WASHINGTON — The United States has charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with one count of conspiracy to hack a computer related to his role in the 2010 release of reams of secret American documents, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday just hours after British authorities arrested him in London.
The single charge, conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, stems from what prosecutors said was his agreement to break a password to a classified United States government computer. It is not an espionage charge, a significant detail that will come as a relief to press freedom advocates. The United States government had considered until at least last year charging him with an espionage-related offense.
Mr. Assange, 47, has been living at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012. British authorities arrested him after he was evicted by the Ecuadoreans. The Metropolitan Police said that Mr. Assange had been detained partly in connection with an extradition warrant filed by the authorities in the United States.
Mr. Assange, born in Australia, has long been in the sights of the United States government since his 2010 release of American documents and videos about the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and confidential cables sent among diplomats.
Mr. Assange has most recently been under attack for his organization’s release during the 2016 presidential campaign of thousands of emailsstolen from the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee, leading to a series of revelations that embarrassed the party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. United States investigators have said that the systems were hacked by Russian agents.
Mr. Assange will have the right to contest the United States extradition request in British courts. Most people who fight extradition requests argue that the case is politically motivated rather than driven by legitimate legal concerns.