(Press tv) -- US officials familiar with the issue told CNN on Thursday that the Justice Department’s investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks goes back to 2010, but prosecutors have struggled since then with whether the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibited the prosecution of Assange.
However, now they believe they have found a way to arrest the man who published thousands of files taken away by the former US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning.
During the administration of former President Barack Obama, the Justice Department determined it would be difficult to charge Assange because WikiLeaks wasn't the only entity which published documents stolen by Manning. Several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Guardian, also published those documents.
According to US officials involved in the process, investigators changed their view after they found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in assisting former NSA analyst Edward Snowden to disclose a massive cache of confidential documents.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden after Swedish prosecutors issued a European arrest warrant against him. Assange has denied the rape accusations, and says the claims are part of an attempt to ultimately have him extradited to the United States, where he could be charged over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Last week, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) called WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” accusing its chief of helping the enemies of the US.
"WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service, and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said April 13 while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an American think tank based in Washington, DC.
Pompeo said WikiLeaks is overwhelmingly focused on the US and encourages its followers to join the CIA with the sole purpose of obtaining intelligence.
He said WikiLeaks "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States."
"It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," Pompeo said.
WikiLeaks embarrassed the US intelligence agency last month by leaking its confidential documents. The documents detail technological vulnerabilities the spy agency uses to hack into electronic devices.
Assange has slammed the CIA for withholding the information about the vulnerabilities and preventing the tech industry and government officials from taking the necessary steps.
The US government has often described WikiLeaks as a tool of Russian intelligence agencies.
In December, the CIA said it had concluded that Russian intelligence operatives provided materials to Wikileaks in an effort to help President Donald Trump’s defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.