Now that WikiLeaks has released more than 90,000 classified documents related to the Afghanistan war, military officials are trying to size up just how so much classified data eluded the tight grip of Army security.
On one level, it's an easy question to answer: The main leaker is believed to be a 22-year-old Army Intelligence analyst from Maryland named Bradley Manning. Manning was arrested in June for unauthorized release of sensitive military information while stationed in Iraq. But there are background questions about Manning's role that are much tougher to answer — chief among them the question of his own personal motivations and whether he acted alone in bringing this trove of data into public view.
Most of what we know about Manning comes from his computer chats with a former hacker named Adrian Lamo. Manning reached out to Lamo on May 21, after reading a story about him on Wired magazine's website. According to Lamo, he and Manning discussed a broad range of issues and security matters over the week they kept up their chat-room acquaintance.
Lamo said that during their chats, Manning confessed to turning over some 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables over to WikiLeaks. He also told Lamo that he'd leaked the now-infamous "Collateral Murder" video WikiLeaks posted earlier in the year, which showed a U.S. helicopter crew taking aim at civilians on the ground in Iraq, and killing two Reuters News employees. Manning told Lamo that he was disgusted by the "incredible things, awful things" he'd seen in the course of doing his job, "things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C."
Manning also opened up emotionally to Lamo, confessing that he'd "been self-medicating like crazy" because he'd "been so isolated so long" at his job. Additionally, Manning said that he "just wanted to be nice, and live a normal life" and that he couldn't "believe what I'm confessing to you."
Unfortunately for Manning, Lamo wasted little time alerting the FBI and the Army brass to the Army analyst's sideline as a leaker, as he told the New York Times in June, when Manning was arrested by the Defense Department.
Among Manning's odd admissions to Lamo: He copied thousands of files onto CDs, sometimes disguising them as Lady Gaga albums. For all the Army's strictures about compromising data via external drives, its regulations apparently didn't forbid duplication of data on CDs. In a New York Times interview in July, Lamo said Manning would try to avert suspicion away from his extensive CD-burning sessions by pretending to sing along with Lady Gaga tunes at his workstation. (To make matters odder still, in coming forward with this acount, Lamo was now serving as a journalistic source for the same news organization he'd previously targeted in a hacking operation that landed him in jail. Lamo had also broken into Yahoo! computer systems in 2001.)
Lamo explained to the Times in June that he believed Manning's chief motivation was political ideology.
"I think he was dissatisfied with certain military policies and he wanted to adversely affect U.S. foreign policy,” Lamo told the paper. “It’s a personal matter for him, and I do not think it was one his family would want aired in the national media. ... I hope that his parents can forgive me. I’m sorry about what happened to their boy. But I was backed into a corner ethically."
Lamo also told ABC in an interview on Monday that he didn't think that in an operation of this scale and sensitivity, Manning could have acted alone.
[Photos: The faces behind the WikiLeaks scandal]
"I do not believe Private Manning had the technical expertise necessary to communicate this amount of information to the outside world without being detected, and I don't believe that he operated without guidance," Lamo said.
You can watch the interview below. (Video courtesy of ABC News):
Manning is now in a military prison in Kuwait awaiting trial, charged with two counts of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He faces up to 52 years in prison if convicted. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange recently said that his group has hired three American attorneys to represent Manning, but that the military had denied them access to their client.
Meanwhile, military leaders far higher up the chain of command are contending with the fallout from Sunday's massive document dump. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones released a statement reaffirming the White House's determination to stay the course in Afghanistan and Pakistan: "The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security. WikiLeaks made no effort to contact us about these documents — the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."