ICYMI: ‘Frontline’ explores Bradley Manning’s troubled life, stepmom’s 911 call (Plus: excerpts from The Guardian’s Manning book)

Supporters of Pfc Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of sharing classified information with unauthorized persons, have been really quiet about the new information in a PBS “Frontline” piece, alleging that as a young man, Manning once threatened his stepmother with a knife.

The 911 call, obtained exclusively by Frontline, is below:

The Private Life of Bradley ManningFRONTLINEOn Air and Online Tuesday at 9pm

Transcript here. And view the police incident report here. And a timeline of Manning’s life here.

According to PBS:

After attending high school in Wales, where his mother moved after his parents’ divorce, Bradley returned to the U.S. and moved in with his father Brian and his new wife in Oklahoma City. Brian tells FRONTLINE that his son was “a different person” when he returned and that there was tension over money, the house rules and Bradley’s relationship with his stepmother.

Years later, Bradley would claim he was kicked out of the house for being gay, but his father tells a different story. Bradley had become increasingly erratic at work and lost his job at a software company after a heated confrontation with his boss.

At home, the tensions reached a boiling point. In March 2006, a family argument became violent — Bradley allegedly threatened his stepmother with a knife — and police were called to the Manning home.

The incident is relevant because after he joined the Army, Manning was cited for alleged violent and erratic behavior, including throwing chairs at colleagues at Fort Drum. He was sent to Iraq anyway.

And while Manning’s supporters claim he is a harmless whistleblower, who should never have been placed on “prevention of injury” watch, even for a few days, the young man’s history suggests he is far from emotionally stable, or that at least, he has exhibited unusual behavior over the years.

In fact, as Wired pointed out in its story on the 911 call this week:

His attorney has requested a “706 board” inquiry to determine if he suffered a “severe mental disease or defect” at the time of his alleged leaking. If he’s found to have been mentally fit, the case will proceed to the military equivalent of a grand jury to determine if Manning will undergo a court martial.

Watch the full Frontline program here:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has a new book out that offers intriguing insights into Manning, his issues, and the high tech “geekery” that made him so sympatico with people like Adrian Lamo and David House, acquaintances who also orbit the hacker world. A long excerpt:

After the punishing heat of summer, Iraq in November is pleasantly warm. But for the men and women stationed in 2009 at Camp Hammer, in the middle of the Mada’in Qada desert, the air was forever thick with dust and dirt kicked up by convoys of lorries that supplied the capital — a constant reminder that they were very far from home.

One of those was Specialist Bradley Manning, who had been sent to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division a few weeks earlier. About to turn 22, he was the antithesis of the battle-hardened U.S. soldier beloved of Hollywood. Blue-eyed, blond-haired, with a round face and boyish smile, he stood just 5ft 2in tall (1.57m) and weighed 105 pounds (48kg).

But he hadn’t been sent to Iraq because of his bulk. He was there for his gift at manipulating computers. In the role of intelligence analyst Manning found himself spending long days in the base’s computer room poring over top-secret information. For such a young and relatively inexperienced soldier, it was extremely sensitive work. Yet from his first day at Hammer he was puzzled by the lax security. The door was bolted with a five-digit cipher lock, but all you had to do was knock on it and you’d be let in. His fellow intelligence workers seemed to have grown bored and disenchanted from the relentless grind of 14-hour days, seven days a week. They just sat at their workstations, watching music videos or footage of car chases. “People stopped caring after three weeks,” Manning observed. It was a culture, as he later described it, that “fed opportunities.”

For Manning, those opportunities are alleged to have presented themselves in the form of two dedicated military laptops which he was given, each with privileged access to U.S. state secrets. The first laptop was connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), used by the Department of Defense and the State Department to securely share information. The second gave him entry to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), which acts as a global funnel for top-secret dispatches.

That such a low-level serviceman could have had apparently unrestricted access to this vast source of confidential material should surely have raised eyebrows. That he could do so with virtually no supervision or safeguards inside the base was all the more astounding. Manning was about to embark on a journey that, it was subsequently claimed, would lead to the largest leak of military and diplomatic secrets in U.S. history.


Born on 17 December 1987, Bradley Manning spent the first 13 years of his life in Crescent, a small town in the middle of a rural breadbasket, just north of Oklahoma City. Manning benefited from its small-town intimacy, but also suffered from the narrow-mindedness that went with it.

He lived outside town in a two-story house with his American father, Brian, his Welsh mother, Susan, and his elder sister, Casey. His parents had met when Brian was serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed at the Cawdor Barracks in southwest Wales.

From his father, who spent five years in the navy working on computer systems, Bradley inherited two important qualities: a fascination for the latest technology, and a fervent patriotism. His father was by all accounts a strict parent. Neighbours reported that Brian’s severity contributed to Bradley growing introverted and withdrawn. Such introversion deepened with puberty and Bradley’s dawning realization that he was gay. Aged 13, he confided his sexuality to a couple of his closest friends at Crescent school.

The entry to teenage years was a tumultuous time. In 2001, just as Manning was beginning to come to grips with his homosexuality, his father returned home one day and announced he was leaving his mother and the family home. Within months, Manning’s life in Crescent had been uprooted, his friendships torn asunder, and his life transplanted 4,000 miles to Haverfordwest in southwest Wales, where his mother decided to return following the bitter break-up.

In Wales Manning had to acclimatize to his new secondary school, Tasker Milward, which, with about 1,200 pupils, was the size of his old home town. Perhaps as a means of reviving his self-esteem, he grew increasingly passionate about computers and geekery. He spent every lunchtime at the school computer club, where he built his own website.

“He was always doing something, always going somewhere, always with an action plan,” says one former classmate, Tom Dyer. Manning would “come across as a little bit quirky and hyperactive.” Dyer also notes that by the age of 15 Manning had begun to formulate a clear political outlook. When the invasion of Iraq happened in March 2003 they would have long conversations about it. “He would speak out and say it was all about oil and that George Bush had no right going in there.” That political sensibility developed further when, at the age of 17 and having left school, he was packed off back to Oklahoma to live with his father.

Soon after his return, Brian Manning threw his son out of the house, having discovered he was homosexual. Homeless, jobless, Bradley rambled around for a few months, moving from place to place, odd job to odd job. After a few months of aimlessness the solution came to him: Bradley Manning would follow in his father’s footsteps and volunteer for the U.S. military. He enlisted in October 2007, and was put through specialist training for military intelligence work at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Upon graduation in August 2008 he was posted to Fort Drum in upstate New York, awaiting dispatch to Iraq, armed with the security clearance that would give him access to those two top-secret databases.

His experience of life in uniform was at times disillusioning. On top of feeling like a menial, there was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the unhappy compromise thrashed out by the Clinton administration in 1993 that allowed gay personnel to serve in the military but only if they remained in the closet. Though Manning must have been aware of the restrictions when he enlisted, he quickly became infuriated and distressed by the policy. The motto he attached to his Facebook profile said it all: “Take me for who I am, or face the consequences.”


In the seven months Manning spent at the Contingency Operating Station Hammer in Iraq, there was one seminal moment that appears to have ignited Manning’s anger. A dispute had arisen concerning 15 Iraqi detainees held by the national Iraqi police force on the grounds that they had been printing “anti-Iraqi literature.”

The police were refusing to work with the U.S. forces over the matter, and Manning’s job was to investigate and find out who the “bad guys” were. He got hold of the leaflet that the detained men were distributing and had it translated into English. He was astonished to find that it was in fact a scholarly critique against the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, that tracked the corruption rife within his cabinet.

“I immediately took that information and ran to the officer to explain what was going on,” Manning later explained. “He didn’t want to hear any of it . . . he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the [Iraqi] police in finding MORE detainees.” Thereafter, “everything started slipping . . . I saw things differently.” According to what he said later, slowly, surely, Manning began edging his way towards a position that many have denounced as traitorous and abhorrent, and others have praised as courageous and heroic. He was starting to think about mining the secret databases to which he had access, and dumping them spectacularly into the public domain.

As he contemplated what route to use, his eye was caught, he says, by an exercise run by WikiLeaks on Thanksgiving 2009, about a month into his tour of duty in Iraq. Over a 24-hour period, WikiLeaks published a stream of more than 500,000 pager messages that had been intercepted on the day of the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington in the order in which they had been sent. It provided an extraordinary picture of an extraordinary day. Manning was even more impressed, because with his specialist knowledge he knew that WikiLeaks must have somehow obtained the messages anonymously from a National Security Agency database. And that, he said, made him feel comfortable that he, too, could come forward to WikiLeaks without fear of being identified.


On 21 May Manning started sending messages to Adrian Lamo, a notorious American hacker who himself had been sentenced to two years’ probation for having hacked into computers in a range of enterprises including the New York Times. Manning made contact with him the day a piece appeared in Wired magazine sympathetically quoting Lamo on his own recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, his depressions, and his experience of psychiatric hospitalization.

According to Lamo’s version, published in Wired, in that first chat Manning, who was using the pseudonym Bradass87, volunteered enough information to be easily traced. (The logs have been further edited here, for clarity.)

“I’m an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern Baghdad, pending discharge for ‘adjustment disorder,’” Manning began. “I’m sure you’re pretty busy. If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day, seven days a week for eight-plus months, what would you do?”

The next day he started to blurt out confessions. “Hypothetical question: if you had free rein over classified networks for long periods of time, say, eight to nine months, and you saw incredible things, awful things, things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C., what would you do? Things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people, say, a database of half a million events during the Iraq war from 2004 to 2009 . . . or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?”

Lamo prompted him: “How so?”

“Let’s just say ‘someone’ I know intimately well has been penetrating U.S. classified networks, mining data like the ones described, and been transferring that data from the classified networks over the ‘air gap’ onto a commercial network computer: sorting the data, compressing it, encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white-haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long.”

He went on: “Crazy white-haired dude = Julian Assange. In other words, I’ve made a huge mess . . . Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public . . . it’s beautiful, and horrifying, and it’s important that it gets out. I feel for some bizarre reason it might actually change something.”

Two days later, Lamo took the initiative in contacting Manning again. He did not tell the young soldier that he had already turned him in to the U.S. military. Lamo subsequently said he thought it was his patriotic duty: “I wouldn’t have done this, if lives weren’t in danger. He was in a war zone, and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air.”

There’s much more where that came from, here.

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8 Responses to ICYMI: ‘Frontline’ explores Bradley Manning’s troubled life, stepmom’s 911 call (Plus: excerpts from The Guardian’s Manning book)

  1. bmull says:

    “Supporters of Pfc Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of sharing classified information with unauthorized persons, have been really quiet about the new information in a PBS Frontline piece, alleging that as a young man, Manning once threatened his stepmother with a knife.”

    I just don’t see any relevant information here. An 18 year-old Bradley Manning threatened his stepmom with a knife. If similar things didn’t happen in your family growing up consider yourself lucky.

    Nothing justifies 9 months of POI restrictions. I’ve worked in 6 psych hospitals and I’ve never seen it. The practice is to get patients stabilized and off these type of restrictions within a couple of days. I doubt you will find a mental health professional saying otherwise. If a brig commander decides to do it anyway, by definition it is abuse of what POI was intended for.

  2. JReid says:

    BMull, the POI was several days, not 9 months. And no, it’s not exactly common for 18 year olds to threaten their stepmothers with knives. If it is where you come from, well, wow.

  3. bmull says:

    JREID, I don’t know why you can’t accept that Manning has been on POI for going on 9 months. Here’s a link today for example: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8364781/Bradley-Manning-forced-to-sleep-naked-in-prison.html

    What evidence do you have to the contrary?

  4. Flo says:

    I love a “he said, she said” dispute. Or in this case “they said, his lawyer said.” Don;t see any evidence in your link BMull.

  5. bmull says:

    You wanna piece of me Flo??

    Here’s Geoff Morrell at the 1/26/11 Pentagon briefing: “He is in max — he is a maximum-custody detainee in a prevention-of-injury status.”

    That’s seven months after he was first detained on POI. Check it yourself. If that isn’t evidence enough for you then I guess this isn’t about facts, it’s just Obama cultism.

  6. Flo says:

    A piece of you? Hardly. Obama cultism? He’s not directly involved in this.
    But to cite Morrell is a hoot, considering all I ever hear is that he’s a serial liar.
    I’m just looking for facts, Mull, and I don’t know that we’re getting them.

  7. Pingback: Three things we’re learning as the Army moves Bradley Manning : The Reid Report

  8. Patricia Bee says:

    Your tone in this post was a surprise to me. I would like to know how you think you would do if you had been imprisoned under similar sanctions? And the answer to that question is not that you would never have gotten yourself into the trouble Manning did in the first place.

    As a journalist surely you expect full protection of your right to free speech granted by the Constitution and upheld by the SCOTUS. Member of the military or not, guilty or not of wrongdoing for which he has yet to be charged, Manning is also fully entitled to the protections offered by the Eighth Amendment, and those protections have clearly been withheld. It doesn’t matter that his father said he is holding up ok nor does it matter that his lawyer did not, in your opinion, serve his client well; he still is entitled to those protections.

    Most reasonable people would agree that being stripped naked and completely prevented from falling asleep all day under the guise of protecting him from himself is a crock. PJ Crowley, a person in a position to learn much more than you or I about the situation, risked and lost his job because he felt the need to speak up about Manning’s situation.

    Those hysterics like I who have been fighting on Bradley’s behalf are also fighting for you, for Jose Padilla and for the right of everyone in the country to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment. The attitude displayed in this entry is one I would expect from tea partiers but certainly not from someone I had gathered was more politically progressive.

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