A recent bill introduced by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee wants Congress to declare WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” which would open Julian Assange and the pro-transparency organization to new levels of surveillance.
The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Bill, released on Friday, approves the next year’s worth of intelligence operations. It contains a final clause stating that WikiLeaks should be considered a "cyberthreat."
"It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States," it said.
The bill had passed the Committee on a 14-1 vote in July. Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, the only one who voted against the bill, said his decision was due to concerns over the denouncement.
“My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” Wyden said in a Tuesday press release touting three provisions he was able to add to the bill.
“The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling."
WikiLeaks targeted U.S. President Donald Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. It published hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee that led to large-scale leaks.
"The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles," Wyden said.
In April, CIA Director Mike Pompeo used similar language to describe WikiLeaks, following a series of damaging leaks of highly-sensitive CIA and National Security Agency material.
"It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," Pompeo said.
The bill also seeks to ban Trump from establishing a joint cyber security unit with Russia without congressional approval.
The Trump administration would be required to provide Congress with a report describing what intelligence would be shared with Russia, any counterintelligence concerns and how those concerns would be addressed.
The annual Intelligence Authorization Act requires approval by the full Senate and House and the president's signature before it can become law. No vote has been scheduled so far.