Chelsea Manning’s rancid relationship with Julian Assange

In 2010, a low-ranking U.S. Army soldier became internationally famous after dumping at WikiLeaks 734,885 sensitive military and diplomatic files that she’d heisted while deployed to Iraq. Convicted by court-martial, PFC Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In January 2017, with three days left in office, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. Following release, she enjoyed 22 months of freedom, including whirlwind transformation into a glamorous celebrity, paid speaking gigs around the world, and a losing campaign for U.S. Senate in Maryland’s 2018 Democratic Party primary.

On March 7, 2019, however, Chelsea Manning issued a statement that, despite having been granted immunity from both the U.S. District Court and Department of the Army to ensure that her testimony could not be used against her, she had refused to answer questions in response to a federal grand jury subpoena. She said her legal team would “challenge the secrecy of these proceedings, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my refusal.

So why wouldn’t Chelsea testify? According to her motion to quash the subpoena, it was because:

  • potential questions would be premised on unlawful electronic surveillance. She believed her communications were being intercepted, having observed surveillance vans outside her luxury penthouse apartment, and described suspicious interactions with strangers;
  • the government was harassing her, intimidating her, chilling her political speech, and seeking to compel her to divulge names and political affiliations;
  • investigation of criminal activity was not the sole and dominant purpose of the subpoena.

On March 8, Manning was found in contempt of court and jailed. The judge said Chelsea would remain there until she testified or the grand jury concluded its work.

On May 9, after being incarcerated for 62 days, Chelsea was released due to expiration of the grand jury’s term. She was served beforehand with another subpoena, to face a different grand jury one week later. It is therefore conceivable, said her attorneys, that she will again be held in contempt of court and be returned to custody.

On Sunday, May 12, Chelsea traveled to New York City to appear on CNN’s Reliable Sources. Host Brian Stelter asked about the grand jury’s presumed target, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “In none of this,” she answered, “has any single person been specifically identified.” Without letting the surname Assange pass her lips in an almost 7-minute interview, Manning described her decade-old WikiLeaks contacts in the present tense. I don’t actually know who I’m communicating with. I certainly have suspicions, and in my [pretrial court-martial] testimony I said sure there’s like percentage ranges as to like who it could be, but I don’t actually know who’s on the other end of these communications.

Besides misremembering her pretrial testimony, transcripts of which contain no trace of “percentage ranges,” Chelsea also conveniently forgot two series of self-incriminating dialogues.

During one pretrial hearing, Manning swore under oath that her contact during April 2010 online chats after she’d submitted stolen documents was an important part of the WikiLeaks organization. We never exchanged identifying information; however, I believed the individual was likely Mr. Julian Assange, Mr. Daniel Schmitt [the alias of WikiLeaks’ German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg], or a proxy-representative of Mr. Assange and Schmitt.

Similarly, during May 2010 online chats with hacker Adrián Lamo, Manning bragged:

  • lets just say *someone* i know intimately well, has been penetrating US classified networks, mining data like the ones described — and been transferring that data from the classified networks over the “air gap” onto a commercial network computer — sorting the data, compressing it, encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white haired aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long =L
  • crazy white haired dude = Julian Assange
  • i mean, im a high profile source — and i’ve developed a relationship with assange — but i dont know much more than what he tells me, which is very little
  • it took me four months to confirm that the person i was communicating was in fact assange
  • adrianlamo: how’d you do that?
  • I gathered more info when i questioned him whenever he was being tailed in Sweden by State Department officials — i was trying to figure out who was following him — and why — and he was telling me stories of other times he’s been followed — and they matched up with the ones he’s said publicly
  • assange offered me a position at wl [WikiLeaks] — but im not interested right now — too much excess baggage

But the cream curdled with the passage of time, and Chelsea’s relationship with Assange turned rancid. In a June 2021 podcast with The Intercept, Manning confirmed that she hadn’t resisted the grand jury to protect Julian but because she opposes grand juries on principle.

Moreover, during the same podcast, Chelsea said that if The Intercept’s prankster Ken Klippenstein had been around in 2010 (he was then a 22-year-old college student), she’d have sent her looted files to him, not to WikiLeaks.

Things only got worse in December 2021 when @TheOfficialE, a year-old, 31K-subscriber, pro-Assange channel at the cloud-based instant messaging service Telegram, leaked a bootleg one-minute audio clip. Its intro mirrored a falsehood perpetrated by WikiLeaks, namely that the 18-count U.S. indictment of Assange, filed in open court in 2020, is centered on WikiLeaks’ greatest hit, a helicopter gunsight video that Chelsea Manning called “war porn” and Assange edited, captioned, and brilliantly stage-managed as Collateral Murder. In fact, the indictment does not mention that video, which Manning thought was classified but turned out not to be so. It forms no part of the charges against Assange.

@TheOfficialE’s touting this as “unreleased testimony” is also absurd. It’s not from her court-martial proceedings, where she testified only once under oath and of which a full bootleg audio was promptly released by Freedom of the Press Foundation. It’s not from her later encounter with the Virginia grand jury, either, where she refused to testify. Rather, it’s an informal conversation (with an anonymous person whose voice is electronically suppressed) at some unspecified place and time.

Even so, it’s undoubtedly Manning’s voice, apparently responding to a question about one of the pending charges against Assange. In 2010, it is alleged, he agreed to help her hack the Department of Defense’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) by cracking an encrypted password stored in a file accessible only by users with administrative-level privileges, which the soldier did not have. The goal was to let Manning log on using a disguised username, making it harder to identify her as the source of unauthorized disclosures. Their conspiracy never came to fruition, but agreement to commit a crime is by itself indictable under U.S. law.

What Chelsea says in @TheOfficialE’s clip is remarkable, especially since she has never opposed Assange’s extradition to face trial in the U.S. or condemned his incarceration in London’s Belmarsh Prison as he fights that fate.

  • I already had access to the SIPRNet security system. I used it every day. I don’t understand the question. I had access to — I worked it every day at my office. I had access to everything.
  • The question doesn’t make sense. I had access to everything that I worked with every day. And I was not charged with bypassing any systems.
  • I don’t understand the question. But from what I understand — the reason I don’t understand the question is because I had access to everything. I had access to everything on the network. I had access to all the documents and everything. I did not need — it doesn’t seem relevant to the disclosures, which I believe that’s what you’re trying to get at, right?
  • Yes. I did not need to ask anybody for access to systems that I already had access to.

Until now, Manning has steadfastly avoided addressing such issues. In 2019 she told The New York Times, “I’m still under obligation under the court rules and the Classified Information Procedures Act of 1980 to not disclose closed court-martial testimony or verify evidence that was put in the record. Things like that. So I can’t talk about that stuff and I’m not going to.” In October 2021, appearing virtually before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, Manning reiterated that she is bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the U.S. government that forbids openly discussing details of her leaks.

Accordingly, @TheOfficialE’s bootleg audio places Chelsea Manning in legal jeopardy, subject to prosecution for violating the court rules, law, and/or NDA. This is a reckless attempt by incognito fanatics to save Assange by sacrificing Manning.

Equally bad, it compels us to ask why Manning privately exonerates Assange but refused to do so when it would’ve counted: before the grand jury in 2019. This is nothing short of vindictive. It suggests that she resisted testifying neither to protect Assange nor to protest grand juries, but because she’d rather go to jail than help Assange. The most important godsend in Julian’s career, the extravagant informant who put WikiLeaks on the map, has not just thrown him under the bus, she’s stomped on him for good measure.

Copyright © 2021 by Alan Kurtz

Alan Kurtz is the author of Chelsea Manning’s War (2021), a self-published Amazon Kindle e-book.

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