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07.25.10

Did Bradley Manning Act Alone?

The massive dump of U.S. military secrets about the Afghan war is believed to have come from the detained Army intel analyst. Philip Shenon reports he may not have been the lone leaker.

The massive dump of U.S. military secrets about the Afghan war—including possible evidence of war crimes—is believed to have come from the detained Army intel analyst. Philip Shenon reports he may not have been the lone leaker. Plus, the seven most shocking secrets from the WikiLeaks files.

A 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst from Potomac, Maryland, is almost certainly the source of what could well be one of the most damaging leaks of classified military information in the nation’s history, according to the former computer hacker in California who turned in the analyst.

The former hacker, Adrian Lamo, told The Daily Beast he had no doubt that the young Army analyst, Bradley Manning, who had been posted in Iraq until this spring, was responsible for the massive leak of American military reports from Afghanistan that were posted online Sunday by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, and promoted with joint reports in The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain, and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

“I believe that somebody would have had to have been of assistance to him,” said Adrian Lamo of Bradley Manning.

The huge library of secret military reports prepared from 2004 through last December documents the uncertainty of American military officers and their U.S. intelligence counterparts about the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, as well as their strong suspicion that Pakistan’s military spy agency, the ISI, was working against the U.S. there by bolstering insurgent groups.

Lamo, who has been interviewed by the FBI and criminal investigators from the Defense Department, said he was also convinced that other people helped Manning in gathering and leaking the documents.

“It was not my impression that he had the technological expertise to carry out some of these actions,” Lamo said of Manning’s efforts to gather classified information from military computer networks. “I believe that somebody would have had to have been of assistance to him.” Asked who specifically might have helped Manning, Lamo declined to elaborate.

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In a phone interview, Lamo blasted WikiLeaks for going forward with Sunday’s release of the nearly 90,000 reports, if only because WikiLeaks had now guaranteed that Manning—the website’s source, he believes—would be dealt with even more harshly by military prosecutors.

“For WikiLeaks to do this, it’s transparently callous in its attitude toward him,” Lamo said, referring to Manning. “The information wasn’t going to go away. WikiLeaks could have waited until after Manning was sentenced, after he was tried.” He said, “WikiLeaks is just paying lip service to wanting to protect Manning as a potential source, while letting him get hit by a train over this.”

He said that given the volume of material made public this weekend, “it also shows that there’s no way WikiLeaks could have vetted all the data for safety”—to insure that the lives of American officials and others mentioned in the secret reports would not be in jeopardy when the material was made public.

The disclosures today could raise new questions about the credibility of WikiLeaks and its Australian-born founder, Julian Assange, who now appears to have been playing word games when he insisted as recently as several days ago that he did not have access to a large library of secret material leaked by Manning.

A spokesman in Germany for WikiLeaks, Daniel Schmitt, said the organization continued to refuse to say if Manning was a source. In an interview with The Daily Beast, he refuted Lamo’s suggestion that the release of the material today might do harm to Manning in his criminal case.

“As much as I can tell, this has all been coordinated with the legal side,” Schmitt said, referring to the website’s attempts to help provide Manning with criminal defense lawyers and other assistance in Kuwait, where he is reportedly being held. “I’m pretty sure that this was all considered.” (It is not clear whether Manning, who has been assigned military counsel, has entered a formal plea).

While WikiLeaks has refused to say if Manning was his source, Lamo said it was obvious from the nature and volume of the library of classified material posted by WikiLeaks today—already being referred to as “Pentagon Papers II” by some news organizations. The Obama administration condemned the release of the information. “The disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said in a statement. “WikiLeaks made no effort to contact us about these documents—the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted."

Manning, an emotionally troubled young soldier, was arrested in June after apparently confessing to Lamo in an extended email chat the month before.

A copy of the email log made public last month by Wired magazine suggested that Manning reached out to Lamo as a kindred soul on hacking issues; Lamo became a well-known figure in the hacking world after he was charged several years ago with breaking into the computer systems of The New York Times.

In their reports Sunday, the Times and The Guardian did not directly address the question of who provided the documents to WikiLeaks, although both newspapers cited the allegations against Manning in their reports. “The Guardian has no direct knowledge of the original source of the material,” the British paper wrote as part of its report.

Three weeks ago, Manning was formally charged with downloading more than 150,000 classified diplomatic cables and of leaking the video of a 2007 American helicopter strike in Baghdad in which a dozen people were killed, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.

He is also suspected of providing WikiLeaks with a 2009 video of an American airstrike in Afghanistan in which as many as 140 people were killed; WikiLeaks has said that it is preparing that video for release this summer.

Lamo has said in recent weeks that he had no choice but to turn in Manning, given the damage that might be done by the material he had turned over to WikiLeaks.

But Lamo said Sunday he remained deeply worried about what would happen to Manning, who suggests in the email chat logs with Lamo that the leaks were motivated by conscience about the conduct of American foreign policy. “I do care about his well being,” Lamo said. “I feel an attachment to this kid, even though he probably hates my guts now.”

Philip Shenon, a former investigative reporter at The New York Times, is the author of The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.