Bradley Manning (background) is escorted by military police to the courthouse. Picture: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Fort Meade (Maryland)- Military prosecutors sought to link US Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning directly to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday at a hearing to determine whether Manning will be court-martialled in the biggest leak of classified documents in American history.

Computer forensic investigators Mark Johnson and David Shaver told the hearing they had found logs from an online chat between Manning’s account and an account which was alleged to be connected to Assange. The logs discussed sending and receiving US government information.

Asked if Manning and Assange seemed to know each other, Johnson said they did. “At some point I believe they talked about: ‘Did you receive information?’ Where would that come from if they hadn’t known each other in the past,” Johnson said.

The 24-year-old Manning is suspected of downloading thousands of classified or confidential documents from the military’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet. Those files are thought to have later appeared on WikiLeaks.

On Monday, the government completed the fourth day of a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to court martial Manning on 22 charges, which include aiding the enemy and unlawfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet. Manning faces life imprisonment if convicted of the most serious charge.

Prosecutors have portrayed Manning as a well-trained soldier adept at computers who violated his duties. Manning’s defence lawyers have presented evidence that he was emotionally troubled and have questioned why he was not relieved of his duties sooner.

Witnesses have said Manning sent an e-mail to his sergeant saying confusion over his gender identity was seriously hurting his life, work and ability to think. Manning had created a female alter-ego online, Breanna Manning, according to testimony at the hearing.

Assange does not presently face charges in the US related to the WikiLeaks publication of of US military reports and State Department cables.

But a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has been collecting evidence on Assange and his associates for months. The Justice Department has admitted to having an ongoing investigation into Assange.

Assange is in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning about accusations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers in 2010. Last week, Britain’s Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Assange against the extradition request. – Reuters