, after 9/11 total destruction of the US Constitution, the US is run by the lawless CIA who are up all laws they want to.

    • S. M. de Kuyper
      September 5, 2018 at 17:56

      CIA makes up law at whim and will!

  15. Vera Gottlieb
    September 5, 2018 at 14:53

    And since when does the US adhere to any law(s) not suitable to it???

  16. andrea tierney
    September 5, 2018 at 14:18

    I have written an email to the National Union of Journalists in London. Below is its content. I have done so on 2 other occasions over the past 5 years, but never received even a response.

    I would like to make you aware of the principled stand made by Daniel Ellsberg in the US, who is defending the rights of Julian Assange in the face of a very likely prosecution by the US authorities on the grounds of espionage.


    The NUJ has it within its power to make Julian Assange a member of its union and to defend his right to publish and protect his sources. As Ellsberg says, as a journalist Assange cannot be tried for the Trumped up charge of espionage.

    I would value your response.
    Andrea Tierney

  17. September 5, 2018 at 12:53

    Julian is not really a journalist. He never worked for any newspaper. It is much more realistic to see him as a hacker who has used his incredible hacking skills to find a way for whistle blowers to avoid risk of disclosure of secrets. From this “humble beginning” he has become an world famous activist. Perhaps hackers are at heart activists. What the governments want is his software. They want to be able to stop the leaks which have been so devastating to their underhanded secret military and political projects. But prosecuting him will only make him a martyr and there will be many more like him popping up.

    • Groucho
      September 5, 2018 at 15:31

      Hacker; “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system” [Miriam Webster].
      Assange has not, so far as I’m aware ever been accused of hacking anything. Assange took information hacked or leaked by others and published it. That is the act of a journalist. The technical means by which that information is published does not determine whether that publication constitutes journalism or not. It is ridiculous, in this day and age to suggest that one must work for a newspaper to be considered a journalist.

      • September 7, 2018 at 15:39

        Excellent points, Groucho, thank you.

    • yl
      September 5, 2018 at 15:33

      Daniel Good. The internet has changed that paradign. There are many excellent journalists populating the internet
      who don’t work for the legacy media and who never have.

    • Andrew Nichols
      September 5, 2018 at 21:15

      But prosecuting him will only make him a martyr and there will be many more like him popping up.

      He’s a genuine hero but his prosecution will send waves of terror through anyone even vaguely inclined to do the service to mankind that he has done. We are entering a dark age where the mainstream media and deep State make no secret of their symbiosis in hiding the crimes against humanity.

      The lack of support from mainstream journos is cowardice

    • Joe Wallace
      September 7, 2018 at 11:19

      Daniel Good:

      Ray McGovern, one of our finest, most principled journalists, has never worked for a newspaper.

  18. September 5, 2018 at 10:45

    We are from Uruguay, we want to pressure our government to grant asylum to Assange, or the government of Ecuador to reconsider its position. What can we do? Can you give us any ideas?

  19. RickD
    September 5, 2018 at 08:23

    I am puzzled by Ellsberg’s apparent naivety, think, as he seems to in this piece, that the laws are dispassionate, that they are evenly applied, or that laws about intelligence matters are just at all.
    An old, and unattributed saying expresses it best I thnk; “Free access to information is the oxygen of democracy “.
    Thus laws are created, not to fairly judge, but to unfairly protect.

    • Rob
      September 5, 2018 at 11:53

      Your view is entirely cynical, although it contains an element of truth. Still, I don’t think that anything that Ellsberg said in this interview is indicative of naïveté. Given his life experience and his gigantic intellect, he may one of the least naive people in the world.

  20. Dmitry Babich
    September 5, 2018 at 05:12

    Thank you, Daniel Elsberg. THis is the reason I rad with my students the story of your “Pentagon Papers” when I teach international journalism in a Moscow high school number 548. To me, this is a high honor – to be known and remembered by adolescent journalists…

    • Litchfield
      September 5, 2018 at 14:19

      Hello, Dmitry!

      Dobriy Den’. I am glad to see you posting here. I very much enjoy your comments on Cross Talk. You are always so thorough, methodical, well-prepared. You build your analyses piece by piece before presenting your conclusions. Peter Lavelle often is too impatient to hear you out! Now that I know what your day job is, I can see where you approach comes from.

  21. polistra
    September 5, 2018 at 04:51

    “Laws” don’t exist. Only power exists.

    If Deepstate wants to try and convict Assange, it will. If Deepstate doesn’t want to try and convict Assange, it won’t. “Laws” are an utterly irrelevant variable.

  22. September 5, 2018 at 04:19

    Does he sincerely believe that the rule of law still applies in the United States?


    CIA Torture Gulag?

    Election fraud?


    Neocon Wars?

    If the people with power want to get Assange, they will.

    • Rob
      September 5, 2018 at 12:02

      Do you truly think that Ellsberg is unaware of the corrupt system in which we live? That would be absurd. What he is telling us is to continue fighting against the system, as he and others have done. The system, in the end, may win, but at least we will have fought the good fight. The only other alternative is to submit.

      • September 5, 2018 at 12:47

        Perhaps so, but what a waste of breath.

        Ellsberg fought his own battles decades ago, and what has been the net effect?

        America is worse today than ever.

        More dishonest.

        More willing to kill on a large scaleby multiple means.

        More threatening to other nations.

        Simply more aggressive than I can ever remember.

        An industrial-scale extrajudicial killing system, a hi-tech version of what the old Argentine junta used to do to make people “disappear.” And it operates day and night with no sense of concern from America. We had “Kill Lists” on Obama’s desk. Trump doesn’t even bother. The CIA deciding the fates of innocent people in dozens of locations.

        The political system is in virtual chaos, and not just because of Trump, although he has done nothing but add to it. Hillary Clinton caught red-handed in cheating for the nomination. Her husband caught having a secret meeting with the ten AG. The murder of the campaign worker who likely was the source of the material, and it goes unsolved and largely ignored.

        Assange is very right not to have trusted his fate to America, when he had a choice, but of course good old America is working hard in secret so that he no longer will have a choice.

        • yl
          September 5, 2018 at 14:28


          An empire in its death throes, and no doubt more lethal. Johan Galtang predicted its end in 2020. He also correctly predicted the end of the Soviet Union and several other regimes. Several videos on Youtube.

          Also discussions here: http://peacefromharmony.org/?cat=en_c&key=599

        • Mark Walker
          September 5, 2018 at 17:02

          Mr. Chuckman,

          “Ellsberg fought his own battles decades ago, and what has been the net effect?”

          So your contention is, no Pentagon Papers risk/saga, and things would be the same, better?

          So far we’ve kept our Republic for 230 years. How were Ellsberg’s battles not helpful in making it that far? Seems to me they are still helping, like a beacon from the past. To navigate requires two waypoints, one of which is where you are from.

          “W” would have been goofy happy to be our King, and the “Powell Memo” Right would have been just dandy advisors. Nixon would have been a completely typical King. He likely believed he deserved to be the absolute leader of America.

          How secret is an ill-advised meeting starting in complete view of the public at a major airport. I guess we know how B. Clinton spells optics, very poorly. Why was Sanders, an avowed Independent, horning into the Democratic Primaries and failing to engage as a party player for the purposes of the election? He had the effect of a third-party candidate which historically pushes our elections away from the more likely winner.

          Your last paragraph though is spot-on.

          • Ed
            September 5, 2018 at 22:27

            I agree. The release of the Pentagon Papers helped change minds in regard to the Vietnam war.

        • Rob
          September 6, 2018 at 19:58

          Yeah, you’re right. Ellsberg never should have released the Pentagon Papers, even though they did serve as a major boost to the anti-war movement and turn public opinion against the war. What a waste of time and effort. Imagine how many more people we could have killed, if not for that.

    • September 5, 2018 at 15:34

      “If the people with power want to get Assange, they will.”

      especially if we, the people without power except to complain about it, allow them to.

  23. john wilson
    September 5, 2018 at 04:18

    The deep state are the ones out for Julian’s blood and they have demonstrated time and again that they are above the law. Anyway, the deep state doesn’t need to use the treason act, they can change him with hacking computers etc either on his own or in concert with other people both in the US or elsewhere. Another reason the treason charge is a non starter, is that he is not a US citizen and as such can’t be guilty of a treasonous act. Quoting law as though it has some sort of power, is like trying to stop an elephant going up a one way street with a pea shooter!! The Yanks want Assange and the British are the Americans servants an co-conspirators so they will hand him over whether or not there is a viable charge against him.

    • September 5, 2018 at 04:23

      Well said.

      As for today’s Britain, well, look at Theresa May’s disgusting act.

      Hurling charges at heads of government without offering a shred of evidence about anything.

      And that decent man, Corbyn, is being torn apart by a pack of wolves with regard for democratic process or the need to give evidence supporting ugly charges.

      It’s in a sad state.

      • john wilson
        September 5, 2018 at 05:40

        Hi Chuckman: Its worth remembering that Trump too was for ever in the media being castigated on all fronts. He was given constant publicity that lesser candidates could only dream of but he won the presidency precisely because of the media’s attentive baying. Corbyn may yet benefit from this media witch hunt and the British people always love an under dog. I think the Jewish rubbish will back fire because most people in Britain couldn’t care less about the Jewish saga and Israel, they are much more concerned about bread and butter issues. I hope the media goes on bashing Corbyn and that he uses the exposure to hammer home his own message just as Trump did.

        • September 5, 2018 at 12:50

          I hope you are right.

          Corbyn is a decent man in politics, not a common thing.

          But the attacks are relentless and receive a lot of biassed support, The Guardian especially but not exclusively.

      • Kieron
        September 5, 2018 at 12:50

        Good point John. The issue is simply though. Theresa May will stand up in the house and sprout all sorts of rubbish. We, that follow news sites like this understand the total hypocrisy of Britain’s so called foreign policies. However, two problems, firstly the MSM never question these policies or statements with genuine journalistic focus. Secondly, the government know that because the truth isn’t being told what’s really going on, the public are just tripping along in blind ignorance. Hence nothing gets done. The government can do as they please. Or at least what the US tells them.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      September 5, 2018 at 04:39

      The Espionage Act is not the same thing as being charged with treason.

      • Don K
        September 5, 2018 at 13:14

        Since he’s not an American citizen, I should think Assange can’t be charged with treason by America.
        He could be arrested for any number of crimes and held for years without trial, given the way our system works. He might even be taken to Guantanamo.

      • Ed
        September 5, 2018 at 22:31

        True. The Espionage act allows prosecution of non-citizens under US law. Many of the charges of treason aimed at Julian Assange that I’ve read about come from ignorant politicians and pundits.

    • C
      September 5, 2018 at 09:23

      Assange didn’t hack any computers. The information that he published was leaked, not hacked. But, that’s not to say that they wouldn’t charge him with it.

    • Litchfield
      September 5, 2018 at 14:24

      It is very distressing to me to know that not only has Julian been tortured for six years, but now that he is totally isolated, he can AFAIK have no idea how many people on the outside are in his corner. This is the existential condition that Amnesty International was created to challenge: To communicate with the prisoner so that he or she knows he or she is not alone and not forgotten. I hope Julian has a way to know that he has not been forgotten.

      The USA has become terrifying

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