By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media
A May 24 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Frontline program quoted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as saying he’d never had any contact with Bradley Manning and that he had no information indicating that the former Army intelligence analyst was the source of the classified U.S. intelligence information released by WikiLeaks.
On December 19, Frontline posted this follow-up information, “New Evidence of Assange-Manning Link,” and came clean in acknowledging that the new evidence in the case casts the statements by Assange in serious doubt:
“In an interview last April with Frontline correspondent Martin Smith, Julian Assange flatly denied that he’d ever had any contact with Bradley Manning, the young Army private accused of leaking half a million classified documents to Assange’s WikiLeaks. Asked about the implication in online conversations apparently between Manning and ex-hacker Adrian Lamo that Manning had gone around WikiLeaks’ normal protocols and established a personal relationship with Assange, Assange was adamant, even suggesting that Manning might have been inflating himself to others by claiming a relationship that did not exist. ‘We don’t have sources that we know about. And I had never heard the name Bradley Manning before. I never heard the name Bradass87 before.’”
Manning had used the name “Bradass87” in online chats and bragged about engineering “possibly the largest data spillage in American history.”
The new evidence in the case, disclosed in Manning’s preliminary hearing, established a direct connection between Assange and Manning. Frontline noted that Army digital forensics contractor Mark Johnson, testifying in Manning’s pretrial hearing, “says that he found communications between Manning and a chat user named ‘Julian Assange’ on Manning’s personal computer and a phone number for Assange in Iceland…”
The evidence puts Manning and Assange “in a precarious legal position,” Frontline now acknowledges. In effect, the evidence demonstrates that they were engaged in what amounts to a conspiracy to steal classified information from U.S. Army computers. This is espionage.
As such, Assange may have been lying about his contact with Manning in order to avoid implicating himself in a conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act. The WikiLeaks founder, an Australian and convicted computer hacker, is facing deportation from Britain to Sweden on sex crimes charges. He could eventually face deportation to the U.S., if he is ever indicted by the Obama/Holder Justice Department.
Meanwhile, more statements from Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul defending WikiLeaks, the recipient of the largest release of classified information in American history, are starting to get media attention. These appearances included:
- On the Fox Business Network Paul said, “This whole notion that Assange, who’s an Australian, that we want to prosecute him for treason. I mean, aren’t they jumping to a wild conclusion? This is media, isn’t it? I mean, why don’t we prosecute The New York Times or anybody that releases this?”
- On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives he said, “Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?”
- Paul went on Twitter to declare that WikiLeaks was providing “truth.”
Referring to the Fox Business Channel appearance, Politico said that Paul was “taking a stand as one of Julian Assange’s few defenders in Washington, arguing that the WikiLeaks founder should get the same protections as the media.”
In contrast to Paul’s support for WikiLeaks, Assange, and Manning, whom Paul called a “hero” and “patriot,” both Democrats and Republicans have called for Assange to be prosecuted. More than a year ago, on December 2, 2010, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Christopher (Kit) Bond (R-Mo.), then-vice chairman of the committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Holder requesting prosecution of Assange. They said the unauthorized release was “a serious breach of national security and could be used to severely harm the United States and its worldwide interests.”
The May 24 PBS program featured correspondent Martin Smith and was written and produced by Smith and Marcela Gaviria. It repeatedly tried to suggest, through interviews with Assange and “experts” like Eric Schmitt of The New York Times, that any direct connection between Assange and Manning was highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Schmitt said, “We don’t really know whether Manning approached WikiLeaks or people around WikiLeaks, or if it was the other way around. But my theory is whichever way it is, there’s an intermediary.”
Schmitt added, “I think Assange is savvy enough that he would have tried to avoid at all costs any direct contact with Bradley Manning, understanding that that could later lead to a much easier prosecution on the grounds of conspiracy to commit espionage.”
This, then, is why it was necessary to try to suggest some distance between Assange and Manning. Evidence of a direct connection would facilitate prosecution of Manning AND Assange on espionage charges.
Martin Smith of Frontline recognized the possibility, saying to Schmitt, “In other words, if WikiLeaks actively helped someone violate secrecy laws, Assange and his colleagues could be held criminally liable.”
“Assange says he designed WikiLeaks so that he wouldn’t even know who his sources were,” Smith reported, getting Assange off the hook.
Assange was brought back to say, “We do not know whether Mr. Manning is our source or not. And of course, if we did know, we are obligated ethically to not reveal it.”
It now looks like Assange wasn’t concerned with ethics, but rather his own hide. He was trying to avoid or postpone an indictment on espionage charges.
Although some of the information released by WikiLeaks was seen as not harmful or just embarrassing to U.S. officials and allies, the controversial website also released classified information about U.S. counter-terrorism operations and the locations of facilities vital to national security and vulnerable to terrorist threat. Such disclosures clearly assisted the enemies of the United States, an official charge being leveled against Manning.
As PBS acknowledges, the new evidence released during his preliminary hearing was explosive in terms of establishing the link between Manning and Assange. Many different media organizations now acknowledge the strength of the government’s case.
As Wired put it, “a government digital forensic expert examining 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’…Investigators also found an Icelandic phone number for Assange…” Manning’s computer also revealed a chat with a hacker located in the U.S. in which Manning said he was responsible for the leaking of an Apache helicopter video released by WikiLeaks in spring 2010, the publication said.
But there’s more. Wired added, “Assange’s name was attached to a chat handle ‘email@example.com’ 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 Wired.com last year. In that earlier chat log, Manning was making reference to a domain that Assange was known to use.”
The publication added, “in Manning’s buddy list there was also a second handle, ‘firstname.lastname@example.org,’ which had two aliases associated with it: Julian Assange and Nathaniel Frank. CCC.de in the domain refers to the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker club in Germany that operates the Jabber server.”
The Daily Mail cited much of the same evidence and said, “He [Assange] has denied direct contact with Manning, but his lawyers believe the evidence produced in the military court would form an espionage conspiracy case against their client.”
Assange had counted on the international media to cover for him and treat WikiLeaks as a legitimate news organization, rather than the criminal enterprise it is. His cover is now blown and prominent news organizations which quoted him uncritically have egg all over their faces.
Columnist Doug Mataconi had been suspicious of Assange’s claims, noting, “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.”
As New York magazine put it, “The new evidence is not only bad news for Manning, who will find out early next year what charges he will face if his court martial proceeds, but for Assange as well. In a separate federal investigation, the Justice Department is considering several offenses with which to charge Assange—including conspiracy and trafficking in stolen property.”
Not only is Assange under renewed scrutiny, but those media organizations which accepted and publicized his claims of non-involvement are facing questions as well. PBS is only one of them.
NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski produced a January 24, 2011, report which said:
“U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
“The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.”
Clearly, Miklaszewski’s “sources” were all wet and had no knowledge of the evidence against Manning.
However, Miklaszewski went on to quote Assange in his own defense: “Assange told MSNBC TV last month that WikiLeaks was unsure Army PFC Bradley Manning is the source for the classified documents appearing on his site. ‘That’s not how our technology works, that’s not how our organization works,’ Assange said. ‘I never heard of the name of Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media.’”
Assange told MSNBC that allegations that WikiLeaks had conspired with Manning were “absolute nonsense.”
The evidence, however, even impressed The Washington Post, for it ran a story under the headline, “Prosecutors say Manning collaborated with WikiLeaks’ Assange in stealing secret documents.” The story by Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate said that military prosecutors had presented “new and detailed evidence” showing that Manning “collaborated” with Assange “in stealing more than 700,000 documents from classified computer systems and publishing them on the Internet.”
The story included these revealing paragraphs:
“In just over an hour of closing arguments at a pretrial hearing, the prosecutors disclosed three new excerpts of chat logs taken from Manning’s personal Macintosh laptop. In one, he allegedly asks Assange for help in figuring out a password. In another, he allegedly tells Assange ‘i’m throwing everything i’ve got on’ Guantanamo detainee reports ‘at you now’ and estimates the ‘upload is about 36 pct’ complete.
“To which Assange replied, according to the prosecutors’ PowerPoint presentation, ‘OK … great.’”
While media organizations duped by Assange into thinking he had no contact with Manning now look like complete fools, Ron Paul’s defense of WikiLeaks and Assange is even more serious, considering his desire to be president and in possession of the state secrets of the United States.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at email@example.com.