Last June, the former hacker and sometimes-self-described-journalist Adrian Lamo spoke with Yahoo! News about his decision to turn in Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst accused of providing a trove of classified United States military and diplomatic data to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
At the time, Lamo told John Cook (now a reporter at Gawker) that he didn't employ any subterfuge in getting Manning to discuss his activities:
Lamo says that he spelled out very clearly in his chates [sic] with Manning that he wasn't affiliated with WikiLeaks or acting as a journalist. Lamo even offered, he says, to speak to Manning as a reporter and to protect his identity—and Manning refused.
"I told him, 'Look--I am a journalist, and California [where Lamo lives] has a shield law,'" Lamo says. "I asked him if he wanted that choice, and he did not."
The chats Lamo was referring to, in which Manning claimed responsibility for the blockbuster leak, were excerpted June 10 last year on Wired.com--several weeks after Manning was detained by Army authorities. Wired explained at the time that it had redacted "portions of the chats that discuss deeply personal information about Manning or that reveal apparently sensitive military information."
Wired has now published the full chat transcript--because, as the magazine explains, "the most significant of the unpublished details have now been publicly established with sufficient authority that we no longer believe any purpose is served by withholding the logs." However, the fuller record of the Manning-Lamo chats also supplies a portrait of Mannings' sourcing agreement that's markedly different from how Lamo had characterized it to Yahoo.
"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," the chat logs reveal Lamo to have said. And later during the encrypted online conversation:
(1:54:55 PM) bradass87: but im not a source for you… im talking to you as someone who needs moral and emotional [expletive] support
(1:55:02 PM) bradass87: :'(
(1:55:10 PM) email@example.com: i told you, none of this is for print
(1:55:16 PM) bradass87: ok, ok
These new revelations show that Manning clearly seemed to believe that Lamo was someone he could trust, and they have some spectators all riled up.
"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,' " writes Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who's been one of Manning's most aggressive advocates in the press. Nor did Greenwald let Wired off the hook:
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.
Regardless of what you think of Manning's alleged leak, or Lamo's turning him in—and reasonable people disagree!—Lamo is objectively a scumbag for having repeatedly reassured a troubled 22-year-old that he was speaking to a journalist off the record, then turning around giving the scoop to his buddies at Wired to fulfill his well-documented love of the spotlight. And luckily for him, Wired left out all the parts that made him look bad when it went initially to press so he was able to run around lying to pump himself up as a hero who'd saved the country from a madman bent on America's destruction.
But there is, of course, a broader digital-age moral to the story: It's nearly impossible to expect that anything you write or say to someone is ever truly off the record.