Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bradley Manning: Tragic Hero or Shameful Traitor?

By Ennealogic

(I decided to dive right in with a post about a political issue that nags at my conscience and gives rise to questions about justice, fairness, decency and honesty in our country. I hope all the Po'gaters don't mind my skipping a personal introduction! For those who don't know me, here's where I've blogged since 2003.)

You'll find two distinct camps when the discussion turns to Bradley Manning. On one side, this young Army intelligence analyst was simply following his conscience and did what he felt he must to increase global awareness about the usually hidden, ugly side of war. On the other, this misguided and even contemptible miscreant abused his access to military and diplomatic secrets and deserves to be scorned and imprisoned for life, if not put to death first. (Given Sarah Palin's Facebook post stating that Julian Assange should be "pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders," I think I can guess which camp she would fall into here.)

Who Is Bradley Manning?

Wikipedia has a relatively comprehensive page on PFC Manning that tells us he was charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified information in June, 2010, and that he has since been held in a maximum security brig at Quantico, Virginia. His pre-trial hearing isn't expected to take place until May, 2011, a very long eleven months—due to the unusually harsh constraints of his confinement—since he was first put into the brig.

He's 23 years old, slight of build, and an adept when it comes to computers and information security. Born in Oklahoma to a US Navy father and a Welsh mother, he has joint citizenship with both US and UK. We don’t know very much about him yet. He was just another faceless troop in the Army, until the day someone he trusted turned him in to authorities. He has not been given a chance to talk to us since.

However, a convicted hacker named Adrian Lamo initially gave copies of chat logs—the same evidence Lamo presented to authorities that resulted in Manning’s arrest and detention—to Kevin Poulson of Wired magazine who informs us that Wired printed about a quarter of what they received, and offers various rationalizations for withholding the rest. (This has prompted speculation that we aren't getting the whole story, triggering calls for the entire set of chat files to be released.)

If I accept that the incomplete logs are genuine, though, a picture of Manning does begin to take focus. Here's an excerpt (please take a look at Firedoglake's compilation when you can):

(02:35:46 PM) Manning: 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…
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently
(02:37:37 PM) Manning: 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…
As an intelligence analyst, Manning would certainly be in a position to access all kinds of reports and data coming in from our war zones. He would be expected to pick through the details and alert officers in his chain of command with his findings. I can only imagine his frustration when he brought reports of events he believed to be terribly wrong to the attention of his superiors, only to be brushed aside and ignored.

An interesting side note is that Manning might have been about to be discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ When Manning was attending school in the UK, he apparently revealed to his classmates that he was gay. The image above, from his Facebook page, shows him wearing a rainbow wristband and displaying a poster calling for equality 'on the battlefield.' Based on his chats with Lamo, Manning’s discharge was going to say he had an 'adjustment disorder.' Would an earlier repeal of DADT and official acceptance of gays in the military have changed Manning’s state of mind and his future actions? Hard to know.

Who is Adrian Lamo?

Adrian Lamo is called a 'grey hat' hacker (not white but not black either) in the opening paragraph on his Wikipedia page. Convicted in 2004 for electronically breaking into The New York Times, Microsoft, Yahoo and MCI in 2002, Adrian Lamo served 6 months' detention at his parent’s home and was subject to 2 years probation. (More on Lamo's crimes here.)

I can't help but contrast Lamo's case with that of David Kernell, the college student who guessed the answers to Sarah Palin's secret questions protecting her Yahoo e-mail account; Kernell is currently serving one year plus one day in prison, followed by a 3-year supervised release.

From Wikipedia,

On May 21, 2010, Manning is alleged to have gone online to chat with Adrian Lamo, a former hacker. Lamo had been profiled the day before by Kevin Poulsen in Wired magazine, after being hospitalized and diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. According to The Washington Post, Manning subsequently e-mailed Lamo, introducing himself as "an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder.'"

In June 2010, Adrian Lamo reported to U.S. Army authorities that Specialist Bradley Manning had leaked classified information to him. Lamo also stated that Manning confessed to leaking the video footage of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike incident in Iraq to Wikileaks. Lamo has alleged that Manning leaked tens of thousands of pages of classified U.S. government data and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.
Glenn Greenwald of Salon has been outspoken about this story, and in particular, about Manning's treatment at the brig in Quantico, a topic I hope to discuss in a future post. Greenwald has this to say about Lamo and his relationship to the Wired editor, Poulsen:

Lamo is notorious in the world of hacking for being a low-level, inconsequential hacker with an insatiable need for self-promotion and media attention, and for the past decade, it has been Poulsen who satisfies that need.
It is likely that Manning reached out to Lamo due to his notoriety as a hacker, and possibly because of Lamo's diagnosis that was highlighted by the story in Wired. What followed was several days' worth of online chats where Lamo seems at times to be soliciting information from Manning, drawing him in and getting him to reveal more.

In spite of Wikipedia lore maintaining that Lamo supports Wikileaks, he claims to have acted in order to protect national security by turning over his chat logs to authorities. "I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger... [Manning] was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air."

What Does it Mean to Be a Patriot?

Whistleblowers find it very difficult to go against the status quo. There's social isolation, loss of status and employment, and in some cases, negative legal consequences. If the whistleblower is also a member of the US Military, negative consequences can mean imprisonment and even torturous detention. "Don’t rock the boat," as the saying goes, is a prevalent mindset—and for a good reason.

This is part one of my post. In part two I want to explore what has and is happening to Bradley Manning, what his future may hold, and what impact his case has on other potential contributors to Wikileaks.

If you are interested, one of Bradley Manning's support networks has organized a National White House Call-in Day for tomorrow—Thursday, February 3.

Your comments and ideas are always welcome. Please send e-mail to (Boy, that's a mouthful, isn't it?)

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