Does Wikileaks belong on the same list as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and FARC? Rep. Peter King (R-NY) think so. In a statement earlier today on MSNBC, King proposed adding Wikileaks to the State Department list of terrorist organizations in order to make it easier for the US to seize its assets and intimidate its allies:
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who is scheduled to become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Monday that WikiLeaks should be designated a terrorist organization for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret and classified government documents.
“The benefit of that is, we would be able to seize their assets and we would be able to stop anyone from helping them in any way,” King said, appearing on MSNBC.
King also hinted at getting WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, extradited for prosecution in the U.S. Naming WikiLeaks a terrorist group would help the U.S. government, he said, “as far as trying to get them extradited, trying to get them to take action against them.”
“Either we’re serious about this or we’re not. I know people may think this is a bit of a stretch, but I analogize it as the RICO statute, where they had a pretty narrow definition of criminal enterprise in the beginning, but now that’s been expanded quite a bit to deal with contemporary problems,” King said.
King likely stands on more solid ground on a RICO prosecution than a terrorist designation. Even RICO might be a stretch, however. The Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law allowed prosecutors to charge and convict anyone involved in organized crime with the crimes of the entire organization as long as prosecutors could show that each member directly benefited from the overall enterprise. If the Department of Justice really wanted to go after Assange on espionage, though, it could simply charge Assange with conspiracy without the RICO predicate as well as the obvious crimes of revealing classified material. If Assange did that from abroad, the subject of jurisdiction might be tricky, but RICO neither helps or hurts with that anyway.
There is a greater danger in diluting the terrorist watch list into a general enemies list, however. One of the reasons why King proposes this course of action is to get greater cooperation on extraditing Assange. However, we get that cooperation on terrorism because of the focus this list has on actual terrorism, which other nation-states rightly see as a direct and existential challenge to the very concept of nation-states. Espionage is another matter entirely, especially since almost every nation indulges in it themselves, and see that as part of the natural interplay between diplomacy and national security.
If we start adding people and organizations to the terror watch list for espionage and for other non-terror reasons simply to get that kind of cooperation, that cooperation will cease to exist at all. When it comes to actual terrorists, we will find ourselves mired in extradition parameters meant for civil crimes, with all of the attendant red tape and delays the terror watch list and international efforts usually bypass. Assange may be a contemptible parasite, but no one will buy a charge of terrorism — and attempting to press that case will undermine our credibility where we need to retain it most.