Justice Department officials are trying to determine whether Julian Assange encouraged or aided intelligence analyst Army tPfc. Bradley Manning to lift classified military and State Department files from a government computer system, The New York Times reported Thursday.
If they find the evidence, prosecutors said they believe they can charge Assange as a conspirator in the release of more than 250,000 classified State Department cables, not just as a recipient of the documents who then published them.
People familiar with the case told the newspaper the Justice Department seems to be gravitating to possibly prosecuting Assange as a co-conspirator because the department is under pressure to take legal action against Assange to deter further leaks.
Manning faces multiple counts of violating the U.S. Criminal Code for allegedly passing along classified information to he whistle-blower Web site WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors are studying an online chat log in which Manning reportedly claimed he had direct communication with Assange as the analyst downloaded government files, the Times said. Manning also reportedly claimed that Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of the documents to WikiLeaks.
Adrian Lamo, a former computer hacker, said Manning told him about the electronic conversations. Lamo eventually turned Manning into authorities, the Times said.
"At some point, he became satisfied that he was actually talking to Assange and not some unknown third party posing as Assange," Lamo said.