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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Military Fails to Link Leaks With Any Deaths

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - The largest intelligence leak in U.S. history, disclosed by Pfc. Bradley Manning to WikiLeaks, did not lead to the deaths of any military sources, the government's first sentencing witness testified Wednesday.

Manning has long admitted to sending WikiLeaks more than 700,000 confidential files, including U.S. embassy cables, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.

The battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan are known as the war logs. WikiLeaks calls its Afghan War Diary "an extraordinary secret compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010."

In 2011, then-Army Chief of Staff Mike Mullen had said that Manning and WikiLeaks "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family" named in the leaked documents as a source of intelligence to the United States.

But Manning has insisted that he sent WikiLeaks only low-sensitivity categories of files that he believed would shed light on U.S. war fighting and statecraft. Three years of journalistic scrutiny into the effects of the leaks could not uncover a case of an intelligence source who was killed or injured because of the disclosures.

The military's position took another hit Wednesday, as the former brigadier general who headed the Information Review Task Force investigating the leaks said that he had never heard that a source named in the Afghan war logs was killed.

Though the Taliban had claimed that its review of the war logs led them to an Afghan whom the U.S. military named as a source, the supposed informant the Taliban claimed to have executed was not in fact named in the leaked materials.

Now-retired Brig. Gen. Robert Carr had wanted to testify about the Taliban's claim Wednesday, but Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over Manning's court-martial, barred such testimony as inadmissible hearsay.

The revelation supports an assessment by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the rhetoric about the supposed harm caused by the leaks was "fairly significantly overwrought."

When Gates tapped Carr to head the mitigation team in 2010, the Daily Beast labeled him "The General Gunning for WikiLeaks," and "a fitting adversary" for Julian Assange.

The website had been prescient in reporting that Carr's team would have to assess harm, mitigate it and "gather evidence about the workings of WikiLeaks that might someday be used by the Justice Department to prosecute Assange and others on espionage charges."

Military officials have credited these "mitigation efforts" for their safety in the absence of any proof that a source had been killed. Carr also acknowledged, however, that none of the names listed in the war logs were identified as "human intelligence," or "HumInt."

Instead of finding there was a "duty to warn" these contacts of potential harm, the U.S. government designated them with a "duty to notify," which is not legally binding, Carr said.

The retired general added that some of these contacts could not be found, others had died before the WikiLeaks disclosures, and others had been insurgents rather than cooperators with coalition forces.

Carr acknowledged that none of the names of Iraqi and Afghan contacts appeared in the original Arabic.

To this point, Manning's military defenders, Maj. Thomas Hurley, asked: "We don't share an alphabet with either of those countries, do we, Sir?"

"No," Carr replied.

Hurley also prompted Carr to concede that Iraqi and Afghan nationals tend not to be "not as plugged in" as Westerners.

Prosecutors had offered Gen. Carr to also testify about less tangible damage, such as his belief that Manning damaged the system by provoking distrust of junior analysts across the world.

Lead prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein said the general would testify that Manning's leaks "impacted the entire system because of lack of trust of junior analysts, and he'll give his opinion on why that is."

Manning's lead defense attorney David Coombs attacked this as overbroad. An overview of prosecution's sentencing witnesses shows that the government "is trying to put just about everything that ever happened at the feet of Pfc. Manning," Coombs said.

Judge Lind allowed Carr to testify on all topics, and invited the defense to argue why she should disregard those portions that they believe should be inadmissible.

Hurley, Manning's other lawyer, suggested at the beginning of cross-examination that Carr's testimony about the intangible harm might be colored by his ongoing 31-year career in the U.S. government.

Carr has spent his retirement working for the military contractor Northrop Grunman as a corporate lead executive here at Ft. Meade, where the court-martial is being held.

The next witness up was also a lifelong government employee. John Kirchhofer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency senior staffer, served as the deputy director under Carr. He had more editorial control over the impact report than any member of the task force.

Like Carr, Kirchhofer testified only about potential danger to foreign nationals who met with U.S. forces.

Unable to confirmed injury or death, Kirchhofer also testified about tense relations with NATO allies, saying that the reaction included "some unpleasant comments directed at me and at the U.S."

"Others patted me on the back and said, 'We'll get through this,'" Kirchhofer continued. "It really did range from pretty aggressive people getting chesty. I don't know how to tell you in an open forum."

"In a closed forum, I can tell you what countries," he added.

The day ended in a classified session.

Manning was convicted Tuesday under the Espionage Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and military violations. These charges expose the 25-year-old soldier to up to 136 years in prison, even with an acquittal on the controversial "aiding the enemy" charge.

During the case in chief, the parties could present evidence about the harm that the leaks could potentially have caused to U.S. national security.

As the sentencing phase of Manning's trial kicks off, the focus now shifts to what the actual impact was on the ground.

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