A WikiLeaks volunteer and friend of Chelsea Manning agreed to cooperate with the US Justice Department and appear in front of an Alexandria, VA grand jury in exchange for immunity, reports the Daily Beast.
“I decided to cooperate in exchange for immunity,” said David House – a computer science graduate and political activist who previously refused to testify against Julian Assange in 2011, only to be subpoenaed last May for an encore appearance in front of a grand jury that’s been investigating the WikiLeaks founder for almost nine years.
“You know, I’m walking around on the street out here. I’m not in an embassy,” he added.
House spoke briefly with prosecutors and then testified for about 90 minutes in front of the grand jury, he said. “They wanted to know about my meetings with Assange, they wanted to know broadly about what we talked about,” he recalled. Prosecutors seemed particularly interested in the potential for collateral damage in some of Assange’s leaks. The identities of some American collaborators were exposed in Assange’s release of State Department cables and Army field reports from Afghanistan, which triggered internal debate and led to the departure of some of WikiLeaks’ key staffers early on. –Daily Beast
“They showed me chat logs in which I was arguing vehemently with him about releasing documents that would leave people vulnerable and put people’s lives at risk,” said House. “That was the only thing they put in front of my face that made me think, ‘This may be what they’re going after him for.'”
Chelsea Manning, meanwhile has refused to comply with a March 5 subpoena in the same case – making good on a vow to fight the subpoena in court.
“I am not going to contribute to a process that I feel is dangerous and could potentially place me in a position where I am forced to backtrack on the truth,” Manning told the New York Times.
She made good on that vow Friday morning by filing a motion to quash the subpoena, according to her attorney, New York lawyer Moira Meltzer-Cohen. “At the insistence of the clerk, the motion was filed under seal,” said Meltzer-Cohen in an email to The Daily Beast. “Our position is that litigation regarding the enforceability of a subpoena does not implicate grand jury secrecy, and we will move to have it unsealed. Chelsea, as you might expect, wants to bring some transparency to this process and hopes to be able to share the filing soon.” –Daily Beast
The grand jury probe – case 10GJ3793, became public knowledge in early 2011 as prosecutors fired off records demands for records on key WikiLeaks activists to companies such as Google and Twitter. Twitter, with the consent of the DOJ, notified five users that the feds sought their records. Three of those five challenged the records request in court, backed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU.
In 2013, an appeals court sided with the government against the three WikiLeaks activists; Jacob Appelbaum, Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Dutch businessman Rop Gonggrijp.
Following the 2011 subpoena in which House initially pleaded the fifth, Icelandic WikiLeaks staffer Sigurdur Thordarson began spying on WikiLeaks volunteers for the FBI.
He met with prosecutors in Virginia in February 2012 and later turned over eight hard drives of internal WikiLeaks chat logs and media. Around the same time the government obtained a search warrant for the Gmail inbox of another WikiLeaks volunteer in Reykjavik. –Daily Beast
Records revealed that the grand jury was investigating Assange for potential violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as the Espionage Act in connection with the Manning leaks.
While the Obama administration declined to push forward with prosecution, the FBI revived their efforts after the 2016 US election – reaching out to a “diverse cast of characters from WikiLeaks’ early days – most of whom had long ago parted company with Assange on acrimonious terms,” notes the Beast.
In November 2017, German police relayed an interview request from the FBI to Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s former second in command. “I don’t know much about the content, but according to what I was told, they wanted to question me about JA’s relationship with Chelsea Manning,” Domscheit-Berg told The Daily Beast last year. “Which struck me as a bit odd and a little late in the game maybe. I quite naturally denied this request.” –Daily Beast
It is unknown whether the new sealed charges are related to the 2010 Manning leaks – however it is believed to be likely.
“Technically speaking, if you get charged by complaint the grand jury investigation remains open,” said a former federal prosecutor, speaking to the Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. “Maybe they think they’ll be able to get him out at some point. The investigation would probably be over already if he was in a jurisdiction that would extradite him.”