DOUBLE TROUBLE – Friday June 7 2013

– It’s the highest-profile prosecution of an official leaker in the United States for at least a generation. In the dock is a young United States Army private. But he’s not the only person US prosecutors have their sights on in a case that has far-reaching implications for relations between government and the media in the United States and beyond. The other target is Australian citizen, WikiLeaks publisher and now political candidate Julian Assange.
Private First Class Bradley Manning has already admitted passing to WikiLeaks thousands of classified documents that included US embassy cables, war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence and security assessments of Guantanamo Bay detainees and a video of an Apache helicopter attack on civilians in Baghdad. The offences to which Manning pleaded guilty at a pre-trial hearing in March carry a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
However, the 25-year-old soldier, described by his defence counsel as “young and naive but good-intentioned” is still facing the rest of his life in prison.
Not satisfied with Manning’s guilty pleas, the United States government is pressing on with a range of more serious charges headed by that of “aiding the enemy”. It is specifically alleged that Manning “wrongfully and wantonly caus[ed] to be published on the internet intelligence belonging to the US government, having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy”.
The prosecution intends to present evidence that during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, US troops collected digital media items that included “the entire…Afghanistan database released on WikiLeaks as well as Department of State information.”
Evidence will be presented that bin Laden asked for information published by WikiLeaks and received reports from another member of al-Qaeda.
The military prosecutors have indicated they will not seek the death penalty if Manning is convicted of these charges, but the young soldier could be in a military prison for the rest of his life.
Manning’s trial, which began at Fort Meade in Maryland on Monday, has attracted wide media attention, although the volume of reporting has quickly fallen away after the first day of what is expected to be three months of complex legal proceedings.
Future media coverage is likely to be spotty, especially given that much of the trial will be held in secret as witnesses give security classified testimony.
Aside from the media, one foreign embassy has been diligently attending the protracted pre-trial hearings and was present in court at the beginning of Manning’s trial. Indeed, a locally engaged senior research and liaison officer at the Australian embassy in Washington, Alli Curtis, has a box seat at the proceedings.
For more than 18 months, Curtis has been travelling regularly to Fort Meade and drafting detailed reports which the Australian embassy has cabled back to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra.
Curtis has recorded the legal manoeuvrings of prosecution and defence in Manning’s pre-trial hearings in fine detail. The cables have been routinely distributed to the offices of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, across the foreign affairs portfolio and to the Attorney-General’s Department, the Australian Security Intelligence Organistion and the Australian Federal Police.
Declassified through freedom of information applications by Fairfax Media, Curtis’ highly professional reports have provided an interesting, if increasingly sanitised, Australian official perspective on the Manning prosecution.
At a Senate estimates committee hearing in Canberra on Wednesday night, a senior Foreign Affairs and Trade executive confirmed that at least one report on this week’s proceedings at Fort Meade had already been received. What Curtis has reported this week may be disclosed publicly in due course. However, it is already clear that the Australian embassy will have had much to write about because WikiLeaks publisher and Australian citizen Julian Assange is already featuring prominently in the proceedings.
Indeed, on the first day of the trial the prosecution peppered its opening statement with numerous references to Assange, suggesting that he built up close ties to Manning over a six-month period from late 2009 to mid 2010.
Prosecutor Captain Joe Morrow alleged that WikiLeaks, and more specifically Assange, guided Manning as to which classified documents to leak, advised how to avoid detection, and even involved Manning, then a Baghdad-based intelligence analyst, in WikiLeaks’ editing process.
Morrow cited extracts of a web chat between Manning and an individual that the prosecution claims was the WikiLeaks publisher. The chats showed the prosecution alleged, that there was a “familiarity between Manning and Assange”.
The prosecution claims that as early as November 29th, 2009, just two weeks after he was deployed to Iraq, Manning sought and obtained contact details for Assange. Between then and his arrest in May 2010, Manning reportedly searched for the term “WikiLeaks” more than 100 times on the secure intelligence databases that he was authorised to use at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad.
The prosecution further alleges that examination of Manning’s computers revealed an email exchange between him and WikiLeaks in which the soldier contributed to the editing process of the video showing the US Apache helicopter attack that was released by WikiLeaks in April 2010 under the title “Collateral Murder”.
In essence, the prosecution alleges that Manning effectively acted as an agent of WikiLeaks with the transparency website guiding the leaking of documents though its 2009 “most wanted list”. This, the prosecutors claim, provided Manning with a “menu” from which to search.
The prosecution’s allegations of direct interaction between Manning and Assange extend to the leaked reports on detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Morrow claimed on Monday that Manning asked the WikiLeaks founder about how “valuable” the assessments were. In other communications, Assange is alleged to have advised the soldier on “finding ways to browse SIPRNet [a secure database] anonymously”.
For those who have been following the Manning case closely, including the Australian embassy in Washington, the prosecution’s claims don’t entirely come as a surprise.
After all it’s some three years since ‘Wired’ magazine first published extracts of the chat logs between Manning and the US government informant Adrian Lamo, in which the young solider disclosed he was “uploading [classified US military information] to a crazy white-haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long…crazy white haired dude = Julian Assange”.
Australian embassy cables released to Fairfax Media further revealed that as early as December 7th, 2010, Australian diplomats confirmed the US Justice Department was conducting an “active and vigorous inquiry into whether Julian Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act”.
After working US government contacts, the embassy further advised Canberra in December 2010 that it was “likely true” theta a secret grand jury had been convened in Alexandria, Virginia, to consider evidence arising from the WikiLeaks investigation.
Regular updates through 2011 included reporting on the issuing of subpoenas to compel WikiLeaks associates to appear before the grand jury and Justice Department efforts to access Twitter and other internet accounts as “casting the net beyond Assange to see if any intermediaries had been involved in communications between Assange and Manning”.
An early embassy report on Manning’s pre-trial hearing in December 2011 highlighted the prosecution’s assertions that Manning had leaked to WikiLeaks “and, specifically, to Julian Assange”. At that time it was alleged that Manning had asked WikiLeaks, and again specifically Assange, for help in cracking passwords so that he could log onto classified databases anonymously.
Other information revealed in Manning’s pre-trial proceedings indicates that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has targeted at least seven civilians including the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for alleged offences including espionage.
Manning himself discussed his online exchanges with WikiLeaks in his statement made in March this year when he pleaded guilty to a range of lesser charges.
Manning said he gave his WikiLeaks contact the pseudonym “Nathaniel Frank” after the author of a book he read:
“Due to the strict adherence of anonymity by [WikiLeaks], we never exchanged identifying information. However, I believe the individual was likely Mr Julian Assange, Mr Daniel Schmidt [then a WikiLeaks staffer], or a proxy representative of Mr Assange and Schmidt…After a period of time, I developed what I felt was a friendly relationship with Nathaniel. Our mutual interest in information technology and politics made our conversations enjoyable. We engaged in conversation often. Sometimes as long as an hour or more.”
This week, the US military prosecution left no doubt that it regards Assange as a co-conspirator with Manning. In this, Assange is presented not as a journalist engaged in legitimate dealings with a confidential source, bit as someone encouraging, directing and facilitating espionage.
This has serious implications for Manning as it is part of a prosecution strategy to characterise his motives and demonstrate that he was well aware he could be “aiding the enemy” by passing information for publication by WikiLeaks.
According to the prosecution, Manning was not a naive individual who wanted to “lift the fog of war” and “make the world a better place”, as his defence counsel put it; but an egotist who hooked up with a notorious organisation devoted to the indiscriminate dissemination of sensitive information.
“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the internet, into the hands of the enemy,” prosecutor Morrow declared.
According to the prosecution, the case is “an out what happens when arrogance meets access to sensitive information”.
Theses claims are serious matters for Assange, who has been, and probably still is, the subject of a grand jury investigation targeting him for criminal prosecution.
However, the implications are much broader. Many investigative journalists have discussed with confidential sources, including national security sources, how to access information, how to take security precautions and how to avoid getting caught.
As Assange himself put it this week, speaking from his refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the US prosecution’s argument involves a disturbing precedent:
“The precedent works like this: if you communicate with a journalist, then you communicate with a publisher, then you communicate with the public, then you communicate with al-Qaeda – so you communicate with enemies of the United States, and as a result your communications with a journalist must be punished by death or life imprisonment.
“If tolerated, that will lead to regimes where every US government source, when speaking to a journalist, must be concerned that they will suffer either the death penalty or life imprisonment as a result. Now having established that, the US government will have set the precedent that not only is the indirectly communicating with al-Qaeda by communicating with the public, but the publisher and the journalist is as well. And therefore the publisher and the journalist can be embroiled in espionage charges.”
Investigative journalism and espionage – the two are regarded as one and the same thing. This can only have a chilling effect on journalism that is related to national security matters.
Of course, all these proceedings still have a long way to run. The Manning trial is expected to last some three months. After that there may be appeals that will take years to be dealt with.
Assange’s complicated legal circumstances also appear far from resolution, with the Swedish and British governments showing no inclination to compromise on their insistence that he must be extradited to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault allegations.
No assurances against possible extradition to the United States appear likely, either. The US government is unlikely to declare its hand any time soon, though the Manning trial is likely to reveal further elements of a potential prosecution case against Assange.
Meanwhile, the Australian embassy in Washington will be taking copious notes. But don’t expect any action or statements by the Australian government on Assange’s behalf. Prime Minister Julia Gillard once labelled WikiLeaks’ actions “illegal”, and there’s certainly no regard for Assange, who has signalled his intention to run as a Senate candidate for the newly formed WikiLeaks Party.
At Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday evening, Foreign Minister Bob Carr bluntly observed that he thought Assange’s consular needs had been “overserviced” and that the government would make no representations to the US government about his circumstances.
Asked by Greens senator Scott Ludlam whether the government would raise the question of Assange’s free speech protection as a journalist under the First Amendment to the US constitution, Carr, himself a former journalist, observed: “It wouldn’t be a matter of concern to Australia to make a case for him. No, why would we do that? It doesn’t affect Australian interests…it’s not a focus of our diplomacy. Why would it be?” – Philip Dorling

About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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