WASHINGTON, U.S. - In an accidental move, U.S. prosecutors let slip their secret plans to pursue a criminal case against the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
As part of an unrelated criminal case, a court filing made in a Virginia federal court on Thursday revealed that prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Assange.
A former U.S. intelligence official, who managed to uncover the slip up by prosecutors in Alexandria, posted the details on Twitter.
Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who noticed that Assange's name was in the filing tweeted about it soon after.
The court document is revealed to contain Assange's name twice in an August court filing by a federal prosecutor in Virginia.
Assange's name appeared once in an August Justice Department filing.
The case reportedly involves a Washington, D.C.-area man, Seitu Sulayman Kokayi.
The filing made in the court accidentally names Assange in two paragraphs, reporting that a federal criminal complaint has been lodged against him in secrecy.
Reports detailed the mention of Assange's name and noted that one August 22, a motion to temporarily seal Kokayis charges pending his arrest was filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer.
The following day (August 23), Kokayi was arrested.
Dwyer makes an accidental declaration in the filing, writing, Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."
It was terms like "sophisticated defendant," and the fact that the attorney anticipates "publicity" in the unnamed case, that proved to be a giveaway - as the description fits Assanges circumstances perfectly.
Assange's mention appears in another instance, providing future clues to the fact that prosecutors could be pursuing charges against the WikiLeaks founder.
The document noted, The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.
Reports pointed out that Assange would have to be extradited from the U.K. to face U.S. charges.
The revelations about the Justice Department's preparations to indict Assange were first made in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
In response to the WSJ report and the U.S. media's subsequent quest to learn more about the DOJ's intentions, Barry Pollack, an attorney for Assange clarified thathe did not know if his client had been charged.
Pollack said, The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange. The notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.
For several years now, the U.S. government has battled with Assange and his anti-secrecy group.
In response to the slip up and the subsequent fiery reporting over the possible secret criminal charges that the Justice Department could have filed against the WikiLeaks founder, the United States attorneys office for Virginia released a statement.
Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the United States attorneys office for the Eastern District of Virginia said, The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.
Soon after the revelation emerged, some experts and former officials noted that the federal criminal complaint against Assange could be kept under wrap for fear of jeopardizing his extradition.
However, the fact that the U.S. DoJ is pursuing such charges indicated that the case, whenever it is unveiled officially, could bring three key issues facing the country at a critical meeting point - the Trump-Russia collusion case, press freedom and espionage.