Back in May 2010, Adrian Lamo, a Bay Area informant for military intelligence and hacker by trade, somehow gained the confidence of 22-year-old Pfc. Bradley Manning, then a computer analyst in eastern Baghdad. Their lengthy correspondence has the feel, on the one hand, of an interrogation of an innocent young man and, on the other, provide an insight into what may have compelled Bradley Manning to share with the world the secrets he was learning from US military files. The excerpts below are from web chat transcripts beginning May 21, 2010.
Manning: I’m an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern Baghdad, pending discharge for ‘adjustment disorder’… I’m sure you’re pretty busy. If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 house a day, seven days a week for eight-plus months, what would you do?
Manning: Hypothetical question: if you had free rein 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? (or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC [Victory Base Complex] for that matter) Things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people, say, a database of half a million events during the Iraq war from 2004 to 2009, with reports, date time groups, lat[itude]-lon[gitude] 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?
Manning: The air gap has been penetrated. The air gap is computer jargon, in this context, for the way the military internet is kept physically separate, for security reasons, from civilian servers, on which the ordinary commercial internet runs.
Lamo: What sort of content?
Manning: Uhm… crazy, almost criminal, political back-dealings. The non-PR versions of world events and crises. Uhm…. All kinds of stuff, like everything from the buildup to the Iraq war… 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 o Americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis. There’s so much. It affects everybody on earth.
Manning: Everywhere there’s a US post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madagascar: if it’s a country, and it’s recognized by the US as a country, it’s got dirt on it. It’s open diplomacy, world-wide anarchy in CSV format [a simple text format]. It’s Climategate wit a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying, and it’s important that it gets out. I feel for some bizarre reason it might actually change something. I just don’t wish to be a part of it, at least not now…. I’m 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 a boy. I’ve totally lost my mind. I make no sense. The CPU [central processing unit of a computer] is not made for this mother-board… >sigh< … I just wanted enough time to figure myself out, to be myself… and not be running around all the time trying to meet someone else’s expectations.
Manning: I’m just kind of drifting now, waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged and figure out how on earth I’m going to transition –al while witnessing the world freak out, as its most intimate secrets are revealed. It’s such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically.
Manning: I can’t believe what I’m confessing to you… I’ve been so isolated so long. I just wanted to be nice, and live a normal life but events kept forcing me to figure out ways to survive. Smart enough to know what’s going on, but helpless to do anything… No one took any notice of me… I’m self-medicating like crazy, when I’m not toiling in the supply office (my new location since I’m being discharged, I’m not officially intel anymore).
Lamo: What’s your endgame plan, then?
Manning: Well, it was forwarded to WL, and God knows what happens now: hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms. If not, then we’re doomed as a species. I will officially give up on the society we have, if nothing happens. The reaction to the video gave me immense hope… CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded. People who saw knew where was something wrong. I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are, because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public. If I knew then what I knew now, kind of thing. Or maybe I’m just young, naïve, and stupid.
Manning: I don’t believe in good guys versus bad guys any more – only see a plethora of states acting in self-interest, with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless. I mean, we’re better in some respects: we’re much more subtle, use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything. It’s better than disappearing in the middle of the night, but just because something is more subtle, doesn’t make it right. I guess I’m too idealistic.
Manning: I think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing ‘anti-Iraqi literature’. The Iraqi Federal Police wouldn’t co-operate with US forces, so I was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the ‘bad guys’ were, and how significant this was for the FPs. It turned out they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki [Iraqi prime minister Nour al-Maliki]… I had an interpreter read it for me, and when I found out that it was a benign political critique titled Where Did the Money Go? and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet, I immediately took that information and ran to the officer to explain what was going on. He didn’t want to hear any of it. He told me to shut up, and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding MORE detainees.
Manning: Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently. I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth, but that was a point where I was a part of something. I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.
Manning: It’s public data. It belongs in the public domain. Information should be free. Because another state would just take advantage of the information, try and get some edge. It it’s out in the open, it should be a public good, rather than some slimy intel collector. I’m crazy like that. I’m not a bad person, I keep track of everything. I watch the whole thing unfold from a distance. I read what everyone says, look at pictures, keep tabs, and feel for them since I’m basically playing a vital role in their life without ever meeting them. I was like that as an intelligence analyst as well. Most didn’t care, but I new I was playing a role in the lives of hundreds of people, without them knowing me. But I cared, and kept track of some of the details, made sure everybody was OK. I don’t think of myself as playing ‘god’ or anything, because I’m not: I’m just playing my role for the moment. I don’t control the way they react. There are far more people who do what I do, in state interest, on daily basis, and don’t give a fuck – that’s how I try to separate myself from my (former) colleagues… I’m not sure whether I’d be considered a type of ‘hacker’, ‘cracker’, ‘hacktivist’, ‘leaker’, or what. I’m just me, really… I couldn’t be a spy. Spies don’t post things up for the world to see.