The Manning chat logs: TMI and corroboration of guilt

Accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning

So Wired finally released the full transcript of the chat logs between accused uber-leaker Bradley Manning, and Adrian Lamo, the former hacker who ultimately turned Manning in to authorities.

The release has provoked the expected histrionics from Glenn Greenwald, who has gone full metal jacket on Lamo, whom Greenwald despises for giving Manning up, and on Wired, for holding back so long. A sample:

Just consider some of what Wired concealed.  First we have this, from very early on in the first Manning-Lamo conversation (emphasis added):

MANNING:  uhm, trying to keep a low profile for now though, just a warning

LAMO: I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.

In a subsequent conversation, Lamo again promised him: “i told you, none of this is for print.”

So Lamo lied to and manipulated Manning by promising him the legal protections of a journalist-source and priest-penitent relationship, and independently assured him that their discussions were “never to be published” and were not “for print.”  Knowing this, Wired hid from the public this part of their exchange, published the chat in violation of Lamo’s clear not-for-publication pledges, allowed Lamo to be quoted repeatedly in the media over the next year as some sort of credible and trustworthy source driving reporting on the Manning case, all while publicly (and falsely) insisting that the only chat log portions it was withholding were — to use Poulsen’s words — “either Manning discussing personal matters . . .  or apparently sensitive government information.”  As BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza put it in rejecting Wired‘s claims: this passage “reads like a deliberated attempt to manipulate or even entrap Manning, on Lamo’s part, and seems quite important to understanding what Manning thought he was doing by talking to him.”  There are multiple passages for which that’s true.

That Lamo represented the chat convo as confidential, early in the exchanges, is unarguably true. But Greenwald leaves off important context — the fact that Lamo has said, repeatedly, in interviews, that he became increasingly disturbed by just what it was Manning was releases into the public sphere, unedited, unredacted, and with no apparent regard for the potential harm that could cause to American troops, American diplomats, or the country. But Greenwald isn’t interested in that. He’s interested in absolving Manning of guilt for having leaked classified information, and in trashing Adrian Lamo for having the temerity to treat Manning like a criminal, rather than a hero. In fact, the conversation that Greenwald snips comes early in the conversation, before Manning reveals what he actually has.

Here’s how the chat logs start:

(1:40:51 PM)bradass87 has not been authenticated yet. You should authenticate this buddy.

(1:40:51 PM) Unverified conversation with bradass87 started.

(1:41:12 PM) bradass87: hi

(1:44:04 PM) bradass87: how are you?

(1:47:01 PM) bradass87: im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for “adjustment disorder” in lieu of “gender identity disorder”

(1:56:24 PM) bradass87: im sure you’re pretty busy…

(1:58:31 PM) bradass87: if you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?

After that, the two discuss Manning’s military specialty, and Lamo’s “ex,” and then Manning starts to discuss his “situation”:

(10:15:41 AM) bradass87:im in a sticky situation…

(10:16:56 AM) bradass87: its nice to meet you btw… only starting to familiarize myself with whats available in open source

(10:17:45 AM) open source or OSINT? ;P

(10:17:51 AM) Pleased to meet you.

(10:17:54 AM) bradass87: same deal

(10:19:00 AM) bradass87: im kind of coming out of a cocoon… its going to take some time, but i hopefully wont be a ghost anymore

(10:19:53 AM) You mentioned gender identity, I believe.

(10:19:59 AM) bradass87: ive had an unusual, and very stressful experience over the last decade or so

(10:20:53 AM) bradass87: yes… questioned my gender for several years… sexual orientation was easy to figure out… but i started to come to terms with it during the first few months of my deployment

(10:21:09 AM) May I ask the particulars?

(10:21:34 AM) I’m bi myself, and my ex is MTF.

(10:21:34 AM) bradass87: im fairly open… but careful, so yes..

(10:22:00 AM) bradass87: im aware of your bi part

(10:22:24 AM) bradass87: uhm, trying to keep a low profile for now though, just a warning

(10:23:34 AM) I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.

Again, at this point, Lamo doesn’t know the specifics of what Manning has done, and indeed, he promises to treat the conversation like a ministerial confession.

Then, after going into lengthy detail about his life, his problems growing up, his being gay and possibly transgendered, etc., and his misery within his Army unit, Manning gets to the point:

(12:11:03 PM) bradass87:i’ve been penetrating * networks for over a year

(12:11:21 PM) bradass87: as well as *

(12:11:49 PM) bradass87: ive created a massive mess

(12:12:30 PM) bradass87: and no-one has a clue, because 95% of efforts are on physical security of classified networks… and managing OPSEC on unclassified networks

(12:12:46 PM) Want to go to the press? :)

(12:12:51 PM) bradass87: no

(12:12:59 PM) bradass87: theres an issue with that

(12:13:01 PM) open offer.

(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 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 DC… what would you do?

(12:16:38 PM) bradass87: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…

(12:17:47 PM) bradass87: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people

(12:21:24 PM) bradass87: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? 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?

(12:22:49 PM) bradass87: the air-gap has been penetrated… =L

(12:23:19 PM) how so?

(12:26:09 PM) yt?

(12:26:09 PM) bradass87: lets just say *someone* i know intimately well, has been penetrating US 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 =L

There’s then a lag, where they seem to lose communication, and then there’s this bit:

(12:27:24 PM) What are the particulars?

(12:31:43 PM) bradass87: crazy white haired dude = Julian Assange

(12:33:05 PM) bradass87: in other words… ive made a huge mess :’(

(12:35:17 PM) bradass87: im sorry… im just emotionally fractured

(12:39:12 PM) bradass87: im a total mess

(12:41:54 PM) bradass87: i think im in more potential heat than you ever were

I’ve interviewed Lamo, and he told me, and has told other interviewers, that as Manning went on, he became increasingly disturbed by what he was hearing. In fact, not only does Manning clearly recognize that what he’s done is illegal (he later references being “fine” with spending the rest of his life in prison) his comments seem to indicate there might be a second person involved, since “someone” he “knows intimately” could be a third person reference to Manning himself, or to another individual. Does it surprise me that Lamo, who was not, in fact, talking to Manning as his priest, but who was being reached out to by a source who wanted this information to get out, became uncomfortable with what Manning was doing and decided that national security trumps his very early on vow not to reveal what Manning said? No. Nor does it trouble me that Wired held back the last part of this conversation — it would make sense, while investigators probed whether Manning acted alone. In fact, that would be a standard request by those investigators, I would think.

And then comes another key point in the chats, in which Manning reveals what seems to be his “plan” — to the extent he has one:

(12:46:17 PM) long have you helped WIkileaks?

(12:49:09 PM) bradass87: since they released the 9/11 “pager messages”

(12:49:38 PM) bradass87: i immediately recognized that they were from an NSA database, and i felt comfortable enough to come forward

(12:50:20 PM) bradass87: so… right after thanksgiving timeframe of 2009

(12:52:33 PM) bradass87: Hilary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public… =L

(12:53:41 PM) bradass87: s/Hilary/Hillary

(12:54:47 PM) What sort of content?

(12:56:36 PM) brb cigarette

(12:56:43 PM) keep typing <3

(12:59:41 PM) bradass87: uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis

(1:00:57 PM) bradass87: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed… Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it

(1:01:27 PM) bradass87: i need one myself

(1:10:38 PM) bradass87: its open diplomacy… world-wide anarchy in CSV format… its Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth… its beautiful, and horrifying…

(1:10:38 PM) <AUTO-REPLY>: I have more messages than resources allocatable to action them. Please be very patient.

(1:11:54 PM) bradass87: and… its important that it gets out… i feel, for some bizarre reason

(1:12:02 PM) bradass87: it might actually change something

(1:13:10 PM) bradass87: i just… dont wish to be a part of it… at least not now… im not ready… i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me… plastered all over the world press… as boy…

(1:14:11 PM) bradass87:i’ve totally lost my mind… i make no sense… the CPU is not made for this motherboard…

(1:14:42 PM) bradass87: s/as boy/as a boy

(1:30:32 PM) bradass87: >sigh<

(1:31:40 PM) bradass87: i just wanted enough time to figure myself out… to be myself… and be running around all the time, trying to meet someone else’s expectations

(1:32:01 PM) bradass87: *and not be

(1:33:03 PM) bradass87: im just kind of drifting now…

(1:34:11 PM) bradass87: waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged… and figure out how on earth im going to transition

(1:34:45 PM) bradass87: all while witnessing the world freak out as its most intimate secrets are revealed

(1:35:06 PM) bradass87: its such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically

Does that sound like someone heroically changing the world, or a guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own personal, psychological torment? You be the judge of that. And then you can go ahead and judge Adrian Lamo.

Related: the TRR Interview: Adrian Lamo

Greenwald also uses the passage below, to suggest that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had no idea who Manning was:

LAMO: in all seriousness, would you shoot if MP’s showed up? ;>

MANNING: why would i need to?

LAMO: suicide by MP. . . .

MANNING: do i seem unhinged?

LAMO: i mean, showed up — for you — if Julian were to slip up.

MANNING: he knows very little about me

MANNING: he takes source protection uber-seriously

MANNING: “lie to me” he says

LAMO: Really. Interesting.

MANNING: he wont work with you if you reveal too much about yourself

Of course, that’s not quite true, either. Manning doesn’t say Assange doesn’t know who he is, but rather that Assange knows very little about him. This comes in the context of a very troubled young man, who repeatedly says on the transcripts that he is all but falling apart emotionally, who claims to have come from an abusive family full of drunks, who is questioning his gender identity (in fact, he says he was soon to be “outprocessed” — meaning kicked out — of the military due to “gender identity disorder” and “adjustment disorder”; which kind of puts his subsequent terms of incarceration in context;) and who sees the biggest negative of releasing classified info, not that the info itself could do harm, but that his picture would be splashed all over the media, as a male.

From the start of their conversation, Manning seems eager to disgorge personal, highly intimate details about his life and his pain — something Lamo allows, but clearly, from the context of what Manning himself says, he couldn’t do with Assange, who for obvious reasons, doesn’t want such detailed information about his sources.

The chat logs don’t reveal much that’s terribly newsworthy — certainly nothing that calls into question Wired’s journalistic ethics in withholding the information. What is in the chats could be construed as overly personal, in that it reveals details about the sexual orientation and history of not just Manning, but also Lamo, and potentially defamatory information about Manning’s mother and father. Wired made a decision to release the most relevant stuff, and I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. And Greenwald may not like it (and he clearly doesn’t care for Lamo) but the chat logs only add to the evidence of Manning’s apparent guilt.

Read the chat logs, if you so desire, here. Evan Hansen’s statement at the start of them reads in part:

When we broke the news of Manning ’s arrest in June 2010, we judged, after discussions with Manning’s friends and family, that the logs included sensitive personal information with no bearing on WikiLeaks, and it would serve no purpose to publish them. In coming to this position, we weighed Manning’s privacy interest against news value and relevance, a standard journalistic balancing test embodied in the ethics guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists.

We also exercised what we felt was due caution to avoid inadvertently revealing sensitive military information in the midst of a complex, breaking news story. (We have been satisfied for some time that there is nothing of military importance in the unpublished logs.)

We stand by that decision and our reasoning, but we now believe that independent reporting elsewhere has tipped the scale in favor of publishing. By all evidence, Manning is a figure of historic importance. Inasmuch as the conversations shed light on the personal pressures in Manning’s life at the time of his arrest, publishing the logs serves a valid news interest, and at this point we believe it will cause little additional harm to Manning’s privacy.

Related: the TRR Interview: Adrian Lamo



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