Defense debunks US claims of reckless dump and Assange-Manning conspiracy

25 February 2020 — Defend Wikileaks

Mark Summers QC, arguing for Julian Assange’s legal defense, spent the second day of Assange’s extradition hearing at Woolwich Crown Court thoroughly debunking two key allegations the US government makes against Assange in its extradition request. The US has alleged that Assange attempted to help Manning conceal her identity, and it has alleged that Assange and WikiLeaks released the full unredacted State Department cables in 2011 with a reckless disregard for the harm it could cause.

Guardian journalists to blame for unredacted cables’ release

A day after the CPS’ lawyer James Lewis QC, acting for the US, made dramatic claims of harm caused by WikiLeaks’ September 2011 publication of the unredacted State Department cables, the defense explained what really happened: The Guardian journalists Luke Harding and David Leigh published a password that irreversibly released the unredacted cables into the world.

Before detailing this disclosure, Mark Summers reminded the court that WikiLeaks entered into a partnership with several mainstream media outlets to responsibly handle and redact the material. WikiLeaks and these media partners engaged in a harm minimization process in which WikiLeaks, on some occasions, redacted even more than other outlets. Beginning to release the documents in November 2010, WikiLeaks and its partners continued to redact names and prepare cables for publication over the next several months.

Then in February 2011, Harding and Leigh published “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy,” in which they disclosed a password to an encrypted file containing the full unredacted cables. Harding and Leigh did not off-handedly or subtly reveal the password; the password was the title of a chapter in the book.

If there was any doubt about whether the chapter title was the password, the index at p 322 tells you that that is in fact the password. In court, the defense had to point this out to the prosecution’s James Lewis, who laughed incredulously.

The password disclosure went unnoticed for several months, until August 2011. On 25 August 2011, the German publication Der Freitag started reporting that the password was public and it had access to the encrypted file because it had been mirrored.

That day, Assange and WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison telephoned the US State Department, warning them about what was about to happen. There is a transcript of the call, in which Assange and Harrison talk in terms of an emergency about to happen; they have intelligence they are about to be put on the web unredacted, not by WikiLeaks. Though told that they had the “emergency phone line”, the two were told to call back in a few hours.

Assange and Harrison also tried to get hold of the US ambassador in the UK, trying to explain that the “cables were about to be dumped online by someone else” and asking about the harm minimization process, whether it is complete or whether it can be escalated.

Assange said told the US:

“We don’t understand why you don’t see the urgency of this. Unless we do something about it, people’s lives are being put at risk.”

Wikileaks sprang into action and released a statement within 20 minutes; however, within an hour, the cables were already on other websites, including Cryptome.

Manning couldn’t have anonymized even if she cracked password

The 18th count against Julian Assange, underpinning the government’s theory of Assange “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning’s 2010 disclosures, is “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.” The essence of the charge is the allegation that Assange agreed to help Manning attempt to crack a US military computer password so that Manning could log in under an anonymous account, allowing her to continue to obtain and disseminate classified information without exposing her identity.

But as Mark Summers argued for the defense today, this interpretation fundamentally understands the facts about how Manning’s computer usage would have been tracked. Rather than using login details, the military tracks users by IP address — so using an administrative username would not have concealed her identity at all. Manning, whom fellow soldiers considered to be a technical expert, with some of them even asking her to install software on their computers for them

The government has made an assumption about Chelsea Manning’s motives, eliding this basic fact, to baselessly impugn those of Julian Assange.

Manning’s conscience, not Assange, compelled her to blow the whistle

The anonymizing-password allegation is a key part of the government’s wider theory of an ongoing conspiracy between source and publisher, which alleges that Assange coached and encouraged Manning to leak over a period of several months. The defense explained today, however, that Manning’s own words in her 2013 court martial flatly contradict this claim.

“Although I stopped sending documents to WLO [WikiLeaks], no one associated with the WLO pressured me into giving more information. The decisions that I made to send documents and information to the WLO and the website were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Furthermore, Manning decision to disclose the US Army’s 2007 Rules of Engagement specifically alongside the Collateral Murder video underline these motives. Rather than disclosing them because Rules of Engagement were mentioned on WikiLeaks’ Most Wanted List, Manning explicitly wanted those who viewed Collateral Murder to be able to read the Rules of Engagement that the Apache gunners would have been operating under alongside the video of their slaying of Reuters journalists and innocent civilians.

Manning herself said that she considered the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs to be “among the more significant documents of our time, revealing the true costs of war.”

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