The Army private accused of sharing classified information with Wikileaks is facing a raft of new charges, upping the government’s ante in the case. Is this where the government’s focus shifts away from prosecuting Julian Assange, and squarely onto Bradley Manning?
The military announced Wednesday that it has filed 22 additional charges against the Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified cables and military reports to WikiLeaks.
Private First Class Bradley Manning is now charged with aiding the enemy, an offense which can carry the death penalty. Prosecutors said they did not plan to seek death in the case, but at least in theory the military officer overseeing the case could send it to a court martial with the death penalty as an option. If the death penalty is not sought, Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.
Manning has been in custody since May. He was moved to a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va last July.
In addition to aiding the enemy, Manning faces new charges of wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it will be accessed by the enemy, five counts of thefts of public property or records, eight counts of transmitting national defense information to someone not entitled to receive it (violating the Espionage Act), two counts of computer fraud, and five counts of violating Army computer security regulations.
“The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Pvt. 1st Class Manning is accused of committing,” an Army spokesman, Capt. John Haberland, said.
Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, put up a blog post Wednesday, saying among other things:
”The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by PFC Manning’s commander….Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.”
And it also appears that Coombs is planning to use some sort of diminished capacity defense for Manning – perhaps declaring him mentally incompetent. The Army has said the case has ground to a halt due to a “ request from Manning’s defense that a medical board review his ‘mental capacity and responsibility.’”
Coombs also went after the government’s core allegation: transmitting classified data to the enemy. From Politico:
Coombs also appeared to question the new aid to the enemy charge. He posted details from a military judge’s manual that says such a charge should include ” the name or description of the enemy alleged to have received the intelligence information.” Those details don’t appear in the new charge sheet released Wednesday. (View details of the new charges here.)
The trouble of course is that people do get indicted for sharing classified information with journalists. Just ask former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, whose “Julian Assange” was New York Times reporter James Risen. The notion of such information being shared with “the enemy” needn’t have anything to do with the journalistic source – it could be about the end user of the data; namely anyone who subsequently reads or downloads the data. In Sterling’s case, the feds went to almost scary lengths to uncover Risen’s source so that they could prosecute him.
And speaking of the New York Times, they have this on the new Manning charges:
The charges provide new details about when prosecutors believe that Private Manning downloaded copies of particular files from a classified computer system in Iraq. For example, the charges say he copied a database of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables between March 28 and May 4, 2010.
The charges also accuse Private Manning of twice “adding unauthorized software” to the secret computer system — once between February and early April 2010, and again on May 4. A press release accompanying the charges said the software was used “to extract classified information” from the system.
Now that’s interesting. Adding unauthorized software … is that anything like hacking? Is the government’s case now moving in the direction of targeting “Manning the hacker”, rather than what they seemed to be doing before; namely, trying to turn “Manning the witness” as a way of getting at Julian Assange? It does seem the government has a weak case against Assange, unless they can prove he somehow provided the “unauthorized software” Manning used to allegedly transmit classified data to Wikileaks. Nothing I’ve read seems to support that, so it appears the government is down to going full-bore at Manning. (BTW, just for the sake of argument, if Assange didn’t provide the unauthorized software, who did…?)
And it’s interesting that the defense appears to be moving in the “diminished mental capacity” direction, rather than the “Manning is a conscientious whistleblower” direction, as his supporters contend.
Back to the “aiding the enemy” charge, about which the Times writes:
The charge sheet also did not identify “the enemy” that Private Manning was accused of aiding. A military statement says that charge can be a capital offense, but the prosecution team had decided against recommending the death penalty in this case.
In its Twitter feed, WikiLeaks said the charge of aiding the enemy was “a vindictive attack on Manning for exercising his right to silence. No evidence of any such thing.” It also said the charge suggested that “WikiLeaks would be defined as ‘the enemy.’ A serious abuse.”
Military officials did not respond to a question on Wednesday about who the “enemy” was. The charge sheet, however, accuses the private of giving intelligence to the enemy “through indirect means,” which could suggest that prosecutors are referring to Afghan and Iraqi insurgents rather than to WikiLeaks.
Private Manning’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, who has largely declined to talk to the news media, said on Twitter that “aiding the enemy” was the “most significant additional charge.”
UPDATE: Wired has more on the specifics of the charges, including this:
At least one of the charged leaks has neither been acknowledged by WikiLeaks, nor mentioned by Bradley Manning in his online chats with Adrian Lamo — the ex-hacker who turned him in to the Army and FBI. That’s a “United States Forces -Iraq Microsoft Outlook / SharePoint Exchange Server global address list belonging to the United States government.” This may indicate that investigators recovered evidence from forensic examinations of Manning’s computer following his arrest.
And the Wired editors add this regarding Assange:
The charge of aiding the enemy is a purely military charge from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which applies only to service members. But the specter of a capital offense will likely be seized upon by lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who have claimed that Assange’s pending extradition to Sweden in a rape-and-molestation investigation there could somehow lead to him being shipped to the United States, where some politicians have called for Assange to be charged with a capital offense.
You can read the charging documents for yourself at Wired.