The US Army charged Bradley Manning on Tuesday with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk, after allegedly leaking reports and videos to Wikileaks.org.
With his custom-made "humanist" dog tags and distrust of authority, Bradley Manning was no conventional soldier.
Ostracized by peers in Baghdad, busted for assaulting a fellow soldier and disdainful of the military's inattention to computer security, the 22-year-old intelligence analyst styled himself a "hactivist."
Manning is suspected of leaking a classified video that shows a group of men walking down the street in Iraq before being repeatedly shot by Apache helicopters.
In a series of online chats in late May with a fellow computer geek, Manning claimed he had leaked a staggering 260,000 classified diplomatic reports, along with secret video of U.S. service members killing civilians, to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.org.
Whether or not Manning was the source, Wikileaks in April posted a video clips shot from a cockpit in 2007, of excited, laughing US troops gunning down a group of men that included a Reuters news photographer and his driver. An internal military investigation concluded the troops acted appropriately, despite having mistaken camera equipment for weapons.
The case has drawn comparisons to Daniel Ellsberg's leak 40 years ago of the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret history of the Vietnam War. And it has bolstered perceptions that the Obama administration, despite a stated policy of open government, is as determined as its predecessors with keeping secrets.
Manning's online confidant, former outlaw computer hacker R. Adrian Lamo, reported their chats to US authorities in late May, partly out of concern, he says, that national security was at stake.
Manning's military defense attorney, Capt. Paul R. Bouchard, didn't return calls and e-mails. The Army said Tuesday in a statement that a military version of a grand jury hearing will determine if Manning should face a trial by court-martial.
After joining the Army in 2007, Manning trained in Arizona, probably at Fort Huachuca, where he received instruction in compiling intelligence reports. Such reports help the military determine changes in enemy capabilities, vulnerabilities and probable courses of action.
In recent months, Davis said, Manning seemed to have grown more aware of social issues, including the gay-rights movement.
According to partial chat logs Lamo shared first with Wired.com, Manning started communicating with Lamo on May 21, a couple of weeks after he was reduced in rank from specialist to private first class for assaulting another soldier.
In one of many personal asides, Manning told Lamo he had been the only nonreligious person in a town that had "more pews than people," and that he had custom-made dogtags reading "humanist."
Manning said he was pending discharge for an "adjustment disorder," according to the chat logs, but Army spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom said Manning wasn't facing discharge when he was detained May 29.
The chats reveal Manning's frustration at being "regularly ignored" at work.
Manning wrote he had copied onto compact discs "possibly the largest data spillage in American history" while listening and lip-synching to Lady Gaga's "Telephone." He wrote that he exploited "a perfect storm" of military computer vulnerability: "weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis."
His motive, according to the chat logs: "I want people to see the truth ... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." Manning wrote that he hoped to provoke worldwide discussion, debates and reform, according to the chat logs.
Lamo told the AP he grew concerned "when it became apparent that he was leaking classified information to a foreign national" — Wikileaks' Australian founder Julian Assange. Early in their online conversations, Manning told Lamo that he had sent 260,000 State Department diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.
Lamo said he turned the chat logs over to Army criminal investigators
after consulting with a friend who had worked in Army
"It was a combination of an act of conscience and an act spurred by my
understanding of the law," Lamo said. "I did this because I thought what
he was doing was very dangerous."
According to the charging document, Manning was charged with putting a
classified video of a military operation recorded July 12, 2007, in
Baghdad on his personal computer. That is the date and the location of
the U.S. helicopter shooting. He was also accused of accessing more than
150,000 classified State Department cables.
While the charging document didn't mention Wikileaks, Manning was
accused of giving the video and at least one cable "to a person not
entitled to receive" them. That cable was titled "Reykjavik 13."
Wikileaks has posted a Jan. 13 cable about a meeting in Reykjavik,
Iceland, summarizing U.S. Embassy discussions with Icelandic officials
about the country's financial troubles.