Has the Manning-Asange connection been established?

After a long period with very little activity, it’s certainly been a busy week in the media for accused traitor Bradley Manning. But today’s news takes the unfolding story in a different direction, namely heading back to our old friend Julian Assange. For those who may have forgotten, there were a lot of questions flying when Manning’s allegedly ill gotten documentation began showing up at Wikileaks, with a particular focus on whether or not the United States could go after Assange himself. Unfortunately, up until the beginning of this year, United States investigators had been saying that they had never been able to establish a direct link between the two.

The theory behind it was that if Manning had passed the state secrets off to some third party – not a military member – who then turned around and made them available to Wikileaks, or if Manning had simply uploaded them himself, then Assange was essentially just acting as a journalist after “finding” the documents on his server and was untouchable for the most part. The assumed third party in question who either assisted Manning, or at least had spoken to him about it, had been previously taken to be computer hacker Adrian Lamo, who has since been institutionalized. But all that may be about to change. As we mentioned yesterday, Army data specialists have been prowling through Manning’s computer and extra hard drives for some time. And guess what they found now?

Jolt in WikiLeaks Case: Feds Found Manning-Assange Chat Logs on Laptop

A government digital forensic expert examing the computer of accused WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning retrieved communications between Manning and an online chat user identified on Manning’s computer as “Julian Assange,” the name of the founder of the secret-spilling site that published hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables…

Mark Johnson, a digital forensics contractor for ManTech International who works for the Army’s Computer Crime Investigative Unit, examined an image of Manning’s personal MacBook Pro and said he found 14 to 15 pages of chats in unallocated space on the hard drive that were discussions of unspecified government info between Manning and a person believed to be Assange, which specifically made a reference to re-sending info.

While the chat logs were encrypted, Johnson said that he was able to retrieve the MacBook’s login password from the hard drive and found that the same password “TWink1492!!” was also used as the encryption key.

Assange’s name was attached to a chat handle “[email protected]” listed in Manning’s buddy list in the Adium chat program on his computer. That Jabber address uses the same domain name allegedly mentioned by Manning in the chat logs that ex-hacker Adrian Lamo gave to the FBI and to Wired.com last year. In that earlier chat log, Manning was making reference to a domain that Assange was known to use.

In Manning’s buddy list there was also a second handle, “[email protected],” which had two aliases associated with it: Julian Assange and Nathaniel Frank. CCC.de in the domain refers to the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker club in Germany that operates the Jabber server.

I don’t know if this will turn out to be enough of a “smoking gun” to let slip the hounds on Assange, and we’ve been burned too many times for me to get my hopes up now. But the initial indications certainly make it look suspicious. If there are records in there of Assange directly following up with Manning and asking him to “re-send” some of the classified material, we’re moving into a whole new ball game. In that case, he’s no longer acting as a journalist at all, but as the recipient of state secrets.

Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen. What looked like a fairly open and shut court martial for Aiding the Enemy in a time of war may have just gotten decidedly more interesting.