By Jay Holmes
On December 17, 2011, news channels in the US and Europe reported on Army Private Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning is responding to charges that he passed to unauthorized parties over 250k classified US diplomatic messages, nearly 500k secret military files, over 400k medical files of military personnel, and the names of Afghan double agents cooperating with the US Military. The Military reported that, after Wiki-leaks published the names of those double agents, most of them were killed by the Taliban or Tali-clones.
Manning’s defense team has, with some success, marketed Manning as a heroic whistle-blower, drawing supporters who created a “Free Bradley Manning Support Network.” One middle-aged supporter interviewed by Reuters even said Manning should receive a Medal of Honor for his heroic acts.
The fact is that, while a few of the files that Manning sent to Wiki-leaks may have been classified in order to protect the Army from embarrassing mistakes that resulted in civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of what Manning gave away can hardly qualify as suitable material for “whistle blowing.” Furthermore, if whistle blowing had been Manning’s goal, military personnel have access to whistle blowing channels that they can use without fear of persecution or retribution.
Manning’s defense team also introduced the fact that Manning has an alter ego, “Breanna Manning.” Defense claimed Manning’s actions were in part caused by the fact that, as a homosexual, he was treated unfairly by the military.
A few of the more gullible gay rights advocates have now taken up the clarion call and want Manning released from his Army homosexual persecution. The fact that the Army has not charged Manning with any Uniform Code of Military Justice violations based on his sexual practices (or fantasies) has not stopped those few poor duped souls from loudly defending his gay rights.
The willingness of some members of the public to passionately advocate one position or another based on fashion rather than facts has clearly been recognized by Manning’s defense team, and it appears to be the basis of their defense strategy. Before investing any passion that might be better used in the bedroom, let’s break with the current popular trend and review a few verifiable facts.
Precisely who is Bradley Manning, and what do we know about the accusations against him?
Bradley Manning was born on December 17, 1987 in Crescent, Oklahoma to the Welsh woman Susan Fox and her American husband Brian Manning. According to his teachers, Bradley was outspoken about his opinions, but he was not a troublemaker.
When Bradley was 13, his parents divorced, and he moved to Wales with his mother. In school in Wales, Manning was picked on. This was possibly exacerbated by his outspokenness, his effeminate mannerisms, and his likely lack of social skills. He eventually took an equivalency test and moved back to Oklahoma to live with his father.
In the States, Manning got a job with a software company but was fired after a few months. In March of 2006, he got into an argument with his stepmother and decided to make his point by threatening her with a butcher knife. The police removed Manning from the house. After that, he lived in an old pickup truck and worked at odd jobs.
In October of 2007, Bradley entered the Army. He scored well on various tests and was selected for training in Army Intelligence School. While in intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Manning was reprimanded for posting sensitive information on YouTube.
Had I been his commanding officer, this is when Manning would have begun his brilliant new Army career as a bathroom cleaning and parking lot security specialist. I simply would have explained to Bradley that if any vehicles in the parking lot went damaged, he would be pulling extra duty on weekends cleaning everyone else’s toilets. It’s a big Army with lots of toilets, and they need lots of cleaning, so there is a place for the Bradley Mannings of the world in the great big Army, but that place should never include access to weapons, classified information, vehicles, electricity, etc.
However, in the Western world, the modern military doesn’t always like the “hard-ass” approach, so Bradley was graduated, and he and his security clearance, which must have been conducted by a Taliban subcontractor, were designated to eventually work in Iraq. Iraq at the time was a place with lots of secret American military communications, weapons, vehicles, things that go “boom” and occasionally even electricity—not at all the sort of place for Bradley Manning.
Before being deployed to Iraq, Manning spent time at Fort Drum, New York, the home of the elite 10th Mountain Division. While at Fort Drum, he hooked up with a male lover from Boston College who introduced him to the hacker community. He attended a “hackerspace” workshop where he presumably honed his hackiness.
Manning was unhappy at Fort Drum and didn’t hide it. He argued with his roommates and screamed at officers. Still, nobody saw any reason to pull his security clearance.
To a degree, I can understand this. In the US military, “spooks” of all varieties are expected to be a bit eccentric. Some of them often ignore petty rules and find ways to get around the system without ruffling any high-ranking feathers. If they do good work, the commanders will usually look the other way rather than troubling to find more talent to complete difficult work that not everyone has an aptitude for or an interest in.
In exchange for this informal “different drummer” exception that spooks might at times receive, they are expected to maintain the highest security standards and perform extremely well in their corps responsibilities. However, that willingness to ignore a few eccentricities does not usually extend to screaming at superior officers or fighting with roommates. Manning was marching to his own drummer, but he clearly was not maintaining good security practices. Manning was sent to a mental health councilor, but he kept his security clearance.
In October of 2009, Manning was sent to Iraq and was stationed at Forward Operating Base “Hammer.” While at FOB Hammer, Manning’s state of mind did not improve. After several people reported odd behavior by Manning, he was sent to a chaplain.
If a chaplain is in residence at a forward operating base, he will often serve as minister, psychiatrist, councilor, and social worker all rolled into one. Unfortunately, even a talented chaplain has limited tools at his disposal and can’t remove a disturbed “patient” from the front. Not surprisingly, the chaplain was unable to perform any magic on Manning, and his behavior did not improve.
Manning had access to a vast array of data that his job did not require via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System. Apparently, he was only in theater about a month when he allegedly started sending Wikileaks volumes of classified files.
On May 7, 2010, Manning punched his female commanding officer in the face. Fortunately for Manning, she did not draw her M9 pistol and shoot him twice. Manning was demoted to the rank of private, a rank he never should have been elevated from in the first place, and told that he would be sent home and discharged.
Shortly after the “woman beating” incident, and before he was shipped home, he reached out to famous ex-hacker, Adrian Lamo. He and Lamo chatted online, and he bragged to Lamo about the files that he had sent to Julian Assange at Wikileaks. Lamo realized that the lives of US servicemen and their allies were at stake, and he contacted the FBI. Lamo gave the FBI classified files that Manning had sent him, along with logs of their chats.
On May 26, 2010, Manning was arrested by the Army and placed in custody in Kuwait. He was charged on July 5, 2010 with transferring classified information to unauthorized parties while knowing that it would be used to harm the United States of America.
On July 29, 2010, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. Manning and his supporters claim that he was held in inhumane conditions in Quantico, but his lawyer, David Coombs, said he was not tortured or mistreated.
On April 11, 2011, Manning was transferred to a medium security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is now held under less stringent conditions.
The Military justice system will determine Manning’s guilt or innocence and assign punishment. One might wonder why Manning’s legal team appears to base their defense around the strategies of, “He’s gay; stop picking on him,” and, “Manning is a hero for exposing the less-than-pure diplomatic initiatives of the US.” My guess is that they find the evidence against Manning so overwhelming that they are focusing on the courts of public opinion to whip up political pressure for an eventual early release of Manning. So far, their plan is going pretty well for them and for their client.
It is too early to completely assess the damage done by Manning or to completely understand his reasons for doing what he did. Thus far, I am willing to draw the following conclusions:
1) Manning should not receive the Medal of Honor.
2) His legal team is smart, and you and I are probably paying them a ton.
3) Manning never should have graduated his intelligence training. If he was ignoring security requirements in the highly controlled training environment, it was nuts to expect him to perform any better on the battlefield.
4) The people responsible for the security of the two secured networks that Manning accessed belong in the cell next to Manning, although for something less than a life sentence.
5) Solid evidence won’t change the minds of many of the impassioned Manning lovers or the press that profits from the drama.
6 ) While so much noise is being made over Manning torture allegations, homosexual discrimination allegations, and bad government policies that Manning supposedly exposed, the bad government policy that allowed so much information to be stolen by one mentally unstable traitor will remain unquestioned.
Sketch of Bradley Manning trial from navytimes.com
I hope that the Army, the State Department, and the NSA are as upset as I am about Manning’s ease of access to so much information, and I hope that the Army will consider showing a little more willingness to withhold security clearances from obviously mentally unstable individuals.