By Jay Holmes
To anyone following the Bradley Manning case, it is clear that a significant percentage of the public and the vast majority of the media view Private Bradley Manning as a heroic whistleblower. Since Manning’s 2010 arrest for leaking classified materials to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, most of us have heard his statements and seen him presenting himself as a likeable, articulate, and reasonable fellow—newer, shinier, and more sincere. That’s fine. This is not North Korea or Russia, and a criminal defendant has a right to be heard. But before we compare him to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, let us also consider those words and acts that caused Manning 2.0 to become a celebrity in the first place.
As we pointed out in our previous Bradley Manning article, Bradley Manning—The Facts Amid the Fury, he was court martialed for passing secret information to unauthorized parties while serving in Iraq. His defense team succeeded in marketing him as a heroic whistleblower. Thanks in part to the usual sloppy journalism that has marked this case, the defense team even drew supporters who created a “Free Bradley Manning Support Network.”
The fact is that while a few of the files that Manning sent to Wikileaks may have been classified in order to protect the Army from embarrassing mistakes and possibly even crimes that resulted in civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the majority of what Manning leaked can hardly qualify as suitable material for “whistleblowing.” While serving in Iraq, Manning gave away over 250,000 classified US diplomatic messages, nearly 500,000 secret military files, over 400,000 medical files of military personnel, and the names of Afghan double agents cooperating with the US military. In addition to capriciously violating the medical privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the diplomatic cables that he released have made it harder for US diplomats to work with our allies and other foreign governments. And the military reported that after Wikileaks published the names of those double agents, the Taliban or Tali-clones killed most of them. That matters! If whistleblowing had been Manning’s goal, he had access to channels he could have used without fear of persecution or retribution, and without violating the personal privacy of fellow soldiers or compromising agents abroad. Manning did not use those channels.
Breanna the Woman Beater
In another vein, Manning wanted a sex change operation and wished to become “Breanna Manning.” Some of his defenders claim his actions were in part caused by the fact that, as a homosexual, he was treated unfairly by the military. Thousands of homosexuals have served honorably in the US military. I am certain that many of them may have suffered unfair treatment and may have been socially rejected by their team mates, but almost none of them responded by leaking secret information.
In 2010, before Manning leaked the documents to Wikileaks, he became angry at his superior officer and punched her in the face. He was demoted to private, but kept his access to classified information.
Arrest and Judgement
Shortly after the woman-beating incident and before he was shipped home, Manning 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 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 of that year with transferring classified information to unauthorized parties while knowing that it would be used to harm the United States of America.
Last week, the military justice system determined that Manning is guilty and sentenced him to thirty-five years in prison. Given the rules of the system, Manning will be eligible for a parole hearing in ten years. I might have to attend that hearing to remind the court that before Manning was elevated to the status of “concerned whistleblower,” he was the less loveable fellow who transferred hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks resulting in many deaths, and that he punched a female soldier in the face.
Actions have Consequences
Given the volume of information Manning gave away, it will take decades to completely assess the damage done, but it is not too soon for me to be certain that Manning should not be considered a whistleblower and did not act out of concern for his fellow humans. It seems more likely that he wanted to take his revenge on an Army that he felt rejected him. He succeeded.
His legal team is smart, and they will never stop trying to convince us that the Manning and Snowden cases are similar. They clearly are not. While I do not agree with Edward Snowden’s actions, I can sympathize with his motives, and I agree with his concern about our government overstepping its authority by spying on US citizens at will.
Another sad consequence of the highly successful Bradley Manning image makeover is that too little attention is being paid to the fact that such an obviously bad soldier was able to keep such high access to classified information for so long. In an organization the size of the US Army, there will always be individuals suffering from a variety of emotional problems and psychiatric conditions. The Army needs to do a better job of keeping them away from weapon systems and classified information. A review of Manning’s army record, which includes ignoring and actively violating security requirements while still in intelligence training, indicates that he never should have had access to classified information when he was sent to Iraq. If he was already a security risk in the highly controlled training environment, then it was nuts to expect him to perform any better on the battlefield.
Was Manning the woman-beater a “heroic whistleblower” when he betrayed his fellow soldiers by releasing their personal information to the media? Was he a whistleblower when he released the names of Afghans that were risking their lives by cooperating with the US, subsequently getting most of them killed? Nevertheless, Manning’s lawyer is still loudly and absurdly proclaiming “no one was harmed by Private Manning’s actions.” He tells us that Manning acted out of patriotic concern for the welfare of the US, but the facts don’t lead to any such conclusion. I understand Manning’s lawyer pretending to believe such things. We taxpayers pay him to believe such things. That’s his job. Reasonable adults should know better. As citizens in a democracy, that’s our job.
I still 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 and all other branches of the military and government will consider showing a little more willingness to withhold security clearances and live ammo from obviously mentally unstable individuals.
America has a newer, more adorable Bradley Manning to talk about. Do we have a more efficient and responsible government yet?