WikiLeaks trial: Target on Assange

2011-12-15 22:34
London - As the suspected source for the biggest intelligence leak in American history faces his first hearing on Friday, US prosecutors have their eye on another prize: The man who disclosed the documents to the world.

When WikiLeaks' spectacular disclosures of US secrets exploded onto the scene in 2010, much of Washington's anger coalesced around Julian Assange, the silver-haired globe-trotting figure whose outspoken defiance of the Pentagon and the State Department riled politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Private first class Bradley Manning, long under lock and key, hasn't attracted the same level of ire.

The pair's fates have been intertwined, however, even if the Australian-born WikiLeaks chief says he didn't know the private's name until after news of his arrest emerged in June 2010. Manning's alleged disclosures put Assange at the epicentre of a diplomatic earthquake.

Assange in turn has worked energetically to drum up support for the imprisoned soldier - all while emphasising that the way his anti-secrecy site was set up meant he could not be sure if Manning was his source.

Links

US investigators have been scrutinising links between the two as they explore the possibility of charging the Australian with serious crimes under US law. A Virginia grand jury is studying evidence that might link Assange to Manning, but no action has yet been taken.

In chat logs recorded by Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned Manning in, the 23-year-old private allegedly poured his heart out, laying bare his disillusionment with the military and his decision to ship mountains of classified material to Assange.

In the logs - which the military says are genuine - Manning tells Lamo that he'd "developed a relationship with Assange" and hinted at instant messages swapped via a server maintained by the Germany-based Chaos Computer Club.

But even according to the logs, Manning and Assange do not seem to have learned very much about each other. "He won(')t work with you if you reveal too much about yourself," Manning is quoted as having said.

At least one media report suggested that prosecutors have struggled without success to flesh out the purported links between the pair. NBC News, citing unnamed military sources, said earlier this year that officials had turned up no evidence of direct contact between Assange and Manning.

In any case, prosecutors face formidable obstacles. Experts say that a prosecution under the century-old Espionage Act would risk criminalising practically any form of investigative journalism. A conspiracy charge, which some have floated as an alternative, would also be tough to prove.

"If Manning steals a bunch of information, and gives it to Julian Assange, I think that would be very difficult to show that that was a conspiracy," said Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Investigating

Even if it turns out that Assange had, hypothetically, pushed Manning to divulge the documents, Wittes said it would still be hard to distinguish that from a traditional reporter trying to work a source.

"Is that any different in principle from the relationship between Deep Throat and Bob Woodward?" he asked, referring to the source behind the Watergate scandal and one of the reporters, Woodward, who broke the story.

Inquiries into Assange and WikiLeaks are ongoing. The grand jury has been investigating for more than year and could continue for months or even years longer. Witnesses have been called, though the identities of most are unknown.

A Manning supporter, David House, refused to testify when he was called in June, citing his right against self-incrimination. House said nearly all the questions posed to him centred on Manning. He said he was not asked about Assange.

There remains pressure to haul the computer hacker-turned-openness advocate before an American judge.

Both Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich described Assange as an information-age terrorist, with Gingrich saying that Assange should be "treated as an enemy combatant".

Others have been even more explicit, with pundits including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin calling on American officials to hunt him down.

Problems

The bloodthirsty rhetoric may have receded since last year, but the otherwise deeply divided US political establishment remains nearly unanimous in its hostility toward Assange.

"At a time when the political parties are polarised, WikiLeaks succeeded in uniting them," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

No matter what happens at Manning's court martial, Assange faces a host of other legal and financial problems.

His WikiLeaks website operation is running out of money and could close by January. The British Supreme Court could rule on whether to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sex crimes allegations, as early as next week.

He has spent the last year fighting extradition from a wealthy supporter's country estate in England, where he lives under virtual house arrest.
Read more on:    wikileaks  |  us

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/Sport

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.