WikiLeaks Trial Ends Week With Focus on Data Hygiene

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – Witnesses in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning spoke Wednesday about whether all low-level analysts had the same intimate access to military data that the WikiLeaker had.
     Manning, who turned 25 in December, leaked more than 700,000 files including, among others, diplomatic cables, incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, profiles of Guantanamo detainees, and a video of a Baghdad airstrike that WikiLeaks titled “Collateral Murder.”
     His supporters, who regularly fill the courtroom in T-shirts emblazoned with the word “Truth,” credit him for revealing death counts of the Iraq war, backroom diplomatic dealings and faces on those indefinitely detained without charge.
     For the most part, Manning does not contest that he was the source of the leaked files, but he denies having “aided the enemy,” a charge that could put him away for the rest of his life.
     The young soldier swore months before trial that he had authorized access to the files he disclosed in his capacity as an analyst, and that he carefully considered whether the databases contained newsworthy information that was safe for release before uploading them for publication.
     Nearly every eyewitness in the case says that the other American soldiers in Iraq shunned and taunted Manning – a skinny and 5-foot-4 bespectacled intellectual who wore custom-made dog tags that read “Humanist.”
     His interactions were particularly rocky with a former supervisor, ex-Spc. Jihrleah Showman.
     At Manning’s Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury, Showman testified that Manning had punched her in the face. Manning also described the incident in an online chat with his confidant-turned-informer Adrian Lamo.
     The topic did not come up again when Showman returned to the stand on Wednesday, rounding out the first week of the Manning’s trial.
     Instead Showman testified about Manning’s supposed proclivity for “extreme Democratic” politics, martini parties and code-cracking of military portals. The latter allegation, which she made for the first time this morning, could help prosecutors convict on several counts of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
     Grilling Showman on this point, Manning’s lead attorney, David Coombs asked, “Did anyone at that point say, ‘Hey, that’s against the [Acceptable Use Policy]?'”
     Showman said she could not remember.
     Manning said that he first discovered the “Collateral Murder” video when he found Showman and other soldiers watching what he assumed was mere war porn.
     He then overheard the soldiers discussing how two Reuters journalists were among 12 killed in the Bagdad airstrike that the footage depicts.
     The Pentagon has said the pilots mistook the cameras carried by the Reuters employees for guns.
     Reuters filed a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover the cockpit video, but the government rebuffed every request.
     Coombs prodded Showman’s memory of the video.
     Although she recalled seeing a Baghdad airstrike video, Showman said that she never compared it with the footage that WikiLeaks released. She also swore that she could not remember any of her discussions about the version she saw. Showman told one of the prosecutors, Capt. Angel Overgaard, that she accessed the video on a secret database, but prior testimony has established that the video was unclassified.
     Showman also acknowledged that soldiers in her unit regularly listened to music, watched movies and played video games on military computers.
     Noting that such media files been on the computers when she arrived, Showman said the troops assumed such media files were authorized but that nobody put out a document stating, “We approve this music.”
     The issue presented an actual security risk because Manning burned files on a rewritable CD while pretending to listen to Lady Gaga, evidence showed.
     Despite Manning’s furtive methods, the next witness, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kyle Balonek, indicated that downloading those sensitive files onto CDs was not itself illegal. That admission could undermine the contention of prosecutors that Manning “exceeded authorized access,” an element they must prove to convict him under two counts of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
     The government also claims that Manning overstepped his access by downloading Wget, a file-grabbing freeware that downloads in bulk. Manning countered that soldiers commonly downloaded freeware such as mIRC chat, an instant messaging service. Showman confirmed that she even asked Manning to install that chat program for her.
     CWO 2 Balonek testified that he would have intervened if he saw Manning doing that at Showman’s behest, a fact that the defense may use to argue selective prosecution on that charge.
     In theory, a soldier with Manning’s security clearance could browse any diplomatic cables, wartime incident reports and Guantanamo detainee profiles up to the secret level, and store the files on a server, CD or approved hard drive, completely legally, Balonek told the defense.
     Pinning down this point, Coombs asked whether it was true that there was “no limitation.”
     “Not that I was aware of,” Balonek replied, adding later, “Only the size of the CD, sir.”
     Under questioning by lead prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein, Balonek insisted that he would have intervened had he known Manning had been doing any of the things established in the fact record of the case.
     Balonek nevertheless corroborated Manning’s sworn statement that military servers were prone to crashing and that he backed up files on CDs as a precaution. Balonek added that he even backed up some of the so-called “war logs” that Manning leaked this way. He specified that he only downloaded months, not years, of the documents.
     As an analyst, Manning performed “excellent” work, Balonek said, adding that he sometimes used the young soldier’s reports in his own works.
     In fact, the next witness, CWO 3 Hando Hack, said that Manning even outperformed his supervisor Balonck in the work that he left on the shared drive.
     Questioning by another prosecutor, Capt. Hunter White, aimed to depict Manning as extremely organized, yet subpar when it came to providing Hack with high-value targets.
     Manning specialized in analyzing intelligence on Shia extremists, who perpetrated most of the attacks in eastern Baghdad where the division was stationed. Of 25 so-called “high value targets,” 23 were Shia, Hack said.
     Since Hack worked in the day and Manning worked at night, the pair crossed paths for only about 15 minutes a day, during shift change, Hack said.
     During one of those encounters, Hack allegedly asked for help finding targets, and Manning responded with a 2-year-old report that appeared to dissatisfy the warrant officer.
     Coombs sought on cross-examination to rebuff the suggestion that Manning was “somehow derelict in his duties because he was working for WikiLeaks.”
     Hack agreed that Manning’s entire section provided poor intelligence and that Manning was actually better organized and shared more information on the shared drive than more experienced analysts.
     Coombs said Manning fell short only in the “so what?” factor, a big-picture analysis that comes with greater experience than he had.
     The final witness of the day, Capt. Casey Fulton, verified that point, and noted that Manning’s performance never lagged during the time he was communicating with WikiLeaks. Manning never missed a deadline.
     Undercutting the government’s claim that Manning knew enemies of the United States frequented WikiLeaks, Fulton only listed Facebook and Google Maps as websites an enemy would hypothetically use, but she added that she never got any confirmation about enemies visiting any particular URL.
     Trial was originally expected to last through late August, but witness testimony has moved faster than anticipated. Court recessed two days early this week, as the next witnesses were not available to take the stand. Proceedings will resume on Monday.

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