The government had previously indicated it would present all evidence related to all charges, regardless of the fact that Pfc. Bradley Manning pled guilty to some of the offenses he faced. But, in military court today, a military prosecutor informed the judge that the government would not be making a case that Manning committed the greater offense alleged in relation to the disclosure of a diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland.

This is the count or specification under one of the charges that the government alleged Manning had committed:

SPECIFICATION 14: In that Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, US Army, did, at or near Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq, between on or about 15 February 2010 and on or about 18 February 2010, having knowingly exceeded authorized access on a Secret Internet Protocol Router Network computer, and by means of such conduct having obtained information that has been determined by the United States government pursuant to an Executive Order or statute to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national defense or foreign relations, to wit: a classified Department of State cable titled “Reykjavik-13”, willfully communicate, deliver, transmit, or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the said information, to a person not entitled to receive it, with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation, in violation of 18 US Code Section 1030(a) (1), such conduct being prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces and being of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.

According to Alexa O’Brien, he pled guilty to committing this lesser offense and not guilty to the greater offense on February 28, as follows:

…[G]uilty except the words and figures ’15 February 2010 and 18 February 2010′ substituting therefore the words and figures ’14 February 2010 and 15 February 2010′. Further excepting the words ‘knowingly exceeded authorized access’ substituting therefore the words ‘knowingly accessed’. Further excepting the words, ‘with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation, in violation of 18 US Code Section 1030(a)(1),’. To the excepted words and figures, not guilty. To the substituted words and figures, guilty.

What that all means is that he did not plead guilty to “exceeding authorized access” or that he had reason to believe the information would be used “to the injury of the united states or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” He did not plead guilty to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

The government has decided to accept the plea and not make a case that he did commit a violation of CFAA. Essentially, the prosecutors have accepted that he violated military codes, which he took an oath to follow, and are content.

It is unclear why they made this decision, however, for the purposes of context, Manning did address why he decided to release the cable to WikiLeaks in his statement to the court in February. And, he described how he interpreted the contents of the cable (which can be read here):

…It was around this time– in early to mid-January of 2010, that I began searching the database for information on Iceland. I became interested in Iceland due to the IRC conversations I viewed in the [WikiLeaks Organization (WLO)] channel discussing an issue called Icesave. At this time I was not very familiar with the topic, but it seemed to be a big issue for those participating in the conversation. This is when I decided to investigate and conduct a few searches on Iceland and find out more.

At the time, I did not find anything discussing the Icesave issue either directly or indirectly. I then conducted an open source search for Icesave. I then learned that Iceland was involved in a dispute with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands concerning the financial collapse of one or more of Iceland’s banks. According to open source reporting much of the public controversy involved the United Kingdom’s use of anti-terrorism legislation against Iceland in order to freeze Icelandic assets for payment of the guarantees for UK depositors that lost money.

Shortly after returning from mid-tour leave, I returned to the Net Centric Diplomacy portal to search for information on Iceland and Icesave as the topic had not abated on the WLO IRC channel. To my surprise, on 14 February 2010, I found the cable 10 Reykjavik 13, which referenced the Icesave issue directly.

The cable published on 13 January 2010 was just over two pages in length. I read the cable and quickly concluded that Iceland was essentially being bullied diplomatically by two larger European powers. It appeared to me that Iceland was out viable options and was coming to the US for assistance. Despite the quiet request for assistance, it did not appear that we were going to do anything… [emphasis added]

Manning went on to add that from his perspective it looked like the US was not “getting involved due to the lack of long term geopolitical benefit to do so. He decided the cable was important and he might be able to “right a wrong” by having WikiLeaks “publish this document.”

It is impossible to know, but this very well could be a political decision on the part of the government.

In 2011, the FBI went to Iceland to investigate WikiLeaks, particularly Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, who helped WikiLeaks release the “Collateral Murder” video Manning has confessed to disclosing.

Icelandic authorities kicked the FBI out of the country and then lodged a formal protest.

WikiLeaks also recently won a victory in Icelandic court in April when the court decided that a partner of Visa, Valitor, “illegally ended its contract with Wikileaks.” Valitor, the court declared, would be “fined 800,000 Icelandic krona (£4,400) per day if the processing of Wikileaks donations was not re-opened within 15 days.”

Again, whether this has anything bearing on the decision is unknown at the moment. The prosecutor did not share why they had decided not to pursue the greater offense, and it unlikely that the public finds out anytime soon, especially since the reason behind dropping the charge is likely classified.

Photo by Jared Rodriguez released under Creative Commons License

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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