A December 2017 criminal complaint against Julian Assange unsealed Monday details the case federal prosecutors have prepared against the WikiLeaks founder, including chat transcripts they relied on to accuse him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to try to break into the Defense Department computer system.
Assange was arrested Thursday by British authorities after seven years in asylum at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, and a March 6, 2018, indictment against him in U.S. District Court in Alexandria was unsealed that day.
The complaint affidavit is far more extensive than the indictment, sketching the origins of Manning’s relationship with Assange as well as the impact of her decision to give hundreds of thousands of pages of State Department cables and Iraq and Afghanistan military documents to WikiLeaks. But there is no evidence in either document beyond chat logs first used to convict Manning of espionage and other crimes in 2013.
The conversations come either from Manning’s own computer, seized after her arrest in 2010, or from Adrian Lamo, a hacker who turned Manning in to the FBI.
“Chats reflect that on March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password,” FBI agent Megan Brown wrote. She makes clear that agents never found any evidence “as to what Assange did, if anything, with respect to the password” other than saying he had passed it on to someone at WikiLeaks who specialized in the security system involved.
Brown wrote: “While it remains unknown whether Manning and Assange were successful in cracking the password, a follow-up message from Assange to Manning on March 10, 2010, reflects that Assange was actively trying to crack the password pursuant to their agreement.”
Brown also argued, as prosecutors did when Manning was tried in 2013, that the two “had reason to believe that public disclosure” of the classified Army information Manning shared “would cause injury to the United States.”
Brown also described Assange and Manning as having “collaborated” on the disclosure of classified information.
“Anything useful in there?” Manning asked after sending Assange reports on detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Assange replied that “there surely will be” and that the disclosures could inspire other leakers because “gitmo=bad, leakers=enemy of gitmo, leakers=good.”
But Assange is not charged with any crime related to the release of classified information, a move prosecutors resisted for years for fear it would be akin to going after a news organization.
Brown noted that Manning told a judge during her court-martial that she was never sure whether the person she spoke to online was Assange or a WikiLeaks associate. But, the FBI agent wrote, Assange talked to Manning about his public activities in the first person, and Manning told Lamo she had confirmed her interlocutor’s identity. Manning is in jail for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Assange.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but President Barack Obama released her after she spent seven years behind bars.
Assange is in British custody and plans to fight extradition to the United States, his lawyers say.