PFC Bradley Manning by ImgShack
Note from the editor in chief: The author of this article made a statement that Manning and Assange caused the death of others. We support differing viewpoints and opinions on this subject but expect claims of this nature to be supported and properly sourced. Rob Kall
First, a disclaimer, Private First Class Bradley Manning is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This article discusses alleged actions and crimes only and will explore what should happen to him if he is found guilty of the offenses of which he is accused and how background colors the opinions of people commenting him.
I've been reading articles and comments from many of my progressive friends about how great they think Wikileaks is and how they think Manning and Assange are heroes. I have to admit that after the first item of interest leaked by Wikileaks, the video of what seems to be a US helicopter firing on unarmed civilians in Iraq, I thought to myself, this organization Wikileaks has done something important here. What happened in that video needs to be investigated. It might turn out to be totally innocent, but it looks bad and needs investigation.
I thought that was the point of Wikileaks, to highlight issues that need investigation. I was therefore extremely disappointed when I heard that the next thing being released was over 250,000 miscellaneous materials that are mostly diplomatic cables that suggest no wrongdoing that needs to be investigated. That was the beginning of my disillusionment with Wikileaks and as more information came out about the materials, their source, and the institution targeted, that disillusionment only grew.
Bradley Manning, a Private First Class in the US Army, is allegedly the source of the 250,000+ documents released by Wikileaks in the past month or so. The story goes that Manning, who had a security clearance and access to several sensitive repositories of sensitive US government information, brought some re-writeable CD media to work, Lady Gaga music if memory serves, and he erased that music and downloaded sensitive documents onto that CD media from the US Government's SIPRNet service. SIPRNet or The Secret Internet Protocol Router Network is described by Wikipedia as:
"a system of interconnected computer networks used by the United States Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State to transmit classified information (up to and including information classified SECRET) by packet switching over the TCP/IP protocols in a 'completely secure' environment". It also provides services such as hypertext document access and electronic mail. As such, SIPRNet is the DoD's classified version of the civilian Internet. SIPRNet is the SECRET component of the Defense Information Systems Network.
Before we go further, additional discussions of the classification of sensitive documents are in order. There are three classifications of sensitive documents in the United States, they are "Classified", "Secret" and "Top Secret". Wikipedia describes those classifications as:
Top secret - This is the highest security level that if publicly disclosed would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security.
Secret - This is the second-highest classification. Information is classified secret when its release would cause "serious damage" to national security. Most information that is classified is held at the secret sensitivity.
Confidential - This is the lowest classification level of information obtained by the government. It is defined as information that would "damage" national security if disclosed to the public.
Several tens of thousands of the documents provided to and released by Wikileaks were classified as Secret, or documents whose release would cause "serious damage" to national security. Without mitigating factors then, we can say that anyone whose duty it is to safeguard document(s) categorized as "Secret" has committed a serious crime if they willfully and intentionally cause that document/those documents to be released without authorization.
Does Manning have mitigating factors in the release of this information if it is proven that he is the person who released it? For a few of the documents, and for those unfamiliar with the military, it would appear that an argument could be made that he does. Manning was upset about the video he saw that apparently showed a helicopter firing on unarmed civilians in Iraq. This video was one of the first things that Manning turned over to wikileaks.
The problems with the idea of mitigating factors, however, are several. First, of the 250,000+ documents and materials allegedly released by Manning, less than 20 or so at most are whistleblowing in nature. The rest are rather routine diplomatic communications that while routine, are embarrassing to either the US, or one of scores of other countries whose diplomatic messages ended up on SIPRNet and Mannings CD. Another way of describing the release of those non-whistleblowing documents and materials is an action that is harmful to the United States or other countries without any positive impact whatsoever. The release of those materials was a poorly aimed malicious act. Here are some examples:
- The new nuclear plant in Bulgaria has cost overruns http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/07/09SOFIA363.html
- The US Ambassador to Peru opinion on the health of the President of Peru http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2006/12/06LIMA4570.html
- Demographics of the Muslim population in the UK http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/01/09LONDON27.html
- Request by the Vatican for help with setting up a security crisis management team http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2008/12/08ROME1541.html
That anyone would assert that these four documents, or the vast majority of the rest are whistleblowing or somehow make government better by sunlight is laughable.