The influential PBS Frontline series presents a full hour this Tuesday on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, and the producers seem to be promoting it heavily, claiming “for the first time, the whole story…from the inside.” They’ve posted three teasers / trailers already plus a lengthy text preview. Frontline has been promising it since March 29 when it devoted a ten-minute segment to Bradley Manning’s formative years. Tuesday’s show, titled “Wiki Secrets,” picks up where that segment left off, with Manning joining the Army and getting sent to Iraq.
What might be most significant, and controversial, about Tuesday’s show—Manning was arrested in Iraq almost exactly one year ago following his alleged online “chats” with Adrian Lamo—is the apparent attempt to link Manning to Assange (or someone else at WikiLeaks) in a more direct way than what has emerged to date. (UPDATE: Part V of this series here.)
The idea that Assange did not simply receive massive, anonymous uploads from a military intelligence officer forms the heart of the US government’s attempt to prosecute him under the Espionage Act. To carry that off, the Department of Justice probably has to convince a grand jury that Assange directed Manning in his leaking or had some other intimate contact beyond the more protected role of “publisher.”
Assange has denied this claim (some times a little vaguely), while asserting that he had never heard Manning’s name until the soldier was arrested. Several months ago, NBC reported that the US so far had not obtained any evidence out of Manning or anyone else establishing a more aggressive Assange role in the leak. It should also be emphasized that even if Assange did have direct contact with Manning, many legal authorities believe this does not warrant a US indictment.
But the Frontline teaser material indicates that they look at this issue deeply in this program, including the possibility that the leaked files were not uploaded to WikiLeaks’ main portal but were “handed off.” That is, with some third party intervention.
In an earlier piece, I questioned the tone of the March 29 Frontline segment. I asserted that it focused too much on Manning’s “personal problems, and ‘aimless’ life before joining the Army” and “it makes no mention whatsoever of his political or philosophical views,” instead suggesting that, mainly, he had “daddy” issues. It also failed to mention whatsoever the controversy over his near-solitary confinement in the brig at Quantico, Virginia—he has since been transferred to medium custody at Leavenworth.
But the Tuesday show shifts to the nuts and bolts of his alleged leaking, and offers, among other things, what it calls the first interview with his Army “bunkmate,” plus chats with prime Assange critics David Leigh and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and Adrian Lamo himself. It’s hard to imagine that it could cause even deeper trouble for Manning, but the picture it paints of Assange’s role could be damaging.
In the first brief video touting the program, one unidentified interviewee says it was clear that Assange was “calling the shots” (but we don’t know the context for that charge). Another excerpt focuses on Manning backing gay rights causes while in the military, a risky step. A second excerpt from the show finds Manning coming to the US on leave from Iraq, and feeling emotionally “abandoned” by an ex-boyfriend. It shows a few seconds of a party for hackers in the Boston area with a very young and tiny looking Manning socializing. In a portentous voiceover, reporter Martin Smith narrates, “The young intelligence analyst, full of secrets, was mingling among hackers.”