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One Year Ago: First Questions Raised About Bradley Manning–Adrian Lamo 'Chats' | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

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One Year Ago: First Questions Raised About Bradley Manning–Adrian Lamo 'Chats'

The Bradley Manning case returned to the public eye this week, with the appearance of his friend David House before the federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va. probing possible prosecution of WikiLeaks and leader Julian Assange. House refused to answer questions, but later reported that all of the queries concerned Manning. He added, however, that he believed a prime focus of the feds is establishing a direct link between the soldier (now jailed at Leavenworth in Kansas after a long stay in near-solitary confinement at Quantico) and Assange.

The Manning court martial still is not set, so he has now spent 13 months in prison pre-trial.

Despite that, most Americans are still not well aware of the events leading up to Manning’s arrest, and why his supporters believe that he was unfairly “set up” for arrest or in any deserves mercy due to the unsavory way it went down. As it happens, the first questions about this were raised exactly a year ago, in a column by Glenn Greenwald at Salon covering Wired’s publication of excerpts from the “chat logs” that led to Manning’s arrest. Most of his concerns raised then remain valid today. This an excerpt from my current book Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences (e-book here and print here.)

*  * *

On June 18, 2010, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald arrived with an impassioned, lengthy probe on the “strange” and “mysterious” Lamo/Manning story, based on a week of research and interviews with both Adrian Lamo (on tape) and Wired editor Kevin Poulsen (via e-mail).

“A definitive understanding of what really happened,” Greenwald warned, “is virtually impossible to acquire, largely because almost everything that is known comes from a single, extremely untrustworthy source: Lamo himself.” But he charged, “Lamo, who holds himself out as a ‘journalist’ and told Manning he was one, acted instead as government informant, notifying federal authorities of what Manning allegedly told him, and then proceeded to question Manning for days as he met with federal agents, leading to Manning’s detention.”

Readers who had followed only the sketchy mainstream reports on the case might have muttered “huh?” upon reading that. But Greenwald had done his homework. He traced the odd meeting up of Lamo and Manning, and Lamo’s past associations with Poulsen. For one thing: “Lamo typically sought media publicity after his hacking adventures, and almost always used Poulsen to provide that publicity.” Poulsen “out of nowhere” wrote the piece in May which Manning read, the one that profiled Lamo and mentioned his recent treatment for mental health issues.

But Greenwald also pointed to “the bizarre aspects” of this case: “Why would a 22-year-old Private in Iraq have unfettered access to 250,000 pages of diplomatic cables so sensitive that they ‘could do serious damage to national security?’ Why would he contact a total stranger, whom he randomly found from a Twitter search, in order to ‘quickly’ confess to acts that he knew could send him to prison for a very long time, perhaps his whole life? And why would he choose to confess over the Internet, in an unsecured, international AOL IM chat, given the obvious ease with which that could be preserved, intercepted or otherwise surveilled? These are the actions of someone either unbelievably reckless or actually eager to be caught…”

Greenwald admitted that the series of events was not completely implausible, but added: “Still, the apparent ease with which Manning quickly spilled his guts in such painstaking detail over an Internet chat concerning such serious crimes—and then proceeded to respond to Lamo’s very specific and probing interrogations over days without ever once worrying that he could not trust Lamo—is strange in the extreme.”

He disclosed that in his phone interview, Lamo said “he told Manning early on that he was a journalist and thus could offer him confidentiality for everything they discussed under California’s shield law. Lamo also said he told Manning that he was an ordained minister and could treat Manning’s talk as a confession, which would then compel Lamo under the law to keep their discussions confidential…. In sum, Lamo explicitly led Manning to believe he could trust him and that their discussions would be confidential—perhaps legally required to be kept confidential—only to then report everything Manning said to the Government.

“Worse, Lamo breached his own confidentiality commitments and turned informant without having the slightest indication that Manning had done anything to harm national security. Indeed, Lamo acknowledged to me that he was incapable of identifying a single fact contained in any documents leaked by Manning that would harm national security.”

Greenwald declared that, if anything, Manning was a hero, and reproduced this Manning quote from the chat log related to the Iraq video: “god knows what happens now—hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms—if not, than we’re doomed—as a species—i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens….”

Lamo had told Greenwald, “I’ve always considered myself a pretty hard leftist. And for me to go out and sit down with investigators from the department of the Army was a massive and aberrant departure from what I would normally do.” He also called Manning “heroic” for releasing the Iraq video, while deploring the other alleged leaks.

Still, Lamo was unhappy with Greenwald’s post, explaining, “I politely explained the events of the Manning case. Little or none of my explanation ended up in the finished article. What parts did, were spun like a tweaker on payday.”

But Greenwald’s main concern going forward was for Wired to release the full text of the chat logs. He pointed out that the Washington Post had quoted parts which Wired had not published, “proving” that Wired was withholding more than just personal issues and national security secrets. “Lamo gave Wired the full, unedited version of his chat logs with Manning,” he observed, “but Wired published only extremely edited samplings of it….

“[I]n his interview with me, Lamo claimed that all sorts of things took place in the discussion between him and Manning that are (a) extremely relevant to what happened, (b) have nothing to do with Manning’s personal issues or sensitive national security secrets, and yet (c) are nowhere to be found in the chat logs published by Wired. That means either that Lamo is lying about what was said or Wired is concealing highly relevant aspects of their discussions. Included among that is Manning’s explanation about how he found Lamo and why he contacted him, Manning’s alleged claim that his ‘intention was to cripple the United States’ foreign relations for the foreseeable future,’ and discussions they had about the capacity in which they were speaking…

“From the start, there were countless bizarre aspects to Lamo’s story which Poulsen never examined or explored, at least not when writing about any of this. I see no reason to doubt Poulsen’s integrity or good faith. Still, in light of the magnitude of this story on several levels and his long relationship with Lamo, Kevin Poulsen should not be single-handedly deciding what the public is and isn’t permitted to know about the Lamo-Manning interaction.”

(Note: Greenwald, near the end of the year, wrote another influential column calling for release of the full chat logs. Wired refused to do that, but disclosed that there was nothing in the unpublished sections that directly linked Manning to Assange.)

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