Hours before She Attempted to Kill Herself, Prosecutors May Have Told Chelsea Manning that Julian Assange Is a Russian Spy

Back when the government first subpoenaed Chelsea Manning, I laid out why that was likely to be counterproductive.

[U]nless there’s a really good legal reason for the government to pursue its own of evolving theory of WikiLeaks’ activities, it doesn’t make sense to rush where former WikiLeaks supporters are headed on their own. In virtually all venues, activists’ reversed understanding of WikiLeaks is bound to have more credibility (and almost certainly more nuanced understanding) than anything the government can offer. Indeed, that would likely be especially true, internationally, in discussions of Assange’s asylum claim.

A charge against Assange in conjunction with Vault 7 or the 2016 election operation might accelerate that process, without foreclosing the government’s opportunity to present any evolved understanding of WikiLeaks’ role in the future (especially if tied to conspiracy charges including the 2016 and 2017 activities).

But getting into a subpoena fight with Chelsea Manning is likely to have the opposite effect.

That’s true, in part, because post-commutation a lot of people worry about the impact renewed pressure from the government against Manning will have, regardless of the legal soundness of it. The government wanted Aaron Swartz to become an informant when they ratcheted up the pressure on him between 2011 and 2013. They didn’t get that information. And his suicide has become a key symbol of the reasons to distrust law enforcement and its ham-handed legal tactics.

Yesterday, Manning tried to kill herself. While the statement released by her lawyers notes that she has a hearing tomorrow on whether she should be freed because no amount of coercion will make her cooperate with the grand jury, the statement is silent about the fact that she was brought before the grand jury yesterday, hours before the suicide attempt.

I know of no account of what happened in that grand jury appearance. But Jeremy Hammond was also brought before the grand jury in advance of a hearing, also on Friday, in a bid to be freed (in Hammond’s case, he’d be released back into federal prison to serve out his sentence for hacking Stratfor). He gave an account of the appearance in an interview yesterday (the part about the grand jury starts after 41:20). Hammond described how, before entering the grand jury, the prosecutor asked whether there was anything the government could do to get him to change his mind about not testifying.

“What could the United States government do that could get you to change your mind and obey the law here? Cause you know” — he basically says — “I know you think you’re doing the honorable thing here, you’re very smart, but Julian Assange, he’s not worth it for you, he’s not worth your sacrifice, you know he’s a Russian spy, you know.”

The questions he was asked in the grand jury were apparently no surprise: the prosecutor asked whether Assange asked Hammond to hack any websites. Hammond describes the questions as the same as were asked in his last appearance, in September. Because Hammond decided to answer in the same way Bartleby the Scrivener answered questions — by saying he preferred not to answer — the prosecutor afterwards tried to chat up Hammond about world literature. He even reminded that Bartleby died in prison. The prosecutor then repeated that Assange is a Russian spy.

He implied that all options are on the table, they could press for — he didn’t say it directly, but he said they could press for criminal contempt. … Then he implies that you could still look like you disobeyed but we could keep it a secret — “nobody has to know I just want to know about Julian Assange … I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election.”

Hammond asked why Assange wasn’t charged in the 2016 operation, and the prosecutor appears to have responded that the extradition would take a long time. One of the prosecutors reminded Hammond that one of his Anonymous co-defendants was now a professor in the UK. One asked whether Hammond would discuss Sabu, which surprised him. Hammond said that Sabu was the only one who asked him to hack into any websites. The FBI officer in the room pulled out a notebook and started taking notes.

There’s no indication that prosecutors said the same things to Manning as they did to Hammond, though this is the same grand jury and same prosecutors and both are obviously being asked about Assange.

Which means it is likely that hours before Manning attempted to kill herself, prosecutors tried to get her to answer questions about the man she sent entire databases of secrets to by claiming he is a Russian spy. They may well now have evidence of that — but if they used that tack, they were basically asking Manning to testify that the understanding she has of her own actions are entirely wrong and that the sacrifices she made were for a purpose other than the one she believed in.

Sadly, if Hammond is any indication, Manning is also getting a distorted view of the extradition fight over Assange. As I have noted, WikiLeaks supporters are telling at least three outright lies by:

  • Pretending that discussions of a pardon only started in August 2017, in exchange for testimony claiming that Russia didn’t hack the DNC, rather than started well before the FBI investigation into Trump’s campaign was public, as either an implicit or explicit payoff for election assistance
  • Claiming that Mike Pompeo’s designation of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence agency was part of the larger attack on the press that formally started four months afterwards and presenting his claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone stealing American secrets solely to destroy America out of context
  • Distorting the timing of UC Global’s increased surveillance of Assange to hide that it followed the Vault 7 publication

These are cynical, transparent lies being spread by a bunch of people claiming to support journalism. Probably, WikiLeaks supporters are also lying about how Assange repeatedly got tipped off to prosecutorial steps against him, presenting that as proof of Trump’s hostility against Assange.

Earlier in yesterday’s interview, Hammond adopted the distorted claim about Pompeo as “proof” that Assange’s prosecution is political and also that Trump has hostility to the guy who helped him get elected. I doubt whether having an accurate understanding of this would have changed Hammond’s decision not to testify, but he does, apparently, believe the lies.

And I doubt whatever prosecutors told Manning yesterday was the sole cause of yesterday’s attempt. Her attorneys had tried unsuccessfully to prevent yesterday’s testimony, which doesn’t make sense in the context of this week’s hearing unless they believed that even appearing before the grand jury would cause Manning a great deal of stress.

I have no idea what Assange’s relationship with Russia is — that’s presumably the entire point of the grand jury. There’s no doubt there were Russians in chat rooms where the Stratfor hack happened and that Assange was in discussions during the hacks. Obviously, Assange played a key role in the 2016 Russian operation as well as efforts after the fact to invent hoaxes to disclaim Russian involvement. And Joshua Schulte expressed (sometimes contradictory) willingness to seek Russian help after he allegedly sent CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks.

But making such claims amid the stress of a grand jury appearance — if they, in fact, did so — isn’t going to help someone who has a history of self-harm.

33 replies
  1. Victoria Murchisen says:

    Although you refer to “the fact that she was brought before the grand jury yesterday,” that is not an established fact. The source, which has circulated via Twitter, is a March 3, 2020, letter from Manning’s lead defense attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, to Judge Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia. In her letter, Meltzer-Cohen moved to prevent her client being brought before the grand jury on March 10 because it would serve “no legal or rational purpose” and waste time and resources. However, there has been no report as to the court’s response nor any confirmation that Manning was transported as scheduled. You write, “I know of no account of what happened in that grand jury appearance.” It should be noted that said appearance may not in fact have transpired.

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, that specious letter by her somewhat daff counsel had no meaning whatsoever, and there is not a chance in hell the court paid any attention to it.

      • Victoria Murchisen says:

        Thank you for pointing out the link to the court’s response, which I missed. (Sorry about that.) While there has still been no published report that Manning’s appearance transpired, Judge Trenga’s order denying the motion makes it likely that she was brought before the grand jury as scheduled.

        • Victoria Murchisen says:

          I commend you for pursuing this angle of the story, which the rest of media seems to have completely overlooked. It’s no small detail that Manning attempted suicide within 24 hours following her likely appearance before the grand jury.

  2. Cryptome says:

    Any others subpoenaed by the GJ? SOP to turn those subpoenaed against others, ie, Sabu, associates of Aaron Swartz, Manning’s confidant Adrian Lamo, slew of them by Mueller. If Manning is persuaded of betrayal and scapegoated by friends, especially Assange and confederates (some induced to save themselves and Julian, not unprecedented even by him), that could tip her towards suicide like fucked-over-by-former-friends Swartz. Social stigma and isolation is a bitch, readily applied by DOJ and TLAs, in particular by lies, bribes, chats, lunches, romantic whispers to concupiscent media. Journos and lawyers leeching off Assange are venomous and venal, would shop Manning with alacrity, may have done so.

    • emptywheel says:

      Do listen to the Hammond pod cast: the one thing he seemed surprised by was the questions about Sabu. Given that Russia has pretty continuously obtained lists of FBI informants (and used known informants in their 2016 operation) I wouldn’t be surprised if they manipulated him in the Anon efforts.

      As for Manning, David House testified, with immunity. I assume a slew of others have too, though don’t know.

  3. tvor_22 says:

    References for those following along:

    “One of the prosecutors reminded Hammond that one of his Anonymous co-defendants was now a professor in the UK.”

    AKA ‘Kayla’, and why they are relevant: https://cryptome.org/2012/05/liar-q-wl.pdf

    In the above excerpt the author assumes ‘q’ (Sigurdur Thordarson) is rogue and didn’t have specific instructions from Assange.

    But this set of annotated logs (Assange to Manning) demonstrates maybe he wasn’t so rogue after all (“Gave intel source [Sigurdur] here a list of things we wanted”). Also references “intelligence agency for the general public” directly after Assange boasts of receiving huge amount of “leaks”.

    March, 5, 2010 Assange to Manning: Just finished on the IMMI, and crushed some wretch from the Journalists’ union [Elva Björk Sverrisdóttir]. … source [Siggi] here just gave me 10Gb of banking docs. … He leaked some before, was exposed by husband of the wretch. … cross-bank, was an it consultant. Got arrested two weeks ago [https://grapevine.is/mag/feature/2013/07/20/q/]. Had his bank accounts frozen and offered 15 million kroner to shut up … needed to offload them so they’d stop going after him.

    March, 8, 2010, Manning to Assange: Any good and lm hack cracking? Assange: We have rainbow tables for lm. Manning: [sends hash] I think it’s lm+lmnt Assange: Passed it onto our lm guy. Manning: thx

    March, 10, 2010, Assange to Manning: We now have 4 months of audio from .is parliament

    March, 10, 2010, Assange to Manning: Gave intel source here a list of things we wanted [talking about Siggi] … and they came back with last four months of parliament [when Siggi gave him the data said “don’t tell me if it’s you”: https://www.wired.com/2013/06/wikileaks-mole/ Assume these logs provided to the FBI]

    March, 10, 2010, Manning: Is the entire world uploading docs to you? Assange: Some Hungarian finance things, scientology haiti [anon hackers?] lots of German stuff, … ENTIRE ROMANIAN POLICE DATABASE, Israeli OECD application docs, .. Manning: It’s like you’re the first “intelligence agency for the general public”.

    As far as “Russians” we have possible state hackers sending Assange info. But also it looks like Assange might have been keeping the Russians in the loop about the cables:

    “Preliminary analysis shows that there is no threat posed to Russia by Julian Assange’s resource [Manning]. You have to understand that if there is the desire and the right team, it’s possible to shut it down forever.” — Foreign Policy Magazine, ‘FSB to Wikileaks: We can destroy you’

    The FBI must have something more concrete than all that. I’m guessing if Assange does have an actual agent running him, it will be one of his many lawyers.

    • tvor_22 says:

      Worth noting the Kremlin made good on their promise.


      “Preliminary analysis shows that there is no threat posed to Russia by Julian Assange’s resource. You have to understand that if there is the desire and the right team, it’s possible to shut it down forever,” an expert from the FSB’s Center for Information Security was quoted by Life News as saying on Tuesday.

      Links between hacker cells and the FSB made in the past lend credence to this thinly veiled secret services threat.”

      WL Were attacked on November 28 as the cables were being released.


      Also worth noting the quote by the FSB was made within 24 hours of Assange boasting of having Russian material (quote was referenced on the 28th but was made on the 26th, a Tuesday). So either they were just bluffing about knowing of no threat WRT JA’s resource, or they knew in real time that JA didn’t have Russian material, but U.S. intel on Russia from the cables.

      They apparently attacked WL regardless.

  4. Chetan Murthy says:

    If this prosecutor is over-reaching, and doesn’t have decent evidence (I don’t care whether it’s admissible) that Assange is a Russian agent, then he needs to be sanctioned, and he’s doing a terrible thing by subjecting Manning to this psychological torture. BUT. With all due compassion for Manning, if indeed Assange is a Russian agent, then I have very little sympathy for her. She was an unwitting dupe of a Russian agent? She’s an American? She needs to ‘fess up. This ain’t beanbag, and ain’t no “ceteris paribus”. The security of our nation is at stake, and honestly her state of mind wouldn’t be my foremost concern. [I stress that this depends on whether the prosecution has good evidence that Assange is a Russian agent.]

    • bmaz says:

      That is not the correct standard. DOJ needs neither proof beyond a reasonable doubt, nor clear and convincing evidence, nor any other actual burden of proof. All they have to have is a good faith belief that Manning has pertinent evidence. The court’s issuance of a subpoena, and constant reinforcement thereof, is far beyond sufficient.

      • Chetan Murthy says:

        Barry, I’m good with your standard. I was just trying to be as generous as possible to Ms. Manning — as *generous* as possible. When I wrote my comment the first time, I started with the second sentence, that is, with “With all due compassion….”

        I am enraged beyond belief that it sure appears that Assange is a Russian agent, and many in our “left” are still lionizing him. The enemy of our enemy is a Russian agent. Not that the national security state is an “enemy”, but …. well, I get how people can feel that. It still doesn’t excuse the infantile Assange fan club.

      • DMM says:

        Is there any reason to believe the prosecutor was telling the truth (or even merely to his own mind) that Assange is a Russian agent?

        I ask this in the context of knowing that police can and do lie to to those they’re interrogating frequently. What a prosecutor attempting to get a witness to talk have the same freedom to do so, as long as he/she is not doing so before a court?

    • tvor_22 says:

      Come on, Chet, that is ludicrous position to take. You can’t expect her to suddenly abandon her principals just because the grand jury make sweepingly vague claims about Assange being a ‘Russian agent’. From what Hammond described they sound completely demented.

      • bmaz says:

        Okay, hi Tvor. Your comments have been universally smart, good, and helpful here. But that one is complete garbage. You have no idea what is exactly behind the GJ questions, much less the actual questions, and the prosecutors’ determination to obtain her testimony. And relying on a dope like Hammond as some kind of sage barometer to discern it all is ridiculous.

        • tvor_22 says:

          Again, “You can’t expect her to suddenly abandon her principals”

          I’m not claiming the principles are justified or legal.

          “You have no idea what is exactly behind the GJ questions”

          The reason I mention Hammond’s comments is because it was clear from what he said they didn’t offer any justification for their claims (right or wrong). Sounded like they were throwing shit at a wall.

          I’m not saying their claims are not based on solid evidence. I’m saying they *sounded* deranged from Hammond’s point of view. I’m assuming Manning’s point of view is closer to Hammond than yours or mine.

          Her principals (right or wrong) cannot be expected to break over these *ludicrous sounding* accusations (right or wrong). Seems to me they are being ham-fisted, crude, and intimidating.

        • emptywheel says:

          I think Hammond and Manning are coming to this from slightly different places. Hammond was hacking before Anon came along, and Assange was just a small part of that effort. He has said he’ll continue doing what he has done.

          Manning probably wouldn’t have done what she did without that mystique.

          Both are friends with people who are really sour on Assange. Both have tried to distance themselves from WikiLeaks to some or another degree. But just Manning has as much riding on this, I think.

        • tvor_22 says:

          I get that difference (I think). By point of view I meant literal point of view. As in sitting in front of a bunch of snide dudes making outrageous claims on behalf of a system that has crushed you and bullied you and taken away your power, where the only power you can fight back with is refusing to testify or worse. In Manning’s case, those claims implying the new image going forward is you’re no longer an oppressed whitleblower, but an unwitting asset of the Kremlin. If Assange is an agent–the language apparently used–that makes Manning an asset, and that’s going to be the new crushing image, or at least the one I understand to be implied if Hammond’s account of the language is accurate. That’s them taking away her power as a whistleblower. Or at least that’s the way I’m reading it. Maybe I’m being completely inappropriate toward her by assuming these things.

        • bmaz says:

          Okay, let’s have a moment of reality and clarity. Irrespective of what Hammond clucks about, Manning was never legally a “whistleblower”. Being a “whistleblower”, legally, is completely a creature of statute, and has no basis whatsoever in common or federal criminal law outside of specific statutory grants.

          “As in sitting in front of a bunch of snide dudes making outrageous claims on behalf of a system that has crushed you and bullied you and taken away your power, where the only power you can fight back with is refusing to testify or worse. In Manning’s case, those claims implying the new image going forward is you’re no longer an oppressed whitleblower, but an unwitting asset of the Kremlin.”

          This is complete bullshit. Manning is nothing of that. She was never a legitimate whistleblower, but rather a common leaker. And, that is fine, and can be quite honorable. I have no issue with folks that think that of Manning, but, please, spare me the “oppressed whistleblower” baloney.

          And she never has been (see here), and certainly is not here where her bleating position is to undermine a fundamental pillar of criminal and civilian law, only out of an insane attempt to protect assholes who took advantage of her, and in complete contovision of law that any other person would be subject to.

          There is no problem with supporting Manning, in fact, that is admirable. But, please, do it for the right reasons, not that Manning is some protected “whistleblower”.

          Manning went down a very unfortunate path. One she need not have, and one that flew in the face of every ounce of law and reason. Her attorneys did not serve her well. All quite unfortunate and disconcerting. But the bigger picture needs to be considered and understood.

        • tvor_22 says:

          What, exactly, your honor, does the word “image” mean to you?

          Actually, don’t tell me. I’mma just take the dumbest and worst possible interpretation of what I think you might mean and just go with that, and call it even.

        • bmaz says:

          What in the world are you talking about? And what did “you” mean by “image”? Because that was “your” framing while rambling on about “oppressed whistleblowers”. I merely pointed out that Manning was never legally a “whistleblower”, though she could be viewed as one colloquially. But she should not be viewed in that regard at all, much less be considered oppressed, for her latest stunt. Her latest thing was one hundred percent of her own making, and she was just a misguided person that thinks she is above the American legal system, and a person who was willing to destroy it to further her own idiotic determination. I am glad she is going home now, but she was quite wrong. If that little bit of truth makes me dumb, and the worst, in your eyes, so be it. For what it’s worth, I was serious in appreciating your comments here, and thank you for contributing.

        • emptywheel says:


          I think Tvor and I are legit trying to see this from Chelsea’s view. She doesn’t share your views abt the justice system, so your views are unhelpful to that exercise.

        • tvor_22 says:


          I wasn’t saying you are dumb and the worst, I was saying you took what I said and interpreted in the most disingenuous over the top way, (as if *I* was dumb and the worst, K?), rather than in good faith.

          I may be dumb, but, come on…

          “though she could be viewed as one colloquially”

          ZOMG! I think you’re getting it! An image is not what you are, it’s either what you see yourself as, or what others see you as, and when used in plain English, usually implies something that is superficial. K? I stand by what I said for the way I meant it.

          That is a fact. She “blew the whistle”, regardless of whether what she did is covered by whistleblower law or a whistleblower process. She blew it hard, that is what she is known for–collateral murder. It was kind of a big deal.

          Also, what the deuce makes you think she’s above the legal system? Just because one breaks the law doesn’t mean one thinks one’s above it. People break the law for all sorts of reasons. Assuming she thinks she’s above the law would be another example of taking the worst possible interpretation of someone’s actions and using it to imply something about their character in the way a scumbag prosecutor would do.

        • bmaz says:

          Um, okay, thank you kindly. I’ll not further address your paradigm as it would be unproductive, and those thoughts have already been expressed in full. And, by the way, I have been a career long defense attorney, not ever a “scumbag prosecutor”. At any rate, cheers.

        • emptywheel says:

          Yeah, I increasingly think she got very poor advice–but that’s the nature of working with someone whose speciality is blowing off grand juries and not preventing further incarceration.

          Whether or not DOJ will offer proof that Assange is a Russian spy, that they claim he is one may mean Chelsea is only going to be charged in an ongoing conspiracy.

        • bmaz says:

          I sincerely hope not. But if it ever happens, it need not have, and is another byproduct of bad advice and bad lawyering, and bad decisions thereon.

      • Chetan Murthy says:

        “Abandon principles”? The man’s a Russian agent. She’s an American. Is she a patriot, or not, it’s THAT simple.

        • timbo says:

          Define the word “patriot”. Is a patriot someone who doesn’t want anyone to know when there is open murder being committed by our troops and contractors in the field?

  5. pverby says:

    I’m a long-time reader and supporter of Marcy. I’m beginning to think the room-monitors need monitoring.

  6. Jim says:

    Unfortunately , the operative word in the headline is *may* . If they didn`t ……………………..

    • bmaz says:

      That was speculation obviously, although fairly reasoned speculation. There are any number of things that may have transpired at the GJ appearance that could have caused her emotional distress. We just do not know yet, if we ever really will.

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