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Federal Judge Unseals Criminal Complaint Against Julian Assange, But Is It Enough For Conspiracy?

Julian Assange gestures to the media from a police vehicle on his arrival at Westminster Magistrates court on April 11, 2019 in London, England.
Jack Taylor / Stringer / Getty Images
 

A federal judge ordered a 2017 criminal complaint lodged by federal investigators against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange unsealed on Monday, giving Americans their first glimpse at the evidence the United States will likely bring to an early June hearing in the U.K. demanding Assange's extradition.

 

The Hill reports that the "original affidavit and criminal complaint were made public in a Virginia federal court for the first time since they were filed in 2017, and they include chat logs between Assange and former U.S. intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning."

It is on these chats that investigators are basing their indictment, claiming that Assange's communications with Manning amounted to a conspiracy between the two to hack classified documents belonging to the United States military. Manning was eventually convicted of espionage because of his actions, locating, cracking and downloading thousands of intelligence cables, audio and video files, and passing them to Wikileaks for publishing.

The United States is alleging that once Assange had received the first batch of files from Manning, that he worked directly with Manning to obtain more classified information, instructing and counseling Manning on how to crack passwords and download secret files.

The documents certainly claim to show collaboration. The government's complaint and an accompanying affidavit are full of snippets from chat logs obtained from Manning's computer, showing Manning communicating with an individual who appears, from clues dropped in the conversations, to be Julian Assange.

 

The "individual," the government claims "appeared to have extensive knowledge of WikiLeaks' day-to-day operations, including knowledge of submissions of information to the organization, as well as of financial matters," making it highly likely Manning was communicating directly with Julian Assange. At some point in a follow up interview, Manning also seems to have admitted that "the person i was communicating was in fact assange."

But even as the documents might establish Assange and Manning as collaborators in an effort to hack secret military files about airstrikes in Iraq, which Manning claims killed thousands of civilians, in order to prove that the pair were engaged in a "conspiracy," the government must prove that there was a known outcome of their discussions.

 

In the chat logs, contained in the affidavit, Assange certainly appears to be passing on his code-cracking expertise to Manning, and passing on advice on how to break into secure networks, like the one Manning was scanning for evidence that the U.S. military was actively harming the Iraqi people. But the affadavit doesn't show that Manning and Assange had a specific target in mind — or, at least, the chat logs don't list one, and it's unknown whether Manning eventually used Assange's advice to successfully crack a secure network.

The complaint says that "it remains unknown whether Manning and Assange were successful in cracking the password," but Manning was, indeed, eventually convicted on several counts under the Espionage Act for obtaining and disseminating classified material.

Whether this is enough to extradite Assange will be up to a court in the United Kingdom, which will entertain evidence that Assange should be shipped back to the United States to stand trial sometime in early June. It's likely the court will also consider a competing request for extradition from Sweden, where Assange is wanted on sexual assault charges.

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