It’s a three-part message with one clear theme: don’t reveal the government’s secrets, you will be punished. From Jacob G. Hornberger at fff.org:
When Julian Assange and Wikileaks disclosed evidence of dark-side activity, including war crimes, on the part of the U.S. national-security establishment, U.S. officials felt they had no choice but to use Assange to send a three-part message.
The first message is to people within the national-security establishment who might be tempted, out of a crisis of conscience, to reveal dark-side activities of the national-security establishment. By doing everything they could to destroy Assange’s life and even maybe bring about his death, the national-security establishment sends a powerful message to would-be leakers: “This is what will happen to you if you disclose our dark-side secrets to the American people. We will hunt you down, we will persecute you, we will prosecute you, we will destroy you, and we might even kill you.”
How many people within the national-security establishment are willing to undergo that price for revealing dark-side secrets of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA? I’d venture to say not very many at all.
Thus, regardless of what ends up happening to Assange in a court of law — that is, even if he is ultimately acquitted in a U.S. federal court of ludicrous charges of violating some World War I-era espionage law — the national-security establishment has undoubtedly already succeeded in its quest to suppress revelations of other dark-side activities. All that any would-be leaker has to do is look at Assange’s mental and physical condition after years of being hounded by the national-security establishment. Very few people want to end up like that. They are likely to remain silent, even if their consciences are calling on them to reveal dark-side secrets to the American people.
The second message is to people who disclose the dark-side secrets that are leaked to them — organizations like Wikileaks and executives within those organizations, like Assange. The message to them is the same as the message to would-be leakers: “If you dare publish any of our dark-side activities, we will come after you with a vengeance, just as we have with Julian Assange. We will hound you, indict you, prosecute you, persecute you, incarcerate you, torture you, and maybe even kill you.”