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WikiLeaks founder helped Army private get data, prosecutors say

They say chat logs show Julian Assange's role in the leak of U.S. secrets that led to charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning.

December 22, 2011|By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
  • Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted from a courthouse at Ft. Meade, Md.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted from a courthouse at Ft. Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)

Reporting from Ft. Meade, Md. — The Army intelligence analyst accused of being responsible for one of the largest public dumps of classified information in U.S. history chatted online with the founder of WikiLeaks while he was uploading files to the WikiLeaks website, military prosecutors said Thursday.

During closing arguments in the pretrial hearing of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, prosecutors flashed excerpts of chat logs to the courtroom that they alleged showed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange coaching Manning on how to decode computer passwords to access secret Army computers under someone else's name. Prosecutors say the logs were found on Manning's laptop in Iraq and authenticated using forensic analysis.

It was the first time the government had shown direct evidence that Assange and WikiLeaks may have played an active role in helping Manning remove and transmit more than 700,000 files taken from a top-secret facility in Iraq.

The evidence presented Thursday "gives us a very clear indication … that the U.S. government intends to prosecute Julian Assange and potentially others associated with WikiLeaks," Jennifer Robinson, an Australian attorney for Assange who was in the courtroom spectators gallery, said in an interview.

Robinson has not been allowed to examine the chat logs and would not comment on the content.

In one exchange, Manning and Assange were purportedly chatting on March 8, 2010, while Manning was uploading a compressed file of secret military assessments of Guantanamo Bay detainees while he was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, east of Baghdad.

"I'm throwing everything I got on JTF-GTMO at you now," Manning allegedly wrote. "… Should take a while to get up though."

"OK, great," replies Assange, using the name "Nathaniel Frank," prosecutors said. Later Assange allegedly asks, "ETA?"

A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., is hearing evidence in a separate investigation of Assange, who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault. He is not known to have been charged under U.S. law.

Wrapping up a dramatic seven-day pretrial hearing, Manning's attorney, David E. Coombs, said the government brought excessive charges against his idealistic and emotionally troubled client in order to pressure him to turn over evidence in the case against Assange.

Coombs has argued that the leaks have not harmed the U.S. He asked the military judge to give the government "a reality check."

"Why are we here when all of this information is out in the public?" Coombs asked. "If anything, it has helped."

Supporters of Manning argue that the release of the information has exposed misdeeds by the U.S. military and inspired protesters to overthrow corrupt regimes in the Middle East.

Coombs argued Thursday that prosecutors should drop all but three of the 22 charges against Manning. The charge of aiding the enemy, which can carry a sentence of life in prison, should be dropped, he said. Manning should be charged only with federal larceny, accessing a computer without authorization and spreading information that could harm the U.S.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

"Thirty years is more than sufficient punishment," Coombs said. Under the current charges, Manning could face up to 150 years in prison.

Prosecutors showed a video of an English-speaking Al Qaeda operative from California named Adam Gadahn claiming the WikiLeaks disclosures had helped the group's cause. Manning knew that by making classified information public, he could be aiding Al Qaeda and other enemies, said Capt. Ashden Fein, the prosecutor.

The judge will rule on whether to recommend a full court-martial by Jan. 16.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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