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Ricky Business Radio Interview With Adrian Lamo, 6-10-2010 (AUDIO AND TRANSCRIPT)

On June 10, Adrian Lamo was interviewed by Patrick Gray of the Australian radio show Risky Business.  Lamo tells Gray that he sent a copy of his chat logs with Bradley Manning to Wikileaks and it was up to them whether or not they would be published.    On June 19, BoingBoing published what Lamo told DailyTech was the version he sent to Wikileaks, and he accused Wikileaks of outing him as their source.  DailyTech pointed to this interview to establish that Lamo had actually outed himself, and Wikileaks had merely confirmed that.

Transcript by Cedar Park:

PATRICK GRAY:  Now it’s time for this week’s feature interview with Adrian Lamo. Lamo is best known as a former ‘grey-hat’ hacker who between around 2001-2003 penetrated the networks of companies like Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL without permission. But he wasn’t after information-for-profit. He’d simply contact the company and let them know they have a security problem so that they could fix it. Somehow he managed to avoid prosecution during all of this despite the high-profile nature of his hacks.

That was until he accessed the contributor database of the New York Times. The Times pressed charges and Lamo was sentenced to 6-months home detention and a further 2-years probation. Since then, Lamo has apparently flown straight, working as a threat analyst, and believe it or not, a journalist.

But his past actions mean that Lamo is actually quite well known out there. He enjoys a sort of fame, I guess you could call it. And as a result of that he is often contacted by all sorts of young hackers and miscreants who are keen to ask him for advice or share with him details of their adventures.

One of these young people was 22yr old Specialist Bradley Manning, an Army Intelligence Analyst stationed in Iraq. Manning got in touch with Lamo and the pair forged an online friendship. It was during their online chats that Manning revealed himself as the source of sensitive information that leaked to online whistleblower site Wikileaks.

Among the material he allegedly accessed was explosive footage, shot from a helicopter gunship in Iraq. The footage showed the American chopper firing on a crowd of mostly unarmed men. And that crowd included to Rueters journalists. It also showed, subsequently, the helicopter firing on a van that had turned up to collect the injured and two children were actually in the van and quite seriously injured. That footage was released by Wikileaks under the contentious title ‘Collateral Murder.’

Now in addition to that footage, however, Manning allegedly claimed, in his chats with Lamo, to have downloaded over 260,000 U.S. diplomatic cables that could be highly embarrassing to the U.S. government. They contained, according to Manning, almost criminal political back-dealings. He found ‘incredible things’, I’m quoting here, ‘incredible things, awful things’ on Army systems and he believed those things belonged in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington D.C.

So, Lamo decided to turn Manning in as the leaker. He also decided to contact Wired News and pass on the chat logs of his conversations with Manning to journalists there. Adrian Lamo joins us now.

Adrian, why did you decide to turn Manning in?

LAMO:  I made a conscious decision to severely and to diversely affect the life of another human being in order to prevent the lives of other human beings, plural, from being seriously and adversely affected by the leakage of classified material. It was only a matter of time before the information that he was rummaging through turned out to be a little bit too sensitive or a little bit too detailed and it got published and it got somebody killed.

PATRICK GRAY:  Because it is interesting isn’t it, because it seems that the only thing that he has leaked at the moment, the only thing that is widely known that he has leaked, is a bit of footage that looks very very bad for the U.S. military. But I think it would be, at the same time, it would be quite difficult to argue that the leaking of that footage would be dangerous to U.S. national security.

LAMO:  I’m not an expert on the military implications from footage shot from a helicopter so I can’t speak to that. However he expressed to me in his chats with me that he had unprecedented access to classified information, the way he was smuggling that information out of the secure facility and the way he was mis-handling it, transmitting it to a foreign national. He’s fortunate, in that Wikileaks is nominally a non-governmental organization. If it weren’t, he could be charged with espionage and face the death penalty. As it is, I like to think that this saved him from more trouble down the road because he was piling up the consequences. Everything that he leaked, every document that he released was making his situation worse later. He was building a house of cards made entirely of consequences and it had to be stopped. The construction had to be stopped before it got high enough for it to come down on him.

PATRICK GRAY:  What specific sort of information is it that you feared that he had leaked that would endanger people’s lives? Because it seems that he was most interested in exposing information that was embarrassing to the U.S. government and showed us just how brutal and dirty the campaign in Iraq has become and may be how it always has been. So what was it that you feared that he would leak that would put people at risk?

LAMO:   That demonstrates a certain amount of naivete on his part, his belief that information was only embarrassing when in fact it could reveal sources and tactics that could result in the deaths of either people in uniform or civilians. He didn’t have the training to determine what was embarrassing and what was tactically compromising. (I think he said next “and he was going to try and get caught”) As somebody said to me today, those quarter-million State Dept. calbes, if you say that even 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 10,000 has the material that would get somebody killed, that are still alive.

PATRICK GRAY:  You say to me 1 in 25,000 or however many of these cables could contain specific information that would harm someone, you don’t actually know that do you? There was no specific information that you came across that you knew would endanger somebody’s life. This is some sort of guess work on your part.

LAMO:  And when you play Russian Roulette you don’t know that the chamber contains a bullet. The principle is about the same.

PATRICK GRAY:  Hmmmmm. Now Adrian, plenty of people have expressed quite serious outrage with what you’ve done, effectively informing on someone. And in some ways a lot of people look at what Bradley Manning has done as the right thing, in many ways people do agree with that, I think it’s a political consideration for a lot of people.

LAMO:   Can I stop you there and say one thing? Had it only been the helicopter video I would have left it alone because I wouldn’t have believed that anyone was in danger. There were issues other than the cables that I can’t get into that were very specific and did have significant ramifications in terms of our safety both economic and national.

PATRICK GRAY:  Look Adrian, a lot of people have expressed a considerable amount of outrage at your actions. In fact I would say the tone floating about the internet is quite threatening. People saying things to you like ‘make it to DefCon this summer’, you know it’s got this kind of threatening undertone to it. Now my question to you, if you decided to turn this guy in, that’s one thing. You could have done it very discreetly. You could’ve spoken to the military, this guy could’ve been arrested. This could’ve all gone down very discreet. Question to you: Why did you then go to with the chat logs and decide to talk to the media about your involvement in the arrest of Bradley Manning?

LAMO:   Wired published it one day earlier than the military would have. I’m not quite sure what your point of contention is there…..

PATRICK GRAY:  Well, it gives the appearance that you were quite keen to draw attention to yourself for having a role in exposing Bradley Manning as the source. You look like you are publicity hungry.

LAMO:  I’ve never contacted a reporter or a media entity first to develop a relationship that had not contacted me. I have never gone to somebody and said ‘Hey, you should write about me’ if they did not contact me first.

PATRICK GRAY:  So how did the story with Wired develop?

LAMO:  Please allow me to continue. I went to Kevin because I worked with him for over ten years as a source and I know that he knows how to handle these issues in a way that is fair to the suspect and that he would not sensationalize it. I wanted the first reporting of it to be done right because I genuinely like Bradley and I don’t want to see him get more punishment than he deserves. And thus, I wanted to be sure that when the word came out that this happened, as it inevitably would, that it came out in a way that painted him as a human being, not as a terrorist or anything like that. But you do get that don’t you? That not all news outlets would have covered it as humanly as Wired.

PATRICK GRAY:  No I agree and I know Kevin personally. He’s been there himself. He himself spent 5 years in a federal prison for fraud and computer hacking related charges. When was that? Like the early 90’s. So, you know, he’s been on both sides of these sorts of events and he’s a skilled journalist and an exceptional writer and an exceptional editor and I have, in fact, done some work for him, many years ago so I do understand that if you wanted someone to sensitively handle that story then he’d be the right guy to do it. None-the-less, I feel that some people will not believe that that was your motivation.

LAMO:   Well, that doesn’t really matter to me. If I wanted publicity I would’ve been well aware that this would generate publicity of a negative kind. I could’ve remained totally anonymous but out of an ongoing desire for transparency, and in a sense of guilt, I…Because I feel guilty that it was necessary to violate Manning’s confidence. I wish that he didn’t put me in that position. I wanted to out myself as much as I wanted to out him.

PATRICK GRAY:  What do you think his feeling toward you are now?

LAMO:   I suspect he feels betrayed. If he ever listens to this podcast, looking back in some retrospective way years later, I hope that he knows that I genuinely looked upon him as a friend. And it makes me very, very sad to have had to do this. It was a moral dilemma that I would not wish on anybody. I wish I had a Jesuit handy to explain it. I wouldn’t hand the choice to my worst enemy of whether to put this young man in jail now or falling asleep wondering if this action puts someone in an even worse one.

PATRICK GRAY:   Now you say Adrian that you believe in Wikileaks, I see on Twitter that you have been urging people to donate to Wikileaks and to support that service. It does seem a contradiction that on one hand you are effectively putting one of their sources in prison because you don’t believe that they should be leaking what they were trying to leak and yet you support Wikileaks whose mission is to release that sort of material. How can you be in support of the leaking of that material in terms of donations and at the same time imprisoning one of their sources?

LAMO:  My donations aren’t intended to support the leaking of that kind of material in particular. I am an American before I am a supporter of Wikileaks, as I suspect that you are an Australian before you are a supporter of Wikileaks.

GRAY:   So you believe, in this case, that your patriotism trumped your desire to see Wikileaks operating a service that would see  material damaging to the United States exposed?

LAMO:  Let me interject for a moment. The United States is not a monolithic entity. It is made up of people. People on the ground, people on the battlefield. They are what I think of when I think of the United States. I’m not thinking of a flag or a monument or a statue or a political power. I think of the people that make it up and what is it that can be a risk. I just wanted to make that clear because someone earlier made reference, I’m on Twitter, to political jingoism, and I’m not going to wave a flag and say go U.S.A. as some blind motto.  It’s about the people of this country and about people of the world.

GRAY:  Wikileaks is billed as a place to drop sensitive information, but you’re saying in this case the information was too sensitive.  So how can you support a supposedly unfiltered system, and at the same time say well that’s too sensitive, so it should be filtered?  I mean, you’re saying there needs to be someone to draw the line, right?

LAMO:  It’s quite simple.  I support the concept, I don’t support the source.  And I believe that Wikileaks needs more accountability. It’s too much information for one person to be making the judgment calls on.

GRAY:  So you believe that Julian Assange et. al. are basically holding too much power?

LAMO:  I believe that Wikileaks requires more transparency, by making it clear how the information is processed.  The people that process the information don’t need to be anonymous, only the drop-offers as it were, would seem necessary to know where the mail goes once you slide it into the slot.

GRAY:  Well all right, Adrian Lamo, we do appreciate you taking some time out to speak to us on Risky Business, and I’m sure we’ll speak to you again soon.

LAMO:  Thank you.

GRAY:  Adrian Lamo on the line there.  Lamo also told me he submitted those chat logs between him and Manning to Wikileaks it’s there decision whether or not they want to publish them. And he also plans to attend both DefCon and HOPE conferences in the USA, despite the threats against him.

Manning/Wikileaks Timeline . Key Articles . Merged  Chat Logs . Interview Transcript Page

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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