Overnight, Wired.com released the nearly-complete chatlogs purported to be between former hacker and FBI informant Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, which until now have been available in highly-redacted form.
The new transcripts, assuming their accuracy, raise serious issues about the US military, and about Wired.com.
The website’s handling of the transcripts has been highly problematic since it broke news of Manning’s arrest in June 2010. For reasons best known to Wired.com senior editor Kevin Poulsen, the outlet has been a strident critic of WikiLeaks, and Poulsen’s relationship with his friend Lamo (Poulsen, like Lamo, is a convicted hacker) has raised questions about why sections of the transcript were withheld. This led to an extended and furious exchange between Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Wired.com at the end of last year, in which Greenwald accused Wired of “odious concealment of evidence” relating to Lamo and the transcripts.
That provides some context for what we now learn from the unredacted transcripts. Greenwald had previously reported that Lamo had told Manning that their exchange was confidential, both because Lamo was a journalist and a minister (of the humanist, rather than religious, variety). That is now confirmed in the unredacted logs — and the timing is revealed. In one of their earliest exchanges, Lamo tells “Bradass87” — assumed to be Manning but never confirmed — that:
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“I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.”
Lamo goes further, later on. When Braddass87 says “im not a source for you … im talking to you as someone who needs moral and emotional f-cking support”, Lamo assures him “I told you, none of this is for print” and tells him “keep typing” to encourage him to detail what material he has provided to WikiLeaks.
According to the account of Poulsen, Lamo reported the exchanges to the FBI within days of Manning contacting him (having spotted Lamo’s name amongst those of WikiLeaks donors) on May 21, 2010. He also handed the entire transcript over to Poulsen, with no restrictions on how it was used. Wired.com has so far offered no explanation as to why it omitted from its initial transcript release Lamo’s repeated assurances to bradass87 about confidentiality.
A heavily-medicated Lamo is now supposedly in hiding, although as Crikey reported in March, doing a terrible job of it.
The transcripts also provide a much greater insight into bradass87’s mental state, and the original redactions by Wired.com regarding that material make much greater sense in terms of Manning’s privacy. The exchanges –and they’re mostly not exchanges, because Lamo is unresponsive for much of the time — make for harrowing reading, as Bradass87 describes his childhood and family, a period of homelessness, being caught in the 2005 bombings in London and, eventually, the impact of joining the military. He is clearly in a desperate and lonely place personally and anxious to reach out for contact and support from anyone who can give it:
“im very isolated atm … lost all of my emotional support channels … family, boyfriend, trusting colleagues … im a mess … im in the desert, with a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks as neighbors … and the only safe place i seem to have is this satellite internet connection”
He repeatedly tells Lamo of how desperate he is: “This person is kind of fragile. I’ve totally lost my mind … i make no sense … the CPU is not made for this motherboard … im a total fucking wreck right now. ok, so … im not suicidal quite yet … but im pretty desperate for some non-isolation.”
His personal situation was so dire partly because the material he was seeing in the course of his military position profoundly distressed him, partly because his boyfriend had dumped him without telling him, but also because — and this only now emerges fully in the unredacted material — because he had commenced the process of leaving the US military so that he could commence a gender reassignment transition. The original Wired.com transcripts include the statement “im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for ‘adjustment disorder'” but now add the crucial additional information: “in lieu of ‘gender identity disorder'”. Manning’s status as transgendered has long been speculated about, but the new transcripts make clear just how important it was to his fragile mental state. He tells Lamo:
“yes … questioned my gender for several years … s-xual orientation was easy to figure out … but i started to come to terms with it during the first few months of my deployment … and i already got myself into minor trouble, revealing my uncertainty over my gender identity … which is causing me to lose this job … and putting me in an awkward limbo … waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged … and figure out how on earth im going to transition”
Braddass87 is already making preparations for his new life as “Breanna Manning” at that stage. “Im already starting to give ‘Breanna’ a digital presence,” he tells Lamo, “… twitter, youtube accounts set up in her name.” In fact the gender reassignment is so important to bradass87 that he declares in relation to provide materials to WikiLeaks:
“i just … dont wish to be a part of it … at least not now … im 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…”
What is remarkable is that a young man with such profound mental health issues had an “above top secret” clearance. Lamo assumes he has only a Secret clearance. ” TS/SCI,” Bradass87 corrects him (Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information). “i enlisted in 2007 … height of Iraq war, no-one double checked much … background checks are jokes anyway.”
Bradass87 also notes no one is aware of the massive breach of security he has perpetrated: “And no-one has a clue, because 95% of efforts are on physical security of classified networks … and managing OPSEC on unclassified networks.”
If accurate, the transcripts reveal some of the US military’s key security processes were compromised because of its inability to identify a desperate, fragile individual, one it had accepted less than three years earlier.
The unredacted material also provides extensive insights into how systematic US defence and intelligence spying is, even in relation to civilians and strongly-encrypted systems. However, bradass87 notes a couple of areas where the might of the US intelligence establishment faltered. “Did you know it took NSA 6 months, and 50 people to figure out how to tap the iPhone,” he tells Lamo. “They honestly didn’t know what was going on, because of the sudden format switch when AT&T made the contract.”
And an arm of Hezbollah apparently remains a black hole for US intelligence: “My speciality is (was) tracking a Shi’a group called Khatiai’b Hizbollah … they were OPSEC savvy as all f-ck … didn’t even know the group existed until 2008 … Iranian backed group … they make al-Qaeda knock offs look like kids … they’re the most dangerous guys in the world … they also specialize in the construction of EFPs [a type of IED developed by Hezbollah and introduced into Iraq] … so good, we cant trace anything not a sensor, not a cell phone … nothing but a crater … they’re ghosts … they stopped targeting us, thank fsm [flying spaghetti monster]”
There is much for the US military to regret in its failure to spot a lonely young man’s desperate need for support. Given the volume of material still to emerge through the WikiLeaks cables, like Manning, the US government will be punished for a long time to come.