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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Manning Admits to Being WikiLeaks Source

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning testified Thursday that he started the largest intelligence disclosure in U.S. history from a Barnes & Noble in Maryland, after the Washington Post and New York Times turned him down.

"I did believe, and still believe, that these documents are some of the most significant documents of our time," Manning said, echoing a note he wrote to WikiLeaks.

During a daylong hearing for his so-called "naked plea," the 25-year-old soldier spoke for the first time about how and why he started leaking. The admission bypasses prosecutors and goes directly to the judge.

Although he admitted to sending almost every file on his charge sheet, he pleaded guilty only to 10 of the 22 specifications against him, amending most to get a reduced sentence.

As pleaded, the charges carry a 20-year maximum, plus forfeiture, fine and dishonorable discharge.

Prosecutors still intend to pursue all charges against him, including "aiding the enemy," which carries a possible life sentence.

In the morning, Manning delivered a prepared speech that meticulously recounted his transmission of hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic files to WikiLeaks. A military judge grilled him about his statement in the afternoon.

When he entered Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., Manning said he felt neither "physically or mentally prepared" for basic training, but he found his niche upon his transfer to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to train as an intelligence specialist.

He brought these skills to Forward Operation Base Hammer, where he was deployed as an intelligence specialist.

It was here that he first accessed incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, known as SigActs, short for significant actions.

"As an analyst, I viewed the SigActs as historical data," Manning said.

He added that these files can be sensitive when first produced, but that status wears off after the military's public affairs department reports the incidents to the press and public. This process usually takes three days, he said.

Although prosecutors claim that Manning "exceeded authorized access" by downloading these in bulk, Manning said analysts openly back up the files because the military server was prone to crashing.

At the time, he said he had no intention of sending the files to WikiLeaks or anyone else.

Manning acknowledged that he installed WinRar, a free software-compression program, on his computer to download the files in bulk, but he said that he openly did it because it was not a violation.

WikiLeaks allegedly first came on Manning's radar around Thanksgiving 2009, when the website published "purported SMS messages" sent by cellphones near the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Manning said he concluded that the messages were "very likely real based on the detail."

Around that time, he said that he began to "routinely monitor" WikiLeaks as well as various news wires and reports by private intelligence firms like Strategic Forecasting, or StratFor.

Such research was "what good analysts were expected to do," he said.

Manning added that he had even used a WikiLeaks-published document about weapons trafficking to perform his duties as an intelligence specialist.

He said started to enter WikiLeaks chat rooms out of "curiosity" and found the discussions there to be "almost academic in nature" - and not only WikiLeaks-related.


Manning said he believes he met Julian Assange in those chat rooms, though the WikiLeaks founder allegedly wrote to Manning under the pseudonym of Nathaniel Frank, in keeping with a staff policy of not sharing real names with sources. In his testimony, Manning mispronounced the Australian editor's last name as "uh-SONN-ghee."

Though Manning said he has his doubts about the authenticity of that friendship, he noted that, "in real life, I lacked a close personal friendship with the people in my section."

The soldier mentioned that his "perceived sexual orientation" might be to blame for a chilly relationhip with his roommate.

Also around this time, a superior officer allegedly ordered Manning to produce the Iraqi Federal Police with "bad guys" who had no ties to anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorism.

Manning said these detainees were distributing a scholarly critique of the financial corruption of then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, and that an interpreter he retained deemed the literature "benign."

When Manning pointed out the discrepancy, he said his superiors told him to "drop it," and ordered him to turn over prisoners who would be "very likely tortured and not seen again for a very long time, if ever."

"I couldn't believe what I heard and I complained to the other analysts," he said. "I am the type of person who wants to figure out how things work. ... I was not satisfied with producing canned or cookie-cutter assessments."

Disillusioned, Manning said he started talking to the people closest to him about whether to start leaking during his mid-tour leave in January 2010.

Manning explained that the leaks had nothing to do with any mental health issues.

"It's not attached to depression as a mental issue because I am not raising that," Manning said.

He said his boyfriend at the time, Tyler Watkins, seemed uninterested and their relationship was falling apart during his visit.

When he visited his aunt's house in Maryland, a "blizzard bombarded the mid-Atlantic," and he said that he was left to weigh his moral dilemma.

"At this point, it made sense to disclose," he said.

He said that a Washington Post reporter, whom he did not name, "did not take me seriously," and The New York Times did not respond to a news tip he left on its answering machine.

He added that he considered dropping by the office of Politico, but the weather made that impossible.

By sending to WikiLeaks, Manning allegedly worried that the files "might not be noticed by the American media." He said he concluded nevertheless that the website "seemed like the best medium for sharing this information with the world within my reach."

Manning uploaded the SigActs from a Barnes & Noble in Rockville, Md., to have a "clear conscience, based on what I had seen," he said.

Next, Manning allegedly began to familiarize himself with the U.S. Southern Command database of Guantanamo detainees, and said he found that it was holding many detainees "that we believed or knew to be innocent."

In early 2009, President Barack Obama announced that he wanted to close the prison because it diminished the "moral standing" of the nation.

"Reading through the detainee assessment briefs, I agreed," he said. "I recognized that they were at least several years old. Noting this, I determined that the DABS were not very useful from a national security ... standpoint."

Manning said his "insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics" led him to browse through the Department of State's Net-Centric Diplomacy database, where he found "seemingly criminal activity."

With these, it seemed harder to determine "absolutely that [their disclosure] would not harm the United States," he said.

To minimize the risk, Manning said he sought only cables with a "Sip-Dis" tag, showing it was on a low-level database accessed by thousands of military personnel.

His first cable, the "Reykjavik 13" cable, concerned a diplomatic dispute over the Icelandic financial crisis.

"I concluded that Iceland was being bullied diplomatically by two larger European powers," Manning said. "It appeared to me that we were not getting involved because of the long-term geopolitical implications of doing so. ... I felt that I might be able to right a wrong by publishing this document."

WikiLeaks published the document "within hours," he continued.

Manning's plea also addressed his most famous release: the video of a Baghdad airstrike that killed 12 people, including two Reuters employees.

When Manning saw soldiers watching the video, he thought that it was "war porn," and he said he was repulsed by the "seemingly delightful bloodlust" of the Apache helicopter pilots.

"They seemed to not value human life by referring to them as dead bastards," he said. "To me, this seems similar to a child torturing ants with a magnifying glass."

Eventually, he claimed to have found news accounts that said Reuters sought the release of the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

Manning also admitted to leaking a Defense Intelligence Agency memo about WikiLeaks; an investigation into another airstrike on the Farah province of Afghanistan, which killed more than 100 Afghan civilians; and a U.S. Army intelligence agency memo.

He denied disclosing the Global Address List, detailing the contact information of officers stationed in Iraq, as well as a video of the Granai airstrike in Farah.

Manning also insisted: "Nobody associated with WLO [WikiLeaks Organization] pressured me into sending any more information." The leaks "were my own decision, and I take full responsibility for my actions," he added.

The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked Manning how he could square his professed humanitarian aims with conduct deemed "prejudicial to good order and discipline" and "service-discrediting."

Manning insisted there was no conflict.

"In the military, we have rules and regulations and structures designed to safeguard sensitive information and classified, and I circumvented them," he said. "And by doing that, I violated some orders and regulations."

"For the service-discrediting, it's about public perception of the military and its trust, he added. "But by not abiding by this system, it undermines our service, Your Honor."

Picking up that point, Lind said, "If there's more than one person doing what you're doing, then the whole system crashes."

Manning agreed: "Yes, Your Honor."

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