After several weeks of intense attention, Pvt. Bradley Manning began to slip off the media’s radar screens again last month with his transfer from the maximum security brig at Quantico to a medium-custody military prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, while he awaits trial. That is about to change again, as the first anniversary of his alleged online “chatting” with convicted hacker Adrian Lamo — it led to his arrest on multiple charges of leaking classified information — arrives later this week. Next Tuesday, PBS Frontline plans a full program on Manning, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and they promise to air new information.
I’ll be previewing the Frontline show later this week, and in other articles analyzing the Lamo logs and other aspects of the case, but for now let’s return to the sequence of events leading up to the now infamous “chats.” Much of this is drawn from my current book and e-book, Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences.
On February 18, 2010, WikiLeaks posted on its Web site a U.S. State Department diplomatic cable dated January 13, 2010, from the embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was an intriguing, if not earthshaking, document that would later earn the tag “Reykjavik13.” In the cable, the U.S. deputy chief of mission, Sam Watson, described private talks with Icelandic leaders over a referendum on whether to repay losses from a bank failure, with the real possibility that Iceland could default in 2011.
In the “chat log,” Manning would claim that he sent Reykjavik 13 to WikiLeaks as a “test document” from much more to come.
If, in fact, Spc. Bradley Manning came to contact WikiLeaks (anonymously, if at all, Assange insists) during this period, how did it come about? One must rely largely on the “chat logs” that allegedly document the lengthy discussions between Manning and convicted hacker Adrian Lamo from May 21 to May 25, 2010. Little other evidence against Manning has surfaced, at least publicly – although we know the Army seized his computers — and even the validity of the chats logs have been called into question, both because of what appears there and what’s been edited out. The prisoner, of course, is innocent until proven guilty.
With that said, the chat logs suggest that Manning told Lamo that he first contacted WikiLeaks back in late-November 2010, after Wikileaks posted thousands of pager messages from 9/11. ”I immediately recognized that they were from an NSA database, and I felt comfortable enough to come forward,” he IMed Lamo. By then, he had been probing classified military and government networks for months, and saw that they contained “incredible things, awful things … that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington D.C.,” he told Lamo.
Then he discovered a graphic video of an attack on what seemed to be Iraqi civilians by U.S. Apache gunships back on July 12, 2007. Perhaps the most questionable aspect of the attack came after a van arrived to take one or more of the badly wounded from the scene, probably to a hospital. Fire from the Apache obliterated the van. “At first glance it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter,” Manning supposedly wrote to Lamo much later. “No big deal … about two dozen more where that came from, right? But something struck me as odd with the van thing, and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory. So I looked into it.”