Direct Link Between Bradley Manning And Julian Assange Discovered?

A smoking gun?

Just north of me at Fort Meade, Maryland, the pre-trial hearings in the Court Martial of Pvt. Bradley Manning, accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that eventually ended up in the hands of Wikileaks, have been going on. Manning’s attorneys have not begun putting on their case yet, but they have made some statements which seem to suggest that they will try to argue that Manning’s homosexuality, and the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy will somehow play a role in their defense. How that could possibly be relevant to espionage is something I’ll leave to his lawyers to explain at a later date. What prompts this post, is news that military investigators have apparently uncovered something we did not believe previously existed, evidence of what appears to be a direct link between Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:

A government digital forensic expert examing the computer of accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning retrieved communications between Manning and an online chat user identified on Manning’s computer as “Julian Assange,” the name of the founder of the secret-spilling site that published hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.

Investigators also found an Icelandic phone number for Assange, and a chat with a hacker located in the U.S., in which Manning says he’s responsible for the leaking of the “Collateral Murder” Apache helicopter video released by WikiLeaks in spring 2010.

Until Monday’s revelation, there have been no reports that the government had evidence linking Manning and Assange, other than chat logs provided to the FBI by hacker Adrian Lamo last year. Assange is being investigated by a federal grand jury, but has not been charged with any crime, since publishing classified information is not generally considered a crime in the U.S. But if prosecutors could show that Assange directed Manning in leaking government documents that he then published, this could complicate Assange’s defense that WikiLeaks is simply a journalistic endeavor.

The news of the chat logs between Manning and Assange came on the fourth day of Manning’s pre-trial hearing being held to determine whether he’ll face court martial on 22 charges of violating military law for allegedly abusing his position as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in order to feed a treasure trove of classified and sensitive documents to WikiLeaks.

Mark Johnson, a digital forensics contractor for ManTech International who works for the Army’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit, examined an image of Manning’s personal MacBook Pro and said he found 14 to 15 pages of chats in unallocated space on the hard drive that were discussions of unspecified government info between Manning and a person believed to be Assange, which specifically made a reference to re-sending info.

While the chat logs were encrypted, Johnson said that he was able to retrieve the MacBook’s login password from the hard drive and found that the same password “TWink1492!!” was also used as the encryption key.

Assange’s name was attached to a chat handle “da*********@ja****.de” listed in Manning’s buddy list in the Adium chat program on his computer. That Jabber address uses the same domain name allegedly mentioned by Manning in the chat logs that ex-hacker Adrian Lamo gave to the FBI and to last year. In that earlier chat log, Manning was making reference to a domain that Assange was known to use.

In Manning’s buddy list there was also a second handle, “pr**************@ja****.de,” which had two aliases associated with it: Julian Assange and Nathaniel Frank. in the domain refers to the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker club in Germany that operates the Jabber server.

When asked about the two aliases, Johnson said it was odd for a user to assign two names to one account, implying that some subterfuge might have been at play.

The chat logs mention a request to re-send some unspecified data, showing that the parties had talked before, Johnson said, as well as discussion about using SFTP for uploading data securely to an FTP server.

The laptop hard drive also revealed a chat transcript in which Manning apparently admitted to a third party that he was the source of one of the early Wikileaks releases, a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter mission in Iraq that resulted in the friendly fire deaths of two journalists. And then there is this:

Johnson says he also examined an external hard drive found in Manning’s bunk room in Iraq that contained a text file called wl-press.txt that was created on Nov. 30, 2009, right around the time that Manning told Lamo that he first made contact with WikiLeaks.

The file included the line: “You can currently contact our investigations editor directly in Iceland at 354.862.3481 : 24 hour service : ask for Julian Assange.”

Assange has always denied direct contact with Manning, although he has never revealed how the materials that Manning stole just happened to come into the possession of Wikileaks. These revelations appear to provide at least a clue on that last part, and suggest that Assange has been lying about his contact with Manning.

The big question is whether this strengthens any potential American legal charges against Assange regarding the Manning matter. Up until now, it has seemed as though he would be untouchable because there was no direct evidence that he had been in contact with Manning prior, or subsequent to, the data theft. Now, though, there is at least the suggestion that he may have been involved with Manning prior to the time the material was stolen, perhaps even coaching him about what to look for. If that’s the case, we’re looking at potential liability under the Espionage Act or similar laws.  As Jazz Shaw notes, there is a huge difference between a situation where Assange was merely the recipient of documents from some anonymous third party that had received the data from Manning and a situation where he was actively in direct contact with Manning before, during, and after the data theft. In the first situation, the defense that he was acting as a journalist would likely work. In the second, he’d have some serious legal liability to worry about at the very least.

Obviously, this information has been in the possession of military, and most likely Federal civilian, investigators for some time now. Whether it will result in charges against Assange, who is currently still under house arrest in England awaiting final resolution of an appeal of the order that he be extradited to Sweden to stand trial for rape, remains to be seen.

Photo via Wired

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, National Security, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    How that could possibly be relevant to espionage is something I’ll leave to his lawyers to explain at a later date.

    Sorry, I’ll bite. The only possible relevance is that as a (presumably) closeted homosexual he was susceptible to extortion threats and he did this for the money or for fear of losing his job. That would mean there is an extortionist in the picture.

    Otherwise, he’s sold out the homosexual rights community, which should disown him and point out the many examples of homosexuals that served with honor in the most difficult of circumstances and were never victims.

  2. @PD Shaw:

    I doubt extortion is the claim they’re making. I think the argument they are going for is that he felt so oppressed as a closeted gay man in the Army that he was compelled to steal state secrets.

    It’s complete BS, of course. And, not only is it an insult to the homosexual community, it is an insult to every gay and lesbian solider in the Army who has served honorably under DADT.

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It’s complete BS, of course. And, not only is it an insult to the homosexual community, it is an insult to every gay and lesbian solider in the Army who has served honorably under DADT.

    Why? I can’t think of any reason that systematic discrimination cannot play a role in a person’s thought processes and actions, particularly when in a just world Manning would have received a medal for leaking government criminality.

  4. @Ben Wolf:

    If you are even suggesting that Manning’s espionage was justified because DADT existed, then you’re really, well, I won’t use the word I’m thinking of.

  5. KRM says:

    If Manning’s counsel actually presses “the DADT made me do it” as a defense, he might as well just have his client plead guilty. The ploy might be useful for establishing mitigating circumstances, but even then it’s a dangerous game. “My client went insane because he was gay” is not something that the NY Times will feel comfortable rallying behind unless the defense can show that Manning was brutalized by the Army in some fashion because of his gayness. So far, it looks like the guy was WAY out (“TWink1492!”???) and that his superiors were doing their damnedest not to make eye contact. Either way, “in a just world” Manning is convicted on the facts. That’s how justice works.

  6. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Please explain why systematic discrimination cannot negatively affect someone’s thoughts and behaviors. Your earlier post made explicit your belief that such a thing is utterly impossible. I’ll ask you again:


  7. Ben Wolf says:

    @KRM: Justice and law are not the same, and if you think they are, then feel free to tell the next African-American your see that enslaving their ancestors was just.

  8. legion says:

    @Doug Mataconis: While I agree with your conclusion in this particular case, the (supposed) vulnerability to extortion was a well-worn excuse for the gay ban (and for asking quite personal questions during security clearance investigations) for many years. Also,

    a direct link between Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:

    Kevin Bacon?

  9. @Ben Wolf:

    I didn’t say that. Nonetheless, that is not an excuse for, or a legitimate defense to, espionage

  10. David says:

    Having been a military prosecutor for a time, I don’t ever see a panel giving that any weight in the guilt/innocence part of the Court Martial. They might consider it in the penalty phase, but even then, not sure its going to fly. Being gay in the military during that time was probably difficult for him, but it is not an excuse to release classified documents.

    And before anyone says I wouldn’t know what it was like, yes, I do.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    I agree w/ Doug; had to throw it out there.

    @David: I thought the penalty phase might be the only place this could play out, but only in the context of sincere remorse and particularlized problems. My uneducated guess would also be that he wouldn’t want any homosexuals on the panel for that argument.

  12. David says:

    @PD Shaw: I need to see more of what they have put out (I’m trying to wrap presents, make sure the dogs don’t open them as soon as I wrap them, I think I need to eat someplace in there too…) but I agree. this only works in penalty phase and, based on what I have seen, that this is a clunker of an argument regardless of who is on the panel and maybe even a bigger one if you have a gay member who has served with honor both before and after DADT was repealed.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I’m not claiming discrmination is or is not a defense. I’m asking why you are so adamant it isn’t. You’re a lawyer, I’m not; maybe you know something on this score I don’t. To be honest I’d like to hear more legal analysis in your posts because it’s your area of expertise.

  14. @Ben Wolf:

    Well, it may have something to do with the fact that there is nothing in the Uniform Code of Military Justice that would make “discrimination” a defense to unlawfully sharing classified information with with people who are not authorized to receive it.

  15. anjin-san says:

    Otherwise, he’s sold out the homosexual rights community, which should disown him and point out the many examples of homosexuals that served with hono

    Why should anyone “point out” that gays have served with honor? Of course they have. I have a news flash – some gays/lesbians are saints. Others are horrible people. Most fall somewhere in between.

    Exactly like straight people..

  16. @anjin-san:

    I agree. Which would make Manning trying to turn his sexual orientation into an excuse for criminal activity egregiously nefarious.

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Is there something in the UCMJ which preculdes a defense based on mental state? Because that’s exactly what such a defense would entail, that Manning suffered from gender-identity disorder. Perhaps you could take time to address the actual issue here.

  18. de stijl says:

    Direct Link Between Bradley Manning And Julian Assange Discovered?

    That they both look insanely more like Jon Benet Ramsey than should be possible for adult men?

  19. @Ben Wolf:

    There is no such thing as a “mental illness” defense to espionage, whether it is under the UCMJ or civilian criminal law.

  20. Franklin says:

    If that’s the case, we’re looking at potential liability under the Espionage Act or similar laws.

    I’m still confused about this. In what way would Assange, not an American citizen, and never in America during the information theft, be charged under any American laws?

  21. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    (a) It is an affirmative defense in a trial by court-martial that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the accused, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of the acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.

    ALSO, under the UCMJ a mental condition or state is admissible if it affects their intent when that intent is an element of the crime, and it sounds to me like this is exactly where Manning’s defense team is going.

  22. Hello World! says:

    I am curious if anyone knows the answer to this, but if the military knowingly kills unarmed civilians of no strategic objective then is there a valid route for someone like Manning to raise this issue? I actually get some security in knowing that its possible to watch and monitor the government as much as they watch and monitor us. If Manning had the option that I am asking about above and did not use it then I think he is guilty of treason. If no such option exists then I think he is possibly a hero.

  23. Ben Wolf says:

    @Hello World!: If you tattle on someone in government (including the military) who does something illegal, they do everything in their power to send tou to jail. In America, being a patriot means covering up the crimes of the powerful.

  24. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Hello World!:

    If ifs and buts were fruits and nuts, Brad wouldn’t be in so much trouble.

  25. ponce says:

    If no such option exists then I think he is possibly a hero.

    The Apache gunner begging for permission to shoot at the kids in the van was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard.

  26. @Ben Wolf:

    In other words, the standard old “diminished capacity” defense. The last refuge of a defense attorney who has no real defense. That’s a hard one to sell a civilian jury on, I doubt it will go very far in from of a military one.

  27. PD Shaw says:

    @Ben Wolf: I know this isn’t your intent, but your line of comment is quite pernicious to homosexuals.

    Does discrimination justify breaking the law?
    Does discrimination create a diminished capacity to know right from wrong?

    If so, why can’t the prosecution put on evidence that the accused was gay and therefore likely to commit the crime because of a propensity for homosexuals to break the law in the face of discrimination?

    And if homosexuality in the face of discrimination is akin to mental illness, then like the mentally ill they shouldn’t be placed in certain places of trust; that is until all discrimination is ended in the world.

  28. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t know much about the UCMJ, but friends who are criminal defense attorneys in the federal courts have told me that usually the most important item in mitigation in the sentencing phase is contrition. It makes sense give that the purpose of punishment is partly deterrence. You go with what you have, but I can easily see testimony in the penalty phase blaming the military for what happened going extremely poorly — it would run the risk of being the opposite of contrition.

  29. KRM says:

    @Ben Wolf: I never said that “justice and law are the same thing.” I said that Manning should be convicted on the facts, and that’s how justice works. Insufficient facts, no finding of guilt. Justice again. You not only erroneously equate “just” with “justice,” butdo so in a most low-handed manner.