Bradley Manning

In a military court at Fort Meade, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier being prosecuted for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, pled guilty to some elements of the charges he faces. He pled not guilty to stealing the information, “aiding the enemy,” “exceeding” authorized access on his computer or violating the Espionage Act. However, he pled guilty to possessing information, willfully communicating that information to an unauthorized person and that the acts were prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the military.

Manning read a voluntary statement for just over an hour that provided a background on why he decided to release certain information to WikiLeaks. What particularly stood out is how Manning highlighted the contents of the information, how it weighed on his conscience and drove him to conclude the information should be released to the public so they could debate what was happening, particularly in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there could be a debate on how the United States wars were being waged.

What came out was incredible—Manning had gone to US press outlets. Two organizations showed no interest in the war logs.

Manning spoke about the “facts regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the SIGACTS” or the incident reports in two databases on the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) that contained military reports on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He described what he believed to be the nature of the information. He was originally to deploy to the Wardak province in Afghanistan so he had been using the reports on Afghanistan for his work. He was reassigned to Baghdad in 2008 and he switched to referencing the incident reports on Iraq.

“I view the SIGACTS as historical data,” Manning stated.  It is a “first look impression of a past event.” They show IED attacks, small arms fire engagement or engagement with hostile forces.

The reports are “not very sensitive.” The “events encapsulated involve enemy casualties” that are “publicly reported” by the Public Affairs Office of the military or reported by “embedded media pools.” They are like a daily journal or log that captures “what happened on an immediate day or time and they are constantly updated.”

Initially, Manning created copies that he did not intend to use for any purpose than backup. He later decided to release the information to the public because they were some of the “most significant documents of our time.”

He placed the information on a CD-RW into the cargo pocket of his Army Combat Uniform. He brought it to his living quarters and placed it on his laptop and later returned the CD-RW to a conference room. Saved on his computer, he put it on an SD card and planned to take copies of the war logs with him on mid-tour leave and decide what to do.

On January 23, 2010, he arrived at Reagan National Airport in Virginia and headed to the house of his aunt, Debra Van Alystyne, in Maryland. He visited Tyler Watkins in Boston and talked to him about how his relationship was going. He thought Watkins had become distant and “did not seem very excited about his return from Iraq.”

Manning asked Watkins hypothetically, “What would he do if he had documents the public needed access to?” Watkins seemed concerned. He did not quite understand. Manning “tried to be more specific” then decided that “rather than explain the dilemma” it was best to drop the conversation.

He returned to Maryland and spent the rest of his time in and around Washington, DC, as a blizzard was “bombarding” the Atlantic.He thought about what to do and was convinced that the United States was “risking so much for people who felt so unwilling to cooperate with us” and it was “leading to hatred and frustration on both sides.” Manning was upset with counterinsurgency operations that consisted of the “capture and killing of human targets.”   [???]

Manning analyzed the data and felt it could spark a domestic debate “on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” He thought it might cause society to reevaluate the need to engage in counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations that ignored the dynamic of people living in the environment every day.” [cont’d.]

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."