back to article US Wikileaks investigators can't link Assange to Manning

American media are reporting that investigators are unable to prove that WikiLeaks and its colourful figurehead Julian Assange obtained classified US files from jailed soldier Bradley Manning, allegedly the source of most of WikiLeaks' significant material. If true, this is likely to present serious obstacles to US-based …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Do not

    cross 'The Man'. For The Man is a vengeful Man whose wrath is terrible to behold.

    Instead, be obedient to The Man, obey Him in all His ways, this way The Man will ignore you and you will not be harmed. Unless, of course, The Man wants something of yours and then you're completely in the Shit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      El Reg

      "Assange has reportedly signed book deals based on the WikiLeaks affair worth more than £1m, and WikiLeaks itself appears to be a highly lucrative operation, with "seven-figure" weekly revenues mentioned by its payment processor. "

      Why do you forget to mention that the proceeds go to defend WikiLeaks and Assange's legal bills?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Flame

        Also forgets to mention

        ...that there is nothing new in the cables.

        That irate wailing in the background is The Reg Hack With No Comment Section who has a personal friend visiting Bradley Manning every week or so.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          nothing new

          Maybe not new, but it is interesting to see how the US lean on their allies to get what they want; also how they identify those local politicians & diplomats who see things 'correctly'.

          A lot of the cables read like people sending any old stuff to justify their jobs, and you do start to wonder how much the US government sees the world through 'sexed up' messages from bored diplomatic staff sent in order to get themselves noticed.

          However I did like the one that prioritised intel requirements, monitoring foreign embassy staff etc, as : Russia, China, France (and no others).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Black Helicopters

            Not even interesting...

            Have you not seen every English (American and Brit) spy/spook movie, tv series, drama and or book in the past 60 years?

            I'm sure you can go further back than WWII but you get the idea. Its how *all* governments work these days. Looking for leverage that they can apply to get something that they want accomplished?

            As to your comment about Russia, China and France... Does US have any direct ties to either North Korea, or Iran? Didn't think so....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why?

        Why do you imply that their legal bills are millions per week?

    2. JaitcH
      Jobs Horns

      Is this referring to ...

      Jobs?

      Seems a perfect fit.

  2. Sonny Jim

    Someone posted a copy of the wikileaks mailing list

    http://cryptome.org/wikileaks/wikileaks-leak.htm

    If you have a read through it you'll find that they went to great lengths to protect their sources, with drop-boxes and various other 'spy-like' trickery. I'm not surprised they are finding it hard to find evidence to link them, this was Wikileaks main purpose after all!

  3. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Manning

    So, sleep deprivation does not work, eh?

    They should try waterboarding next - eventually Manning will confess that Assange was with him all the time, watching over his shoulder and issuing orders and instructions how to write the files to the CD.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Why?

      The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) dictates what and how a prisoner.

      So if they suspect someone could be suicidal, they take precautions.

      Are they bending the rules to their advantage? You bet. Are they breaking the law (UCMJ) ?No.

      Don't like it, then don't join the military and don't break the law.

      UCMJ doesn't fsck around and you don't have the same rights as if you were a civilian.

      This is true in any country that has a military force.

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Well...

        Don't disagree with any of what you are saying.

        But it does not change the fact that what they are doing to Manning is not meant to keep him from self-harm but to show him the degree of displeasure of the organisation he worked for with his behaviour.

        Interestingly, I am now reading memoirs of an RAF officer shot down over Germany and captured in 1941 and he describes a very similar procedure applied to the POW who did not behave themselves in the German camps. The only difference is that the Nazis did not try to pretend it was some sort of "suicide watch".

  4. Tom7

    Seven figures per week???

    Poor old Julian, eh? Life must be tough. A million quid a week and your choice of the left-wing activists to sleep with, even if they do claim it was rape afterwards. I'm in the wrong business...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      He won't see most of it

      Legal bills are expensive and I think the pressure will keep on mounting in the future, don't you agree?

    2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      FAIL

      You do have to feel sorry though...

      Not to Julian, but to all of those poor dupes who are funding his Wikileaks and his lifestyle.

      I truly have to blame the public education in both the US and UK for failing to accurately teach history.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Would it really be helpfull to Manning's defence

    if WikiLeaks give him money?

    (yes I know a defence fund would not actually be supplying him with financial reward, but I'm sure the prosecutor in the kangaroo court will not have difficulty convincing the judge that he has benefited from financial contributions made by the recipient of the classified documents they are accusing him of having illegally distributed)

  6. DrXym Silver badge

    Security tricks

    I've always wondered why sensitive data doesn't include unique finger prints embedded it in some way. Imagine that you wanted to identify a particular user was responsible for a leak. Each user has a unique 32 bit identifier. If you could embed 3 or 4 bits of difference between the source document and the copy, you'd catch them in 8 documents. An extra space character, a semicolon instead of a space, a single quote instead of a double quote, a random Z or spurious character. Replacing one word with another that unambiguously means the same thing or an abbreviation / expansion of a word. Things that are going to escape attention unless there are two separate leakers to compare documents between.

    Of course, if the US government were smart they wouldn't have allowed someone to do the equivalent of "select * from reports" in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      What makes you think it doesn't ?

      'nuff said.

    2. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

      @DrXym

      German phone books use non-existent subscribers to this end.

      1. CaptainHook

        And OS Maps

        Will always have a mislabelled minor feature so they can prove a map was copied from the OS

        1. Dave Bell

          Not just mislabelling

          There's a strip of non-existent woodland on one OS map. I know, because I measured that field up for IACS purposes, after somebody questioned the area marked on the OS 1:10000 mapping.

        2. DrXym Silver badge

          OS Maps etc.

          Similar but different. What I'm proposing isn't fake data. It's mild perturbing of the data such that a small number of sample documents, regardless of which ones they were would be sufficient to identify the user or at least rule out a bunch of suspects.

          Imagine if 50% of users get a particular document with a " and 50% with a '. Just a change of a single character cuts the number of culprits down in half. Then do similar perturbing elsewhere a misplaced semi colon, padding at the end of a line, and so on. Even one bit of variance in a page would id a person in 32 documents and I can imagine plenty of ways of packing in more than that.

          Perhaps wikileaks could counter some of them (e.g. reformatting the text, upper casing everything, stripping non alpha numeric chars, but could they get rid of them all?). I doubt it.

          In the case of electronic phone books and OS maps I suppose the same principle could be applied too. The insertion of fake names is usually a guard against copyright infringement, to prevent the defendant offering an innocent explanation for the infringement because the copy contains the same bogus entries as the original.

          1. dssf

            Perturbing

            Some of the perturbing would have to be in the font shapes themselves, and even this would assume that the recipient won't convert it to wingdings after OCR scanning it. If the font conversion process is good, it'll make sure that OCR scanning doesn't follow any tricky embedded font substitution commands that might be possible.

            Steganography could be employed, but if the recipient does the equivalent of scraping off toast burns to get at the appealing and non-odorous parts, then reconstructing the doc would be childsplay. Then, the person converting it would need to thoroughly mutate and destroy the source disk to rid the evidence. Any and all machines used might have to be destroyed, too, just in case manufacturers comply with national governments that order certain "tricks" be installed in the CPUs. I'm only guessing, but some of those tricks might involve master command phrases that trigger or kick in when decode attempts are made against national security documents. Ever wonder where some of that computer overhead comes from. Might be tiny, but something might still be going on.... Obviously, such machines should never have external communications capability, and probably would be operated in a non-leaky room.

            1. DrXym Silver badge

              @dssf

              I am assuming the reports were stored as plain text in a DB, so I've suggested ways that you could modify that data in ways which wouldn't immediately be obvious.

              Human beings typed out these reports so there are bound to be typos, variances etc. You exploit these to hide your own, as well as substituting some words with synonyms, abbreviations etc. Every document contains a tiny variation which allows someone to be ID'd with a very small sample of documents.

              Unless the attacker had two independent sources of the same data to compare, they have no way of detecting these differences. They could attempt to degrade the quality of these leaked documents (e.g. paraphrase their contents), or attempt to reformat them to strip out differences, but I doubt either would be totally successful.

              1. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule
                FAIL

                @DrXym: Synonyms...

                I do think your general approach is quite good. Nevertheless, automatically replacing words with synonyms or just inserting commas, dots etc might change the semantics of the message significantly.

                Just think of replacing "lady" by "woman" or vice versa. "I did not have sex with that woman" is different from "I did not have sex with that lady", because the first one is derogatory towards that female human being in question. It suggests this lady/woman/female is untrustworthy...

                In diplomatic messages this would twist the meaning, so I do not think it would be a good idea.

                Maybe different users of a secret database could be served with different fabricated gossip messages. "Putin loves threesome", "XXX has three balls" etc. The source of the gossip is the leaker...

                Still, their major fault was to not compartmentalize their "cables". Why did Manning need cables from Berlin to perfom his job ?? That's called "need to know" or "secret compartmentalized information" ("sci"). It is the standard operating procedure of any secret-handling bureaucracy, military research organization or higher government office.

                Why the Dept. Of State can't apply what basically all their peers around the world and the military services/research institutes do is beyond me.

    3. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge
      FAIL

      Unique Identifier

      How do you think they figured it out that it was him in the first place?

      Most word processors I've used have had some sort of hash built into the document's meta-data. I know that MS-Office has this option.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        @Crazy Operations Guy

        They figured it out because the guy sobbed his life story out to a fellow hacker who turned him in.

        Of course anyone who hits a database and slurps out every single record is probably traceable, but putting in unique identifiers would certainly nail him a lot more easily for a disclosure.

    4. John Sturdy

      Well-established

      It's called a "canary trap" (according to Wikipedia anyway).

  7. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

    Sir

    "Wikileaks has contributed $15,000 to his legal defence fund"

    "Wikileaks has contributed a paltry $15,000 to his legal defence fund"

    fixed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If he *isn't* the source ...

      why would wikileaks be concerned about his defence costs ?

      Besides, if I were accused of leaking documents in the US, I think having Assange ride in on a white horse with a fistful of dollars might not be the best strategy for proclaiming my innocence.

      1. Jon 52

        why?

        If someone was wrongly acused of doing somthing I know they didn't know, yet i couldn't say who did, then I would probably give them some help

      2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Sir

        "why would wikileaks be concerned about his defence costs ?"

        Um, because that's what they said they would do? $15k isn't going to go very far, is it? hence the 'paltry' term.

        Completely numpty celebrities offered more than that for Assange's bail ffs.

        And although it does seem that Assange == Wikileaks, this isn't the full picture, even if he does seem to use the wikileaks pot'o'cash as his own personal fund-bag.

    2. Sam Liddicott

      If el reg

      If the register starts a defence fund with contributions from readers, I bet we exceed $15,000

      1. Tin Pot

        Prosecution fund?

        And for the readers who have the opposite view, can we take a dollar out of the defence fund, or do we start a prosecution fund?

  8. mhenriday
    FAIL

    «He [Bradley Manning] is also charged, according to military spokesmen,

    with "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source [sic ! ; the military seems confused here about the distinction between a source and a recipient of information]"; "disclosing classified information concerning the national defense with reason to believe that the information could cause injury to the United States" ...» To substantiate these charges, wouldn't it be necessary to demonstrate to whom Mr Manning allegedly «communicated, transmitted, and «delivered» - and «disclosed» said information ? If not to WikiLeaks, a connexion which, according to the reports to which Mr Page refers, «investigators are unable to prove», then to whom ? It may be possible - what evidence the prosecutors have at hand we are not told - to demonstrate or at least make plausible that Mr Manning «exceed[ed] authorized computer access to obtain classified information» and «transfer[red] classified information onto a personal computer and [added] unauthorised software to a classified computer system», but these are surely less serious charges than that of passing the information to other parties ? Under these circumstances, it appears that the sole reason for holding Mr Manning under so harsh a regime is, indeed, to harm his mental condition to the degree that he can be coerced into following the script written by the prosecution and pointing the finger at Mr Assange and/or WikiLeaks or whatever bête noire the US government holds current....

    Henri

  9. David Austin

    Title

    At least it proves Wikileaks confidential leak system is as good as they claim it is.

    If the US Goverment, with all the rosources they can afford to put into this can't make the link, then's it's gotta be worth a few brownie points.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @David Austin

      At some point an error will have crept in. When it is discovered expect large amounts of brown stuff to fly through the air, as Julian seeks asylum in Iceland.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Good for whom?

      Great, so if I leak something I can rest assured no one will ever be able to prove Assange is guilty while I rot in solitary?

      Great system.

      1. Woodgar

        Re: Good for whom?

        No, you misunderstand.

        It means that they can't trace anything on Wikileaks back to the original leaker, i.e. you.

        It is indeed a great system, in that it clearly protects the whistle blowers.

  10. james 68
    Boffin

    not very well explained

    its not that they cannot prove that Manning gave the material to Wikileaks (and therefor Assange), but that they cannot prove that Assange actively helped/assisted or coerced Manning into doing so.

    a subtle but important point.

    1. It wasnt me
      Thumb Up

      @james 86

      Im surprised you got downvoted for that. as it seems to be exactly the point. I dont think theres any question that Manning half-inched the data and passed it to Assange. Its just that no-one can prove that Assange was complicit in the theft, regardless of how much people may want him to be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        @it wasn't me

        "I dont think theres any question that Manning half-inched the data and passed it to Assange"

        You can prove that can you? Thought not. That's always the problem with half-assed assumptions. For all you know, Manning (if he took it) gave it to Steve Jobs, who gave it to Lady Gaga, who gave it to Stephen Colbert, who then passed it to Wikileaks.

        Assange/ Wikileaks acquired the data, but there is no evidence that they acquired it from Bradley Manning - which of course, is the point.

        1. Displacement Activity

          @AC@it wasn't me

          > Assange/ Wikileaks acquired the data, but there is no evidence

          > that they acquired it from Bradley Manning - which of course, is the point.

          I don't think it is the point; james68 is, I think, right. If BM/whoever had leaked the data, of his own volition, to the Wall Street Journal, do you think the US govt would be pursuing the WSJ? If so, how could any newspaper possibly operate?

          Assange is just a sideshow here (assuming, of course, that he didn't actively solicit the theft). If he didn't have his head lost up his own fundament none of us would have even heard of him.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @displacement activity

            "which of course, is the point"

            Sorry, it should have read "which of course, is my point".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Coat

          Aha!

          Tis zee old "Pass it via Lady Gaga ploy!". Zis we have seen many times before! I shall contact Inspector Dreyfuss immediately and I shall be dispatched to Lugash at once!

  11. maclovinz
    Happy

    Seems to me...

    that mu gov't is just pissed that they can't keep the lid on their bullshit any longer.

    If it's been said once.....

    Welcome to... The Age of the Internet (dun dun duuuuuunnnnn!!!!!)

    1. Tin Pot
      FAIL

      Not your government's secrets

      *Other* governments will be less likely to be open and honest with your government, because your government can't keep *their* secrets.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        WTF?

        @Not your government's secrets

        I'm not sure there are many governments naive enough to suppose that anything they tell to another nation'n government will be held in confidence, and not used as and when the recipient sees a use for it. There is such a thing as espionage, after all.

  12. EWI
    Dead Vulture

    Manning defence fund

    Just how much has The Reg (which no doubt profits handily from the extra views, sign up here for the latest Wikileaks!) given to his defence fund then, eh?

  13. ratfox Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Impressive

    Considering the amount of resources that must be involved, the anonymity of the system used by WikiLeaks seems to be the real thing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For Now

    Should read "for now they cannot find a leak".

    Manning is screwed. He's going down. The US will offer him something if he complies and states that he did have some type of contact with Assange. He will be more than happy to comply after being in a maximum security hold.

    So, they might not have anything now, but just wait.... they will.

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Not sure about that

      If Manning states he was taking orders from Assange, it's espionnage and quite possibly high treason... That means the wall I think, no? Doesn't sound very enticing.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    This is not a problem

    Charge Assange with espionage and arrest his ass.

    At the same time charge Manning with treason and execute his ass.

    1. Dave Cradle

      Noooooooooo.

      Why persecute the ass for the crimes of the owner, even if he's an arse.

      Won't somebody please think of the asses!!!

  16. Unforgotten
    Alert

    Hang on a sec!

    If Wikileaks are now starting to roll in "donations" to their cause, isn't this a classic dot.com scenario....

    "Hey! I have an idea everyone will love!"

    "Okay, sounds great but can we make any money out of it?"

    "Sure, once we get the momentum going I'm sure we can monetise it somehow!"

    Hmmm, how many big websites have worked like this? No Facebook! Put your hand down, let someone else answer this time :D

    1. Chad H.

      Well

      Google for one. And they continue to follow the Underpants Gnome Strategy by inventing new stuff, and then working out how to make money out of it later.

  17. Richard Porter

    The one thing

    the Americans _really_ do not like is being shown up and embarrassed because of their piss-poor security. Anything else they can just drop bombs on.

  18. Richard Porter
    Black Helicopters

    Re: Unique Identifier

    Ever heard of saving as plain text?

  19. Martin Usher
    FAIL

    Of course, that's what its designed to do....

    If we didn't care about tracking sources then we'd just post the material to a generic website.

    The Man just doesn't get it.....to every effect there's a single cause, to every organization, there's a single leader. It must be a reflection of his culture -- he lives in a hierarchical world where things are driven from the top down, from leader to underlings, so he sees the rest of the world through that prism.

    ...and, of course, Assange has absolutely nothing to do with the material. He's just the figurehead for a facility. Blaming him is like blaming paper suppliers for the publication of subversive material (its probably happened....).

  20. Nick Lord

    Don't just talk about it

    Put your money where your mouth is:

    https://co.clickandpledge.com/sp/d1/default.aspx?wid=38591

  21. Eduard Coli
    Gates Horns

    2nd America

    For whatever his reasons he did it Manning is suffering the wraith of 1st America.

    The top 10% and a their politicians hate it when leaks like this come out and stir up the proles.

  22. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Boffin

    I don't hear a fat lady singing yet.

    Assuming the US authorities have thrown in the towel on linking Assange and Manning (which I find surprising given that it's only been May since they arrested Manning, but political timescales may be at play here with Obambi wanting Manning's court martial out of the way before the 2012 elections), consider what happens next.

    As I see it, the US has two courses of action, both a defensive one and an offensive one. Firstly, the offensive one. Will the CIA, FBI et al just fold up there tents and forget about Assange? Not likely! He has painted a massive target on his back, and he and anyone linked to him and Wikileaks is probably going to be under surveillance for many years to come. I've no doubt fake documents (or even real but low-impact documents) will be "leaked" to track the other routes through to Wikileaks. They may leak fake documents in an effort to discredit Wikileaks. Assange and co will have to be uberparanoid that any future US military leaker is not some CIA plant just trying to entrap them. It may take years, but Assange has a glaring weakness in his massive ego, and it could lead to his downfall.

    And then there is the defensive element, which is in dissuading any future leakers. That, unfortunately for Manning, includes making it very obvious that military leakers will be harshly punished. I expect Manning to get the stiffest sentence possible, which could be fifty years.

  23. Mark 65

    Security

    "Manning has been charged with an array of offences by military prosecutors, including the transfer of classified information onto a personal computer and the adding of unauthorised software to a classified computer system."

    Good to know the systems are so secure that you can not only make withdrawals but software deposits too.

    1. The Fuzzy Wotnot
      Happy

      Software piracy you say, eh? Just the bloke!

      Get Crossley in here! He's good at extracting money from people even if they haven't ripped the software off, they were just standing near a PC with an IP address that might, possibly be something similar to the one that was maybe used!

      If good old Crossley can get money by scaring old grannies and kids out their hard earned cash, putting the frighteners on a soldier stuck in solitary should be a doddle!

  24. steeplejack

    A lot of it kept coming long after Manning was in custody.

    It was pretty clear that he wasn't the main source. Actually the quantity has been so great that there must be multiple sources - possibly dozens.

  25. Schultz

    Give him a job

    The US is just setting themselves up for future embarrassment. If your security is piss poor and the leaks expose your as selfish, unashamed, and often amateurish propaganda effort, then you should think about fixing the system and not fixing the leak. Get some integrity into the system.

    So offer Manning a job and reform the ridiculous classification and propaganda efforts instead of waving the big stick at the small man. The government won't ever manage to get rid of all terrorists, or merely annoying citizens, no matter how many or how big the bombs / indictments they use. But if the system is working fine, then there should be little to worry about.

    The case against Manning is a witch hunt. He is a whistle blower exposing a broken system. Lets just kill the messenger then --- it seems to be the American way.

    1. Tin Pot
      Stop

      Crackpipe

      So you're not a fan of mandatory access controls and data classification? A point worthy of debate, but hire Manning? Manningis a whistle blower? Do you even know what these terms mean?

      You want to *employ* the man who cannot be trusted to keep Secret data secret, to 'reform the system'? The man *who* *cannot* *be* *trusted* ?

      Whistleblowing is when you find something heinous that is not being dealt with through formal channels, and let the world know. Whistleblowing is not grabbing anything you can find without reading it and publishing it to hurt your employer because you got a bum deal.

      Put down the crackpipe.

  26. JaitcH
    FAIL

    CIA: With all the budget cut backs, we need time to get the evidence together

    With all the powers that many governments have given themselves including the Canadian, United Kingdom and the U.S. of A. they don't even need to cobble together a believable version of tosh as all they need do is to declare the evidence to be 'secret'.

    In Canada and the UK the defendants don't even get to see the 'evidence' against them.

    Likely it is even worse in the U.S. and as for military 'justice' heaven help Bradley Manning - he is living in hell now, just wait if he gets convicted.

    I remember escorting prisoners to military jails in the UK when I was in the Army. We, the escorts, gave the prisoners every indulgence we could afford on our meagre pay. The last thing we did was hold the victim just outside the prison for his last 'fag'.

    The minute they crossed that massive white line the prisoners double marched until their sentences were completed.

    No doubt the Marines have even more exquisite torture which they will subject Bradley Manning too.

    And what is this revenge for? The memos I have read are simply embarrassing, hardly secrets, to the American government that reveal they are duplicitous, dishonest and lie to their electorate. Of course, 'embarrassment' hardly encompasses the aerial murder of those Reuters reporters, along with innocent children.

    And the American governments wonder why they are so despised?

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