Saturday, December 24, 2011

New spying claim against Julian Assange

I believe this story is of historic importance insofar as the media is not an impassive observer of the Assange/Wikileaks/Manning case. The story is blocked by Murdoch paywalls but I am making it available on my blog.

(BTW you can easily avoid the Murdoch Australian paywall by googling the headline and then clicking on the result).
New spying claim against Julian Assange

by: Catherine Philp
From: The Times
December 24, 2011 8:24PM

JULIAN Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, could face espionage charges in the United States.

The development comes after prosecutors revealed evidence of his apparent role in the theft of secret military documents.

Lawyers in the Bradley Manning case have produced logs of online chats that claim to show Mr Assange coaching the young private on how to break passwords to gain access to military computer networks anonymously.

The logs are the first evidence that the US Government has revealed alleging that Mr Assange played an active role in helping Private Manning to remove and transmit classified files from a top-secret facility in Iraq, laying him open to criminal charges in the US.

The US Justice Department opened a joint investigation with the Pentagon last year into possible criminal proceedings against Mr Assange and a federal grand jury is hearing evidence in closed court to determine what, if any charges, could be brought.

Mr Assange, 40, has denied direct contact with Private Manning and refused to comment on whether he was the source of the leak. Legal experts have argued that the Government would struggle to prosecute Mr Assange for espionage if he was only a passive recipient of information.

Lawyers for Mr Assange said they believed that the evidence produced in the military court on Thursday would form the basis of the Government's case. Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Mr Assange, said that the evidence "gives us a very clear indication that the US Government intends to prosecute Julian Assange and potentially others associated with WikiLeaks".

Experts said the most obvious charge stemming from the logs was conspiracy to commit espionage.Private Manning, 24, has been charged with the same offence, along with 21 others, including conspiracy to aid the enemy, which carries the death penalty, although prosecutors say they are seeking only a life sentence.

Military prosecutors presented evidence last week that Private Manning had uploaded more than 700,000 stolen documents to WikiLeaks but saved the revelations of Mr Assange's involvement until closing arguments.

The 60-minute presentation included snippets of 15 pages of online chats between "Nobody", one of Manning's online aliases, and "Nathaniel Frank", which prosecutors say they can prove was an alias for Mr Assange.

One chat log from March 8, 2010, purports to show Private Manning and Mr Assange in live conversation as Private Manning uploaded documents about Guantanamo Bay detainees:Nobody: Anyway I'm throwing everything I got on JTF-GTMO at you now ... should take a while to get up though.Nathaniel Frank: OK, great.Nobody: Uploaded about 36 pct.Nathaniel Frank: ETA?Nobody: 11-12 hours, guessing since it's been going 6 already.In another chat, Manning asked for help in cracking the password on his classified computer so that he could log in anonymously. He asked "Frank" if he had experience cracking such "hash" codes. "Frank" replied yes, they had "rainbow tables" for doing that.

Even Private Manning's lawyers appear to have been stunned by the scale of the evidence against him. Their case this week focused on his confused state of mind and weak security at his workplace. David Coombs, his lawyer, urged prosecutors to drop the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

One of Mr Assange's supporters, Daniel Ellsberg, warned that this plea might be a tactic to strike a deal for Private Manning to testify against Mr Assange.

"What the defence lawyer suggested is to get a plea bargain that would incriminate Assange," he said. Vaughan Smith, the journalist who until last week was putting the WikiLeaks founder up at his Suffolk home, said that the prosecutors must first prove that Assange was the collaborator behind the transcripts.

"There has never been, in any of my dealings with Julian, any suggestion he had any form of contact with this man," he said.

Mr Assange is on bail pending an appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he faces sex crime allegations.

The Times

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