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.”
Investigators now believe, he added, that Manning “either uploaded or handed off” the Iraq and Afghanistan “war logs.” The “handed off” part is the key point here. Some in the past have suggested that Manning handed off to someone in that community of hackers, and authorities have questioned members of that circle repeatedly. One of the members, unnamed, was recently called to appear before the federal grand jury probing Wikileaks in Alexandria, Virginia. (For the full story on this case, see my current book, the only one on this subject, Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences in print and e-book, form.)
Finally, the lengthy written summary of the coming episode (if history is any guide, it will appear online first, on Tuesday morning) posted at PBS site includes the following:
“WikiSecrets also examines the relationship between Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of WikilLeaks. In public statements, and in his interview with FRONTLINE, Assange has denied any direct contact with Manning or any WikiLeaks source. But hacker Lamo says that Manning indicated otherwise in their online chat: ‘He mentioned Julian Assange in the context Julian was the individual at WikiLeaks who he had initially establish contact with.’
“Wired.com’s Kim Zetter tells FRONTLINE an email she received from Assange not long after the story broke. ‘He contacted me, and he wanted the chat logs,’ she said. ‘He said that he needed it in order to prepare Manning’s defense.… I can only speculate, but I think that he was concerned about what was in the chat logs about himself.’” This would seem only natural, however, no matter what Assange’s active or passive role in the leaking.
And a final excerpt: “We don’t really know whether Manning approached WikiLeaks or people around WikiLeaks or if it was the other way around,” says Eric Schmitt, the New York Times reporter sent to London at one point to comb through some fo the leaked documents. “But my theory is whichever way it is, there’s an intermediary.… So somewhere in this mix you have Manning with access to this information; you’ve got WikiLeaks and Julian Assange with the desire to get it; and you’ve got a helpful intermediary. And somewhere in between here there’s a transfer I believe takes place.”
Tomorrow: In Part V of this series, what Manning actually said about Assange in the chat logs—and some intriguing new evidence from a New Yorker writer.