Column: Assange deserves stiff punishment

Pete Hoekstra

The United States may soon have the opportunity to request the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States. The U.S. can then finally begin criminal proceedings against him for the crimes he has committed.

It is clear that Assange has a single-focused mission to cause momentous damage and harm to the U.S. by disclosing secret and highly classified information. Now he can finally be held accountable.

Let’s put this in context. I am a strong supporter of exposing government corruption and wrongdoing.

I also believe the appropriate mechanism of last resort is through whistleblowers. When all other means have been exhausted, whistleblowers have the responsibility to approach the proper authorities to expose illegal or unethical conduct.

Whistleblowers are an avenue for exposing government wrongdoing. While there needs to be increased protection for government whistleblowers, an imperfect process does exist that allows for the identification of abuses while protecting national security interests.

Whistleblowers in the intelligence community, including those working in the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have paths outlined in a precise manner.

That allows for the exposure of corruption, protects classified information, and insures that whistleblowers do not face retaliation. This is a balanced approach and protects all parties.

Those that operate outside of the process like Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, the recent leakers at the CIA and those who leaked the information on Mike Flynn are criminals. They had broken the law and ignored avenues established for whistleblowers.

Accordingly, Manning was charged and convicted. Snowden should be tried and convicted, and the recent leakers on Flynn and those at the CIA must be, too.

These leakers have all assumed much larger roles than their jobs allowed. They perceived themselves to be the only “morally correct people” with the authority and the judgment to determine right and wrong, what information needed to be in the public domain or kept secret, and whether its exposure was warranted even though it was classified as “secret.”

No one gave the leakers these authorities or this 20/20 judgment. They assumed it for themselves. It in turn jeopardized the security of the country. They may also have risked the security of their colleagues by disclosing such sensitive information.

Julian Assange is no different. While he may not have actually “stolen” the information, Assange claimed possession of those stolen materials and published them for the world to see. His public comments and actions clearly outline his motives.

Julian Assange has an inherent desire to fundamentally damage and destroy the West with a focus and emphasis on the United States.

There will be thousands of pages of legal debate written about Assange. The debate will discuss whether or not he should be protected from prosecution because his actions represent a new media and therefore is sheltered by free speech.

But he should be criminally charged and convicted for his illicit behavior towards the United States.

Today’s legal framework should recognize the significant damage he has done to our national security, and find him guilty. And if a trial results in Julian Assange finding a safe haven to protect him from conviction, then our laws are inadequate and must be updated.

Snowden demonstrated Bradley Manning was not an anomaly. Manning was just the first. He represented a new wave of traitors that have caused significant damage through the availability of data in cyberspace.

Similarly, Assange will only be the first of many to take mass quantities of data to the public.

Congress must strengthen whistleblower protections, direct intelligence agencies to better secure sensitive and classified data and put in place a modern legal framework to prosecute those that leak and make available classified information. These measures will ultimately protect the United States and its citizens from traitors and individuals seeking its demise.

Pete Hoekstra is a former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, and a senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism.