Two years ago last week, Pfc. Bradley Manning was taken into custody by the US Army in Iraq and sent to a military prison in Kuwait to face serious charges of leaking millions of documents (some sensitive) to WikiLeaks. He still has not come to trial, with his court martial now scheduled for August—though “scheduled” may be too strong a word. The most serious charge of “aiding the enemy” carries a possible death sentence, though the US has suggested it would ask for nothing more than life in prison.
Coverage of the Manning case may heat up this summer, so to mark the two-year anniversary of when he first came to the attention of the public, here is a look back at how the story unfolded in early June 2010. It’s taken from my new book and ebook with Kevin Gosztola, Truth and Consequeces . Near the close of the book, Gosztola covers the latest Manning hearings this past spring, including a lengthy account of Adrian Lamo’s rather uncomfortable appearance on the witness stand (Lamo and Manning pictured at left).
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On June 6, a little over two weeks after Wired’s profile of convicted hacker Adrian Lamo appeared, major news arrived out of nowhere. Wired’s popular Threat Level blog reported that “an Army intelligence analyst who boasted of giving classified U.S. combat video and hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables to whistleblower site Wikileaks,” had been arrested by the military.
Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter wrote: “Specialist Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Md., was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad, where he was arrested nearly two weeks ago by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. A family member says he’s being held in custody in Kuwait and has not been formally charged.” Manning was “turned in late last month by a former computer hacker with whom he spoke online,” they related. “In the course of their chats, Manning took credit for leaking a headline-making video of a helicopter attack that WikiLeaks posted online in April….
“Manning came to the attention of the F.B.I. and Army investigators after he contacted former hacker Adrian Lamo late last month over instant messenger and e-mail.”
Wired quoted from some of the alleged chat logs. In one, Manning asked Lamo, “If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?” On security: “it was vulnerable as fuck.… no one suspected a thing.… kind of sad.… weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis… a perfect storm.” In any case the information “belongs in the public domain.… information should be free…. I want people to see the truth regardless of who they are because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
Referring to the “Collateral Murder” video, Manning said he had passed the video to WikiLeaks in February, after the successful transmission of his Reykjavik13 “test document.”
The WikiLeaks feed at Twitter responded to the surprising Wired piece with three comments: “We never collect personal information on our sources, so we are unable as yet to confirm the Manning story.” “Allegations in Wired that we have been sent 260,000 classified U.S. embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect.” “If Brad Manning, 22, is the Collateral Murder & Garani massacre whistleblower then, without doubt, he’s a national hero.”
The national media picked up the trail the following day.
Manning’s purported exchanges with Lamo had all taken place during a single week, starting on May 21. Lamo claimed Manning emailed him after finding his name online connected to a film he’d been involved with (he had suggested viewers donate to WikiLeaks). The next day, getting no response, the soldier contacted him via IM—apparently after reading that Wired profile.
Lamo told the New York Times that it seemed from the online chatting that Manning “was just grabbing information from where he could get it and trying to leak it.” Lamo had turned over copies of his chat logs with Manning to Army investigators.
WikiLeaks on Twitter denounced Lamo and Poulsen as “notorious felons, informers & manipulators” and so “journalists should take care.” Lamo offered his own tweets: “I outed Brad Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty.” “I would never (and have never) outed an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There’s a difference.” “I know what it’s like to be 22, scared, and in shackles too. I’ve been there. I hope none of you ever have to make a choice like this.”
It wasn’t known if Lamo was the main, or sole, source in the case against Manning. He claimed he had turned in Manning because he was worried that disclosure of the information would put people’s lives in danger, the Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller reported. Asked by Bumiller to discuss what he saw as Manning’s motives, Lamo replied: “Ideology. I think he was dissatisfied with certain military policies and he wanted to adversely affect U.S. foreign policy…. It’s a personal matter for him, and I do not think it was one his family would want aired in the national media.”
In fact, Manning had cited (in the chat logs) a specific incident that inspired him to take action:
“i think the thing that got me the most…that made me rethink the world more than anything was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police…for printing ‘anti-Iraqi literature.’… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the ‘bad guys’ were, and how significant this was for the FPs.… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki.…
“i had an interpreter read it for me…and when i found out that it was a benign “political critique titled ‘Where did the money go?’ and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet…i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on.… he didn’t want to hear any of it.… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees.…
“everything started slipping after that.… i saw things differently…. i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth.… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something.… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against.…”
Another key revelation in the chat logs was Manning’s reference to U.S. diplomatic cables—“260,000 in all”—that he had allegedly leaked. He said, “it’s impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million…and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized” and “the scope is so broad…and yet the depth so rich.” And: “Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack.”
Wired had talked to Manning’s father. “I was in the military for five years,” Brian Manning said. “I had a secret clearance, and I never divulged any information in thirty years since I got out about what I did. And Brad has always been very, very tight at adhering to the rules. Even talking to him after boot camp and stuff, he kept everything so close that he didn’t open up to anything.”
Bradley Manning, after being reprimanded in a disciplinary case, had been demoted from specialist to private first class. He allegedly told Adrian Lamo that he was about to be discharged because of an “adjustment disorder,” but the military denied this. His father told Wired his son “is a good kid. Never been in trouble. Never been on drugs, alcohol, nothing.”