The US government does not have any evidence that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange succeeded in cracking a password for whistleblower Chelsea Manning, according to a newly unsealed affidavit written by an FBI agent.
Last week, Assange was escorted out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and arrested for breaching bail in connection to allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden. The day of Assange’s arrest, the US government unsealed an indictment against Assange with a hacking conspiracy charge. The Department of Justice accused WikiLeaks’ founder of agreeing to help Manning crack a password that would have helped the former military analyst get into a classified computer system under a username that did not belong to her, making it harder for investigators to trace the eventual leak.
On Monday, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia unsealed the affidavit, which is dated December 21, 2017. The document contains more details on the interactions between Assange and Manning. And, most significantly, contains the admission that the US government—as of December of 2017—had no idea whether Assange actually cracked the password. Until now, we knew that the US was aware that Assange attempted to crack a password for Manning once, but didn't know if it had more evidence of further attempts or whether it thought Assange was successful.
“Investigators have not recovered a response by Manning to Assange’s question, and there is no other evidence as to what Assange did, if anything, with respect to the password,” FBI agent Megan Brown said in the affidavit.
Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email email@example.com
According to lawyers, the simple offer of help can be considered part of a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as Wired explained last week.
“For purposes of a conspiracy charge, it is not necessary for the action to be successful. All that is needed is an overt action in furtherance of the conspiracy, namely Assange’s efforts to crack the password for Manning,” Bradley, a lawyer at the Mark Zaid P.C law firm in Washington, DC, told Motherboard via email. “That he failed is irrelevant.”
The allegation that Assange offered Manning help was first revealed in 2011, as part of the Manning trial. At the time, prosecutors showed the same chat logs between Manning and a person alleged to be Assange that are now the basis for the indictment against the WikiLeaks founder.
Listen to CYBER, Motherboard’s new weekly podcast about hacking and cybersecurity.