Early this afternoon, United States Army Private First Class Bradley Manning was convicted of 19 counts of espionage, fraud, and computer theft by a military court-martial for leaking classified documents from the military and State Department to whistleblower organization WikiLeaks. Although acquitted of the main charge of aiding the enemy, Manning is still likely to face up 136 years imprisonment for his dealings with WikiLeaks. Still, while most media organizations look at the aftermath and scope of the WikiLeaks-based crimes, the question is rarely asked, who really is Bradley Manning? We look at Manning's history, and discuss what led to his leaking and eventual conviction.
Tinker Hacker Soldier Spy
Bradley Manning was born in Oklahoma, and moved around a lot when he was a child, including to such places as Wales. He enlisted in the United States Army in 2007. Despite some initial trouble that led him to being almost discharged, Manning completed basic training, and received specialist training as an intelligence analyst, earning the rank of Private First Class. PFC Manning joined the 2nd Battalion Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in upstate New York. There, he had his first serious relationship with a man, a neuroscience student at Brandeis University in the Boston area named Tyler Watkins. During this relationship, Manning was introduced to the local hacker scene, and became somewhat attached to it, given his affinity for computers.
Still, as a closeted gay man in the time of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Manning was inherently unstable, and unable to really connect with troops, and felt an opposition to the Iraq War itself. Before his deployment to Iraq in 2009, Manning's superior officers expressed concern that the intelligence analyst represented a security risk, owing to the emotional instability he was beginning to develop, as well as previous incidents. In spite of this, the Army shipped Manning to Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, due to a shortage of analysts in Iraq, and even received a promotion to Specialist.
While working in Iraq, Bradley Manning's mental state deteriorated dramatically, owing in part to the isolation from working six days per week in 14-15 hour shifts in a dimly lit room as an analyst. During this time, he had access to two key military intelligence networks, and thus had an incredible amount of access to various classified materials. The pressures had begun to take a toll on him, and as an outlet, he began to communicate with WikiLeaks, and would begin the process of leaking documents to the organization. As time went along, Manning also began to identify himself as a woman, and had spoken with people stateside about sex reassignment surgery. At one point, during leave time in Boston, he even spent several days living as a woman.
Eventually, things took a head, as Manning leaked more and more documents to WikiLeaks, including several hundred thousand military logs and files from the Iraq and Afghan Wars. This even included videos of airstrikes which some s Manning's most significant leak to WikiLeaks, though, was the release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables from the State Department, an event known as Cablegate. During this time, Manning wrecked parts of his workplace in an incident which led to him being pinned down, and many saw that his security clearance should have been revoked at that point. Following this, he emailed his Master Sergeant, claiming to suffer from gender dysphoria (aka, gender identity disorder), and revealing his crossdressing. Another altercation with another analyst led to Manning's demotion to Private First Class, with a recommendation to be discharged.
At this point, with many documents already in the hands of WikiLeaks, Manning came in contact with Adrian Lamo, an autistic hacker, seeking help with his emotional instability. During his conversations with Lamo, Manning admitted to the leaks, owing much of it to his instability. Lamo eventually reported these chats with the FBI, who contacted the Army, leading to Manning's arrest.
Following his arrest, Manning became a cause célèbre among the anti-war left, especially when his initial imprisonment included a long period of solitary confinement, despite the limited threat he was in. Eventually, Manning was put to court-martial in what has been called the WikiLeaks Trial, presided by judge Colonel Denise Lund, waiving his right to a trial by jury in the process. Charged with aiding the enemy and 20 counts espionage, computer theft, and fraud, Manning initially pled guilty to four lesser counts as part of a plea deal. He now faces sentencing, starting tomorrow morning.
What is unfortunate is that the Army had plenty of warnings about Manning's instability, and could have ended many, if not all, of the leaks that WikiLeaks received. However, rather than acknowledging its structural failure in handling Manning, the Army has simply ignored their own complicity in the matter, making them as much a national security as the analyst, or WikiLeaks, ever could be.