|Private Bradley E. Manning, 22, was ostracized by his peers in Baghdad and demoted for assaulting a fellow soldier.|
Private accused of breach has rebellious bent
POTOMAC, Md. — With his custom-made “humanist’’ dog tags and distrust of authority, Bradley E. Manning was no conventional soldier.
Ostracized by peers in Baghdad, busted for assaulting a fellow soldier, and disdainful of the military’s alleged inattention to computer security, the 22-year-old intelligence analyst styled himself a “hactivist.’’
Yesterday, the Army charged him with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk.
Manning had already been 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 enthusiast, Manning said he had leaked a staggering 260,000 classified diplomatic reports, along with secret video of US service members killing civilians, to the whistle-blower website Wikileaks.org.
Whether or not Manning was the source, Wikileaks posted in April video clips shot from a cockpit in 2007 of excited, laughing US troops gunning down a group of men. It was later learned that the group 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 to keep 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, Captain Paul R. Bouchard, did not return calls and e-mails. The Army said a military version of a grand jury hearing will determine whether Manning should face a trial by court-martial.
Manning is a slight, boyish-looking 22-year-old from Crescent, Okla., population 1,400. His Facebook page shows him smiling, with stylish, upswept hair.
Growing up in a house he shared with his parents and older sister, Manning had a sharp intellect and an interest in science, history, and computers, said Jordan Davis, a boyhood pal. He said Manning also was determined at a young age to join the Army.
Manning’s family members declined interview requests.
Davis said Manning trained in Arizona, where he learned how to compile intelligence reports. Such reports help the military determine changes in enemy capabilities, vulnerabilities, and probable courses of action.
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.
According to the chat logs, Manning’s turning point came when he watched Iraqi police detain 15 people for printing anti-Iraqi literature that turned out to be a scholarly critique of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“After that . . . I saw things differently,’’ he wrote. “I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.’’
Manning wrote he had copied onto CDs “possibly the largest data spillage in American history’’ while listening and lip-synching to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.’’