Military officials tell Fox News they are unaware of any evidence that directly links Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged source of hundreds of thousands of leaked U.S. documents, to Julian Assange, the founder of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
The revelation may weaken any case the U.S. could potentially build against Assange, but according to sources familiar with the case, there is still plenty of evidence connecting Manning to WikiLeaks.
"Julian Assange is the CEO of WikiLeaks," one military official told Fox News on the condition of anonymity. "So it's unlikely he's going to be the one getting the brown bag filled with secret documents." This official declined to provide any information on the actual conduit, but said the prosecution is confident it can make a link to WikiLeaks.
Assange has publicly denied he had any connection to Manning prior to making the documents public, even though his company provided $15,000 to Manning's legal defense. Many have speculated on a possible prior connection between Manning and Assange, but, as NBC News first reported, military investigators are not pursuing those leads.
Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell would not answer directly when asked if there is evidence to suggest the two men had contact (citing his inability to comment on an ongoing investigation), but said the Justice Department and Pentagon are both still hard at work on the case and it's too early to know. "Any pronouncements about a connection or lack of connection, those that have been found or yet to be found, are just premature at this point," Morrell said during a Pentagon press conference Wednesday. "So I'd urge everybody to proceed with caution on this."
Manning has been held in a maximum-security detention facility at Quantico Marine base in Virginia since July. Officials there say a decision was made to put Manning on suicide watch for a brief period this month. According to Army and Marine officials, Manning was put on suicide watch from Jan. 18-20 after refusing to follow orders from a Marine guard. As a result he was confined to his cell and stripped of any items with which he could harm himself, including his reading glasses.
According to one official Manning was taken off suicide watch after it was determined the Marine guard who made the call did not have the proper authority to do so, and that only a mental health professional can make that designation. Public affairs officers at Quantico wont describe in detail the incident that resulted in putting Manning on suicide watch, but Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said the brig commander had every right to place Manning on suicide watch before consulting a mental health professional. In an email Villiard told Fox:
"The brig commander has not only the authority, but the responsibility, to adjust the status of a detainee as deemed appropriate. Assignment of suicide watch or prevention of injury is a precaution taken when a detainee expresses some form of uncharacteristic activity or demonstrates behavior that causes the brig commander to presume a detainee may be a danger to himself/herself."
In December, a report published by Salon.com accused the military of torturing Manning, saying it subjected him to "cruel and inhumane" conditions. Marine and Army officials strongly denied the accusation and have said Manning is being treated like any other maximum-security prisoner at Quantico. He is confined to his single-person cell 23-hours per day, given one hour to exercise, permitted reading material and given one hour per day to watch television. He can hear the other inmates around him but he can't see them.
Geoff Morrell weighed in on the issue, criticizing media organizations who describe his detention as solitary confinement. "That's a misnomer, among many in the reporting of this case... He is not in solitary confinement. He is not in isolation... He is in a cell by himself, but that is like every other pretrial detainee at the brig."
But unlike every other inmate, Manning has been under "prevention of injury watch" since the day he arrived six months ago. This means he has to ask permission to use things that he could potentially harm himself with, such as a pen or a book. He's only allowed one piece of reading material at a time and he doesn’t get to eat with the other detainees. He eats alone in his cell.
Combined with time he spent detained in Iraq, Manning has spent seven months in military custody. So far,12 charges have been levied against him, all having to do with violations of the Army's information assurance policy -- federal statues related to the receipt of classified information -- and wrongful access of a government computer. For those charges he faces a maximum penalty of 54 years. More serious charges related to passing on the information to a third party are expected.
Manning is the alleged source of hundreds of thousands of secret military communications relating to the Iraq and Afghan wars, as well as nearly a quarter million classified diplomatic cables. It's also believed he provided WikiLeaks with a secret military video that shows the deaths of two Reuters journalists during a U.S. combat mission.