How Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning became intertwined

The pair have never met, with their first contact in 2010 over the internet.

April 12, 2019, 4:09 AM

It's been a little more than nine years since Chelsea Manning first contacted Wikileaks and provided Julian Assange's organization with hundreds of thousands of classified documents and a video of an Apache helicopter strike that killed Iraqi insurgents and two photographers working for Reuters.

Their life stories have been intertwined since the pair first contacted each other over the internet, but they have never met in person.

The story of how Manning and Assange began their relationship is laid out in great detail in the 35-page statement Manning read on Feb. 28, 2013 when she pleaded guilty. Assange's federal indictment released Thursday essentially lays out another layer of the cooperation between Manning and Assange that was not described in her guilty statement.

According to the newly unsealed indictment made public on Thursday, in early March 2010, Assange agreed to help Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, with cracking an administrative password to the military's classified internet system. Getting access to the password would have made it harder for investigators to track Manning as the source of the information being posted by Wikileaks.

None of this was mentioned in Manning's 2013 guilty plea statement though the password request was mentioned during the pre-trial hearings that preceded Manning's court-martial.

Manning's guilty plea statement also presented a narrative of how she came to contact Wilkileaks and eventually Assange.

In late 2009, Manning was a disillusioned Army private first class serving in Baghdad. Her secure work computer gave her access to files detailing the U.S. military's operations in the Middle East region including hundreds of thousands of battlefields reports known as "SigActs," or significant action reports, filed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq that contained descriptions of mundane military events and firefights.

Whistleblower and activist Chelsea Manning, speaks at the annual re:publica conferences on their opening day on May 2, 2018 in Berlin.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Manning decided to download the SigActs and during a two-week leave back in the U.S. in late 2009 decided that news organizations needed to see what were in the battlefield reports. In her statement Manning described unsuccessfully trying to get the attention of The New York Times and The Washington Post. After perceiving little interest , though it's not clear Manning spoke to anyone of significance at each paper, the Army private first class decided to contact Wikileaks, an organization that had gained her attention.

Before returning to Iraq, Manning uploaded hundreds of thousands of SigActs to a Wikileaks dropsite, but never heard back. In the statement, Manning described becoming interested in classified State Department diplomatic cables about Iceland and again uploaded to the site. Within hours, the document was posted on the website. It was the first time Manning figured out that Wikileaks must have received the SigActs she had previously sent the organization. Manning then decided to send Wikileaks the Apache video she had come across after a work colleague mentioned its existence.

It was after the posting of that video that Manning was contacted by someone at Wikileaks who went by the name of "Nathaniel" and that was who Manning suspected was Assange. They began an almost daily correspondence over the Jabber networking site.

In March and April 2010, Manning sent Wikileaks 250,000 diplomatic cables, a video of an airstrike in Afghanistan killed civilians and hundreds of assessments about the detainees being held at Guantanamo.

Julian Assange gestures as he arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police, April 11, 2019.
Victoria Jones/PA via AP

In all, Manning provided Wikileaks with 400,000 Iraq SigAct reports, 90,000 Afghanistan SigAct reports, 250,000 State Department cables and 800 Guantanamo detainee assessment briefs.

Following the guilty plea, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail, but her sentence was later commuted by President Barack Obama to seven years.

Since early March, Manning has been held at a jail in Virginia for refusing to testify to a federal grand jury that was investigating Wikileaks.

In a statement issued Thursday, Manning's legal team said the newly unsealed charges against Assange support the view that Manning should not be in jail.

"The indictment against Julian Assange unsealed today was obtained a year to the day before Chelsea appeared before the grand jury and refused to give testimony," the statement said.

"Compelling Chelsea to testify would have been duplicative of evidence already in the possession of the grand jury, and was not needed in order for US Attorneys to obtain an indictment of Mr Assange," the legal team argued. "Since her testimony can no longer contribute to a grand jury investigation, Chelsea's ongoing detention can no longer be seriously alleged to constitute an attempt to coerce her testimony. As continued detention would be purely punitive, we demand Chelsea be released."

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