Manning-Assange chatlogs among revelations at pre-trial hearing

Laura Rozen

The fourth day of pre-trial hearings of accused WikiLeaks source Army PFC Bradley Manning delivered some drama: the first government evidence allegedly linking Manning and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Among the pre-trial discovery evidence presented by a government forensic expert: 14 pages of encrypted chat logs between Manning and Assange retrieved from Manning's computer, as well as an Icelandic cell phone number for Assange.

The legal proceeding now under way at a military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland will determine whether Manning will face court martial on 22 charges related to disclosing classified information while he worked as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Mark Johnson, a digital forensics expert assigned to the Army Computer Crime Investigative Unit, testified on Monday that he had found, in examining Manning's MacBook Pro, "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," Wired's Kim Zetter, who is covering the hearings, wrote Monday.

"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," Zetter wrote.

Until Monday's proceedings, no previous reports had established "that the government had evidence linking Manning and Assange, other than chat logs provided to the FBI by hacker Adrian Lamo last year," Zetter reported.

Zetter also noted that the controversial Wikileaks founder--who is currently in the United Kingdom contesting extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges-- could be facing greater legal liability if the evidence suggests that Assange directed Manning to leak certain government documents that Assange later published.

"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.," Zetter wrote. "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."

Britain's Supreme Court last week agreed to hear Assange's appeal against previous British court rulings ordering his extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges.The court granted Assange "a two-day appeal beginning on Feb. 1, meaning there is no prospect of Assange being sent to Stockholm until at least next year," the Associated Press reported.

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