Manning was one of the first soldiers to learn of the fiasco, having been ordered to investigate the "bad guys" after the raid. "It turned out they had printed a benign political critique titled 'Where Did the Money Go?' following a corruption trial within the prime minister's cabinet," he said. Shocked, Manning "immediately took that information and ran to the officer [in charge] to explain what was going on." The officer told him to "shut up," he said. "He didn't want to hear any of it."
Manning knew the 15 Iraqis were doomed. The Iraqi police were known to torture their prisoners, while the U.S. military looked the other way. Manning couldn't. "That was a point where I was actively involved in something that I was completely against," he said. "And completely helpless." From then on, "everything started slipping. I saw things differently."
According to the government's charges, Manning made his first contact with WikiLeaks in November 2009, either just before or not long after the detainee incident. He would ultimately say he made direct contact with the "crazy white-haired Aussie" otherwise known as Julian Assange, though whether he spoke directly to Assange is unknown. "I've talked to Julian many times, but I've also talked to other guys too who were also 'Julian,'" says one hacker who's worked with WikiLeaks. "You can never be sure who is who."
Among the first things Manning leaked was a 17-minute video, which was titled "Collateral Murder." The video, taken in 2007, depicts Apache helicopters firing on unarmed civilians who appear to be mingling with insurgents in the street. The wounded crawl away and are shot dead. A van appears to retrieve the bodies; there are kids inside. They are shot, too. The crew banters back and forth as if they're playing Call of Duty. "Look at those dead bastards," one says. "Well," remarks another, "it's their fault for bringing their kids into a battle."
Manning had watched the video in the SCIF – these kinds of films played routinely and were watched by dozens of people. "At first glance, it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter . . . . No big deal," he said. "But something struck me as odd with the van thing . And also the fact that it was being stored in a JAG officer's directory." So Manning dug deeper, eventually tracking down the date of the incident and the GPS coordinates, and coming up with a story from The New York Times discussing the death of two Iraqi journalists among 16 killed in a clash with "Shiite militias." "It was unreal," Manning said. "It humanized the whole thing. I just couldn't let these things stay inside my head."
"Collateral Murder" was released on April 5th, 2010, at a WikiLeaks press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Within days, it had gone viral – a graphic snapshot of 21st-century soldiering run amok – and was held up by media organizations worldwide as documentation of a war crime.
Manning, meanwhile, had the surreal experience of watching the reaction to his leak from the confines of his base. He was amazed when several of the perpetrators of the attack issued mea culpas, and he friended a few on Facebook without them having any idea who he was. But the crushing routine of the FOB, made worse by his isolation and gender-identity crisis, weighed on Manning. Between December 2009 and May 2010, the period Manning was allegedly in contact with WikiLeaks, superiors noticed a drop-off in both his performance and his mental state, culminating with an incident on May 7th, 2010, when he was found curled up on the floor of the SCIF in a fetal position, having carved the words I WANT into a chair. A few hours later, Manning punched a superior in the face. "I'm tired of this!" he said, as his target, Spc. Jihrleah Showman, pinned him to the ground.
The following day, Manning was demoted back to private first class, removed from his job as an analyst and assigned to the supply room as a clerk. Already miserable, he was now as marginalized as he'd ever been. For Manning, it seemed as if the "only safe place," as he put it, was the Internet.
One lonely night, looking for connection and having reached out to strangers online before, he e-mailed a 29-year-old security consultant named Adrian Lamo. A once-handsome Colombian-American with a prescription-drug habit, Lamo had become famous in the early 2000s as the "homeless hacker," a digital savant who, having dropped out of high school in San Francisco, traveled the country on a Greyhound, sleeping on friends' couches or in abandoned buildings, downing handfuls of amphetamines and using his battered Toshiba laptop to troll through the databases of corporate behemoths like Yahoo, AOL and MCI WorldCom – after which he'd helpfully explain to the companies' system administrators how to plug the holes he'd found.
Lamo's career as a "security do-gooder" ended abruptly in 2002, after he, then 21, hacked The New York Times and notified the company to point out its security flaws. The Times was not amused. In 2004, after a lengthy FBI investigation, Lamo pleaded guilty to computer crimes, for which he was given a sentence of six months under house arrest.
Other hackers regarded Lamo with a mix of curiosity and distrust. "No one can really pinpoint anything particular that he'd done, at least since he'd stopped actively hacking," says Griffin Boyce, a Web developer who knows Lamo. "He took otherwise-secret activities and was fairly open about them; that made people nervous. It's incredibly foolish to speak to the media about doing something illegal." Within many circles, the consensus was that Lamo, desperate for recognition, might do virtually anything for publicity.
But Bradley Manning knew none of this. All he knew was that Lamo, who was openly bisexual, had starred in a 2003 documentary, Hackers Wanted, which focused on Lamo's travails with law enforcement; he also knew, from Lamo's tweets, that he supported WikiLeaks. Hackers Wanted had never been released, but in May 2010 it leaked online. Shortly afterward, Lamo received a message from a stranger.
"Hi," wrote aperson named "bradass87." "How are you? I'm an Army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern Baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder.'. . . I'm sure you're pretty busy . . . [but] if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8-plus months, what would you do?"
Lamo notified the authorities, and over the course of the next several days, he surreptitiously logged their chats. Manning, believing he was speaking confidentially, let loose. He explained the WikiLeaks submission process and said he'd talked with Assange numerous times. He went into depth about lack of security at his FOB and how easy it was to steal information. "The culture bred opportunities," he said. He referred to himself as a "mess," and spoke of his disillusionment – "I don't believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore only [in] a plethora of states acting in self interest." He often seemed like he was having a nervous breakdown.
Lamo would later say that he was afraid Manning's leaking could put American lives at risk. "Brad was detailing his last-ditch vision of an effort to save the world from itself," Lamo says. "I was seeing my own worst-case scenario of long ago play out: the arbitrary scattering of data that was at best hopelessly subjective and at worst prone to misuse. Truth is an elusive, personal thing," he adds. "Brad confused facts with truth. You can't convince people of a truth they don't want to see."
On May 25th, Lamo met with government agents at a Starbucks near his house in Carmichael, California, and handed over the logs of his chats, providing investigators with the crux of their evidence against Manning. Two days later, a week after initiating contact with Lamo, Manning was stopped by Army CID agents while at work in the supply room at FOB Hammer, escorted into a conference room and handed a piece of paper explaining his legal rights. After a brief hearing before an Army magistrate in Baghdad, he was remanded into the custody of the United States military, pending trial. The agony of Manning's Army career was at an end. But the real torture was yet to come.
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