The Justice Department is considering arresting and filing criminal charges against members of WikiLeaks, including founder Julian Assange, according to reports Thursday.
Federal prosecutors are looking as far back as a 2010 WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic and military communications as well as the group's recent leak of documents about the CIA's secret hacking program. In 2010 WikiLeaks posted thousands of files stolen by former U.S. Army intelligence officer Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning.
Investigators also believe they have proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leak secret information from the NSA's surveillance programs. Snowden was granted asylum in Russia.
Officials say a memo is in the draft stage and may include charges of conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act. Any such memo, once completed, would need to get approval from top officials within the Justice Department, they added.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke about his department plan to ramped-up efforts to "on all leaks" at a press conference Thursday.
"We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious," Sessions said. "So yes, it is a priority. We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail."
It isn't clear whether federal prosecutors are also looking into WikiLeaks' release of documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, during the 2016 campaign. The U.S. intelligence agency concluded in a report in January that WikiLeaks had ties to Russian operatives and worked to tip the election in President Trump's favor.
The Obama administration abstained from pressing charges against WikiLeaks in 2013 because it could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations. U.S. officials have had a hard time deciding whether Assange is protected under First Amendment.
However, CIA Director Mike Pompeo provided groundwork for possible government action when he said WikiLeaks' activity ventured beyond First Amendment protection and vowed sharp a crackdown on the group.
Barry Pollack, an attorney for Assange, says there is "no legitimate basis for the Department of Justice to treat WikiLeaks differently than it treats other journalists," according to the Washington Post. Pollack also said the Justice Department never contacted Assange's legal team about any investigations even though they had requested the agency do so.
Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He is wanted in Sweden on charges of sexual assault, but he has expressed fear that he could be extradited to the United States for publishing classified information should he leave the embassy.