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Feds Say Assange Chat Logs Document Hacking Conspiracy

As a battle over the expected extradition of Julian Assange heats up in the United Kingdom, a newly unsealed U.S. court filing details how the WikiLeaks founder tried to cover his tracks.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - As a battle over the expected extradition of Julian Assange heats up in the United Kingdom, a newly unsealed U.S. court filing details how the WikiLeaks founder tried to cover his tracks.

Unsealed this morning in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Assange was indicted last week, the 2017 affidavit by FBI Special Agent Megan Brown says Assange took “elaborate measures to conceal,” encrypt and anonymize his communications with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Brown says chat logs from 2010 – when Manning first provided WikiLeaks with a massive trove of classified documents revealing U.S. war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – plainly show a “specific illegal agreement” where Assange offered to help Manning crack a password stored on a Defense Department computer linked to a classified server.

The chat shows Manning first ask Assange if he was “any good at LM hash cracking” – the process of converting encrypted passwords to legible text. Assange replied affirmatively, according to the affidavit, and went on to tell Manning about special tools known as “rainbow tables” that WikiLeaks used to crack hash values and determine any passwords associated with them.

Though Brown calls it still “unknown” whether Assange or Manning ever successfully cracked the password, she says follow-up messages from Assange to Manning prove that Assange was on a mission to hack the system.

“The context of the agreement demonstrates that Assange and Manning intended to crack the password to facilitate Manning’s disclosure of classified information of the United States,” Brown wrote.

After two days of attempted hacks, the logs show that Manning asked Assange: “Any more hints about this LM hash?”  

“No luck so far,” Assange wrote.

Brown also notes that forensic investigators found files on Manning’s computer showing she forwarded a password to Assange for a file transfer. Again, however, Brown notes it was not absolutely clear the password was “attributable to any specific person.”

“Although there is no evidence that the password to the file transfer protocol user was obtained, had Manning done so, she would have been able to take steps to procure classified information under a username that did not belong to hear,” Brown wrote. “Such measures would have frustrated attempts to identify the source of the disclosures to WikiLeaks,” Brown wrote.

Manning served one-fifth of a 35-year sentence for violations of the Espionage Act before President Barack Obama granted commuted her sentence. The transgender whistleblower was imprisoned again last month, however, after she refused to testify about WikiLeaks before a grand jury.

Manning’s lawyers have called her continued detention in Alexandria unreasonable, saying that whatever information Manning could provide to a grand jury is already public.

“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,” Manning’s legal team said in a statement Friday. “A continued detention would be purely punitive. We demand Chelsea be released.”

Assange is imprisoned meanwhile in London following his eviction last week from the Ecuadorean Embassy where he had claimed political asylum since 2012.

Authorities in Sweden are reviewing meanwhile whether to question Assange over old claims of rape and sexual assault. 

Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson did not return a request for comment Monday.

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