9 Essential Questions About Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks
Both the award-winning documentary film director Michael Moore and the celebrated whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg have called 22-year-old U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning a hero in the fight for free information. Ironically Manning's own fate is presently unknown, since much information leading to his arrest is being withheld. Since his detention in May last year, Manning has been in solitary confinement under conditions criticized for being inhumane and torturous. According to his lawyer, Army court-martial defense attorney David E. Coombs, Manning is only allowed to leave his cell one hour a day and has no contact with other prisoners.
Even in his cell, his activities are strongly restricted. The light is kept turned on 24 hours a day, he is prohibited from possessing personal items or exercising, and he has no access to basic items such as sheets or pillows. What is the reason for this treatment? Manning is accused of being WikiLeaks' source for the 250,000 U.S. State Department cables published since November and for being the source of the "collateral murder" video, showing civilians and two Reuters reporters being killed in a 2007 U.S. air raid in Baghdad. He is not yet convicted of any charges, and as it lingers in the air his fate raises a number of questions:
Why is Manning kept in solitary confinement?
The official justification for Manning's pretrial conditions is his classification as both Maximum Custody Detainee, the highest level of military detention, and POI (prevention of injury) Detainee. Both labels have been criticized as exaggerated. Salon's Glen Greenwald points to the fact that Manning, since his arrest, has been a model detainee without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems and Manning's lawyer denies that he is potentially suicidal. But considering the harsh pretrial conditions, who would not be suicidal after a while? In an open letter send to Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this week, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) points to the severe deleterious effects of solitary confinement and suggests that, rather than a response to a risk, Manning may be the victim of political retribution. Julian Assange, in an interview with Sir David Frost, claims that the torturous conditions of Manning's imprisonment are in fact intended to coerce Manning into testifying against him. If true, Manning is a brick in a larger plot to crack down on WikiLeaks. Let us scroll the history back some six months.
What made Manning leak the secret information?
Manning has faced accusations of recklessly threatening homeland security. In an online chat with the fellow hacker Adrian Lamo (we will get back to him in a minute) Manning expresses a motivation for the leak grounded in deep concern with the atrocities his country has committed. In the chat logs Manning is said to have stated if i were someone more malicious -- i could've sold [the information] to russia or china, and made bank. Instead he uploaded it on WikiLeaks, because it belongs in the public domain --information should be free & god knows what happens now -- hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms -- if not & we're doomed. It was these statements that made Daniel Ellsberg call Manning his new hero, and assuming the chat logs are to be trusted, Manning should be considered a whistleblower of our time. Now the other key figure in the story:
Who is Adrian Lamo?
Lamo is a hacker, convicted of a felony in 2004, for hacking into the New York Times. In the hacking community Lamo is notorious for his dishonesty, compulsive self-promotion and mental instability. In April 2010 Lamo voluntarily committed himself to a psychiatric hospital for a week. Lamo declared himself a journalist and at the time Manning is said to have engaged in the chat with Lamo he was working with a group called Project Vigilant, whose self-proclaimed mission was to inform federal authorities of crimes taking place over the Internet. There is no evidence suggesting Lamo and Manning knew each other prior to the chats, which raised the question:
Why did Manning confess the leaks to Lamo?
It seems odd that Manning divulged information likely to put him in prison for years to a man he did not know on an open source online chat. According to Wired, Manning quickly and without reservations inaugurated Lamo in his activities and willingly answered to further investigation by Lamo. In an interview with Yahoo! News Lamo claimed to have explicitly informed Manning that there were no measures of confidentiality and Wired suggests that Manning simply saw in Lamo a likeminded hacker in whom he could confide. Considering the importance of Manning's activities it seems likely that he would be on the lookout for somebody to share the burden, but it appears unforgivably stupid and rather bizarre, for somebody with his knowledge about Internet security to give away such information to a complete stranger without any measures of confidentiality. To Glenn Greenwald, Lamo reversed the story he gave to Yahoo! News and said he told Manning he was a journalist and could offer him confidentiality under California's shield law. If so, Manning's decision to confess seems sounder, but Lamo's explanation of his role in the story is riddled with inconsistencies.
How did Manning contact Lamo in the first place?
Lamo told Yahoo! News that Manning found him by making a Twitter search on WikiLeaks and contacted him out of the blue on an open AOL Instant Messenger chat. To Greenwald, however, Lamo claimed that Manning had initially contacted him through a number of encrypted emails. Lamo refuses to release these emails. If they exist it is reasonable to assume they contain proof that Lamo promised Manning confidentiality. Lamo compromised this assumable promise by turning Manning over to the authorities.
Why did Lamo inform the FBI?
Lamo has claimed he acted out of sheer concern with national security. He told the Australian journalist Patrick Gray, from Risky Busyness, that he tried to prevent the lives of other human beings from being seriously and adversely effected by the leakage of classified material. The justification rings hollow considering Lamo himself is a longtime hacker convicted of a felony. Even more bizarre is the fact that Lamo, a couple of months prior to leaking the story, donated money to WikiLeaks and expressed his support for the organization. So if Lamo's concern with homeland security is true it brings up another question.
Why did Lamo leak the chat logs to Wired?
According to his own statement, Lamo wanted to ensure that Manning was painted as a human being rather than a terrorist before arrested by the U.S. authorities. The statement rings hollow in light of the curious connection between Lamo and Kevin Poulsen, Wired's senior editor, investigated by Greenwald. Poulsen is not only a journalist but also, like Lamo, a previous hacker convicted of a felony and sentenced to three years in jail. Throughout his hacking career, Lamo went to Poulsen for coverage of his activities. When Lamo had successfully hacked a company, he informed Poulsen, who then went to the company with information about the break-in, offered Lamo's cooperation and afterward reported the hacking incident in the news. Lamo thus used Poulsen to carry out his hacking adventures while Poulsen took advantage of Lamo as insider source from the hacking world. The fact that Lamo leaked the chat logs not only to the FBI, but also to Wired suggests the desire for media attention played a role in Lamo's actions. Leaked to Poulsen only 25 percent of the logs made it to the public. Next question arises:
What is in the unpublished logs?
Poulsen and Lamo both confirmed to Greenwald that Lamo placed no restrictions on publishing the chat logs in their entirety. Poulsen, however, refuses to publish the remaining 75 percent, claiming they contain irrelevant personal stuff about Manning in addition to information that would jeopardize national security if released. It seems unreasonable that Poulsen alone should make that decision and begs for the examination of the material by a third party. The remaining chat logs might hold the key to some of the unanswered questions above, e.g. how Manning first contacted Lamo; if Lamo promised Manning confidentiality; and if the chat gave Lamo sound reason to believe Manning was a threat to national security.
In a battle for free information it is frustrating that the trail leading to Manning's arrest ends blindly in an alley of unpublished chat logs. While Manning is rotting away, solitary in his cell, WikiLeaks continues to release a lava flow of information. The trial of Manning, however, might pose a serious threat to Assange as well. One last, crucial question is still up in the air:
What role did Assange play in Manning's leaks?
Assange claims to have no knowledge about any of the sources leaking documents through WikiLeaks, as it is an open platform for anonymous uploading. In the chat, however, Lamo claims that Manning confessed a relationship with Assange, who gave him instructions on how to download the files. According to the New York Times, prosecutors have been looking for proof that this is true. If so, it would enable them to prosecute Assange for conspiracy, rather than espionage, thus getting around obstacles caused by the First Amendment. It is crucial for the Obama administration to make an example out of Assange and WikiLeaks through prosecution. This might hold the key explanation of the unusual repressive conditions Manning is placed under.
If Assange is indicted, Greenwald worries it poses a threat, not only to the vision of WikiLeaks, but to an already endangered species of critical investigative journalists. Greenwald, interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, punctures the illusion: "Very rarely do investigative journalists merely act as passive recipients of classified information; secret government programs aren't typically reported because leaks just suddenly show up one day in the email box of a passive reporter. Journalists virtually always take affirmative steps to encourage its dissemination."
The story of Bradley Manning is a story of questionable reporting flawed with unknowns and withheld information. What are Lamo's intentions? What exactly did Manning tell him? And why do we have to rely on assumptions about the content of chat logs withheld by Wired and Kevin Poulsen? While Manning sits solitary in his cell, Assange continues the fight for free information, and government prosecutors advance their battle to crack down on WikiLeaks.