Manning Trial Parses WikiLeaks Twitter Feed
FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Two of the charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning in connection with the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history could hinge upon a pair of Tweets that WikiLeaks purportedly fired off in early 2010.
Months before his trial, the 25-year-old soldier acknowledged he sent WikiLeaks more than 700,000 files, including diplomatic cables, incident reports from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, profiles of Guantanamo detainees, and a video of an airstrike in Baghdad that WikiLeaks titled "Collateral Murder."
Manning generally does not deny that he is the source of the disclosures, but he contends that prosecutors got two details wrong about the substance of the documents. He insists that he never sent WikiLeaks a "Global Address List" with contact information for 74,000 military personnel stationed in Iraq.
He also says the government botched the timeline on when he uploaded a second video depicting an airstrike in the Farah province of Afghanistan that reportedly killed an estimated 86 to 147 civilians.
The video supposedly could not be viewed because it was protected by an impenetrable password, but WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told an Australian newspaper, the Age, that he cracked that code.
Assange asserted that the reason the video was never published is that his former spokesman Daniel Domsheit-Berg deleted it during a falling-out with the organization.
Manning nevertheless still faces a charge for this disclosure, which his charge sheet states occurred "between on or about 1 November 2009 and on or about 8 January 2010."
Manning claims he actually uploaded the footage on March 2010.
Though it is unclear what difference the distinction makes for Manning's potential sentencing exposure, some observers have speculated the dates could impact any possible conspiracy charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
As the second week of Manning's trial opened on Monday, prosecutors submitted their evidence supporting their version of the disputed events: a pair of archived Tweets.
A Jan. 8, 2010, post states: "Have encrypted videos of US bomb strikes on civilians http://bit.ly/wlafghan2 we need super computer time http://ljsf.org."
Another, dated May 7, 2010, announced: "We would like a list of as many .mil email addresses as possible. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org."
One of Manning's military defenders, Capt. Joshua Tooman, sought to block both as inadmissible hearsay. He told the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, that the Tweets could not be authenticated because they were discovered on cached Google servers.
The witness who discovered them, computer forensic analyst Mark Mander, could not verify that Google's servers containing the Tweets were not hacked, or how the search engine populated the purported postings in its archives.
The judge, who is hearing the case without a jury, provisionally accepted the Tweets into the record, but she invited to the parties to submit written arguments for her final ruling on the matter.
The postings also serve the prosecution's narrative that Manning acted at the behest of WikiLeaks early in his deployment, helping them find materials from a 2009 Most-Wanted Leaks list and sending sensitive documents it requested via Twitter.
Manning's defense attorneys say that the evidence for such a contention is thin.
Indeed, Mander agreed during cross-examination that he found no evidence that Manning ever saw the "Most-Wanted" list, or the Tweets in question. Neither did he find any evidence that Manning had ties to any foreign government, held anti-American views or collected any money for the information he leaked.
Manning has said he wanted to start a public dialogue on how the U.S. conducts warfare and diplomacy. His supporters, who regularly fill the courtroom in T-shirts printed with the word "truth," credit him for revealing death counts of the Iraq war, backroom diplomatic dealings and human details about people imprisoned indefinitely at Guantanamo without charge.
Prosecutors contend he was "aiding the enemy" with the leaks, and to convict on that count they must prove that Manning knew that exposing the information would have that effect.
They aim to do that, in part, with one of the files that Manning disclosed: a U.S. Army counterintelligence document titled "Wikileaks.org - An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?"
Sheila Glenn, a counterintelligence official that proofed the document, testified about it before court closed on Monday. The paper discussed how to undermine WikiLeaks and stated that it "must also be presumed that foreign adversaries will review and assess any DoD sensitive or classified information" that the department publishes.
Tooman, the defense attorney, noted that the document never showed any evidence to that effect. Whether enemies used WikiLeaks was an open question, he said.
Under "Intelligence Gaps," the report's authors asked: "Will the Wikileaks.org Web site be used by FISS, foreign military services, foreign insurgents, or terrorist groups," among other questions.