The Times article by Charlie Savage notes that if prosecutors determine that Assange provided some help in the process, "they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.
"Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks.
"Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him. He said the special server's purpose was to allow Private Manning's submissions to "be bumped to the top of the queue for review.' By Mr. Lamo's account, Private Manning bragged about this "as evidence of his status as the high-profile source for WikiLeaks.'"
Though some elements of this suspected Assange-Manning collaboration may be technically unique because of the Internet's role - " and that may be a relief to more traditional news organizations like the Times which has published some of the WikiLeaks documents - " the underlying reality is that what WikiLeaks has done is essentially "the same wine" of investigative journalism in "a new bottle" of the Internet.
By shunning WikiLeaks as some deviant journalistic hybrid, mainstream U.S. news outlets may breathe easier now but may find themselves caught up in a new legal precedent that could be applied to them later.
As for the Obama administration, its sudden aggressiveness in divining new "crimes" in the publication of truthful information is especially stunning when contrasted with its "see no evil" approach toward openly acknowledged crimes committed by President George W. Bush and his subordinates, including major offenses such as torture, kidnapping and aggressive war.
The possibility of an indictment of Assange no longer seems to me like rampant paranoia. Initially, I didn't believe that the Obama administration was serious in stretching the law to find ways to prosecute Assange and to shut down WikiLeaks.
But then there was the pressure on WikiLeaks' vendors such as Amazon.com and PayPal along with threats from prominent U.S. political figures, spouting rhetoric about Assange as a "terrorist" comparable to Osama bin Laden and a worthy target of assassination.
Normally, when people engage in such talk of violence, they are the ones who attract the attention of police and prosecutors. In this case, however, the Obama administration appears to be bowing to those who talk loosely about murdering a truth-teller.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he has taken "significant" steps in the investigation, a possible reference to what an Assange lawyer said he had learned from Swedish authorities about a secret grand jury meeting in Northern Virginia.
The Times reported, "Justice Department officials have declined to discuss any grand jury activity. But in interviews, people familiar with the case said the department appeared to be attracted to the possibility of prosecuting Mr. Assange as a co-conspirator to the leaking because it is under intense pressure to make an example of him as a deterrent to further mass leaking of electronic documents over the Internet.
"By bringing a case against Mr. Assange as a conspirator to Private Manning's leak, the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret -- including The New York Times, which also published some documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks."
In other words, the Obama administration appears to be singling out Assange as an outlier in the journalistic community who is already regarded as something of a pariah. In that way, mainstream media personalities can be invited to join in his persecution without thinking that they might be next.
Though American journalists may understandably want to find some protective cover by pretending that Julian Assange is not like us, the reality is " whether we like it or not " we are all Julian Assange.