Edward Snowden leaked classified U.S. government materials to be published by Glenn Greenwald.

Chelsea Manning leaked classified U.S. government materials to be published by Julian Assange.


  • Manning has been successfully prosecuted in the U.S.
  • The U.S. government has made clear its intention to prosecute Snowden if it can get its hands on him.
  • Julian Assange is the subject of a criminal investigation, and has been successfully scared into hiding in an Ecuadorian embassy.

However, Greenwald appears to enjoy immunity from prosecution for his role in the publication of Snowden's materials.

What is the basis of immunity, and why does it not extend to the other three?

  • 1
    "US government has made clear its intention to prosecute Assange" -- source? Because as far as I can tell, the US has made no indication that it will prosecute him, as he has not likely committed a US crime.
    – cpast
    Aug 27, 2015 at 2:17
  • @cpast: Thanks, I edited a bit to clarify. Assange is under criminal investigation, as stated here: smh.com.au/world/… ("the Washington embassy confirmed the Justice Department was conducting an 'active and vigorous inquiry into whether Julian Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act'"). Aug 27, 2015 at 2:37
  • A guess: as a recognized journalist, Greenwald may have a better case to invoke the First Amendment protections for freedom of the press. Aug 27, 2015 at 2:52
  • 2
    @Nate Comments from the DoJ suggest that one of the issues with prosecuting Assange is in fact justifying why they would prosecute there but not prosecute a New York Times reporter who did the same thing (with the implication that the latter is something they would simply not be willing to do).
    – cpast
    Aug 27, 2015 at 2:56

2 Answers 2


Dale M makes multiple false statements at the end of his answer. Here are some corrections, and then my answer:

1)Assange is NOT in hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and is not avoiding questioning.* Assange has agreed to make himself available for questioning, and remains so, but the Swedish prosecutor refuses to interview him.* He was granted asylum in Ecuador and resides in the embassy because of the espionage case.*

As the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Chair and Norwegian international Law Professor Mads Andenæs has said in an interview,

"[T]he Swedish authorities could have followed the normal practice of interviewing Assange in a British police interview room.

After Assange took residence in the Ecuadorian embassy they could have relied on ’mutual assistance’ protocols, questioned Assange by video link, and given him the chance to respond to the allegations against him."

2)He IS being investigated with respect to espionage charges related to publishing the Manning documents. There's no evidence the secret grand jury has ceased its investigation.

3)There IS a question regarding immunity. Greenwald is fearful and takes extreme precautions when he travels to the US because he fears abusive prosecution for and further interference with his work as a journalist.

The US government did try to stop the US media from publishing the Pentagon Papers and succeeded temporarily - and very nearly succeeded permanently. Charges under the Espionage Act could be used against Greenwald and the media employing him, despite US v. NY Times.

*Detailed evidence that repudiates the false statements and supports the corrections is referred to here: https://justice4assange.com/Assange-Case-Fact-Checker.html

  • And US v. NY Times is (sort of) the subject of a major movie that just came out: The Post. It details just how close the US came to prevailing. May 11, 2018 at 16:23
  • And the truth has come out over time, proving several of my points. Assange has been captured and is NOT being extradited to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assaults. He WAS charged, on March 6, 2018. Crimes related to his journalism on the Manning documents ARE what is alleged. justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1153486/download May 9, 2019 at 3:06

There is no question of immunity.

Manning and probably Snowdon have committed a crime by stealing officially classified documents and releasing them unlawfully.

Greenwald and probably Assange have committed no crime by publishing the documents as such publication is protected by the First Amendment and there is a swathe of case law on this. This presumes that they were not an accessory to the crimes of the people who stole them.

To clarify, Assange is in hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assaults. He is not charged with anything anywhere about publishing the Manning documents.

  • If Snowden would have published the documents himself, would he have been protected by the First Amendment? Aug 27, 2015 at 3:37
  • (As for the reason Assange is hiding in the embassy, that's up for debate. He, and the Ecuadorian government, claim it's to avoid retribution from the U.S. for the leaks he helped publish. The British and Swedish governments claim it's to avoid being prosecuted for sexual assaults (which, notably, he also hasn't been charged with). We don't know for a fact which claim is true.) Aug 27, 2015 at 3:40
  • @HighCommander4 For the publication? Maybe. For the theft and breech of classification? No
    – Dale M
    Aug 27, 2015 at 4:01
  • @HighCommander4 What we know about Assange is that he has been legally extradited from the UK to Sweden to be questioned about 2 sexual assault allegations under a Swedish warrant.
    – Dale M
    Aug 27, 2015 at 4:02
  • 2
    Eh... the Espionage Act could very easily be read to allow prosecution of the journalists, and from what the Congressional Research Service could find it's more that people in the US have the impression that it can't. US v. NY Times was about prior restraint, and 6 of 9 justices thought journalists could potentially be prosecuted after publication.
    – cpast
    Aug 27, 2015 at 5:03

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