Chelsea Manning (formerly PFC Bradley Manning) is no hero.
I wanted to go on record as a Marine with key experience in the information security field who was deployed to Iraq during the time many of the events Manning leaked happened. This is my point of view on the soldier that many right now are calling a hero.
What most people know about him is that he disclosed a lot of information that the government doesn't want the rest of the world know. That makes him a hero, right? What others see is an angry kid who wanted to embarrass the United States by releasing information he was charged to protect. I'm of the mindset that he is certainly not a hero. The question doesn't give a lot of options for any sort of middle ground, but I will try to show my reasons for siding against PFC Manning.
1) PFC Bradley Manning was a soldier in the United States Military entrusted with a security clearance to oversee classified government information.
This type of information isn't classified because the government gives a damn about what's in your email bin. It's classified because the information in it could be beneficial to enemies of the state, either in keeping them alive or in killing Americans. Manning, as an intelligence analyst, knew this very well. His job was to read through the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) of logs and other data to piece together bits of information to report to higher-ups.
When I was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2007 my responsibilities also centered around the SIPRNet. My military occupational specialty was 0656 Tactical Data Network Specialist. I oversaw and maintained much of the telecommunications networks for a large area of Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq. Part of that included the SIPRNet which is the classified intranet used for important missions and communications between command. It's how a lot of the officers and important command elements communicated and shared information. We saw a lot of things that weren't pleasant. There were videos of people being blown up and killed. There were files with mission reports and there was lots of other critical pieces of intelligence which prying eyes would love to gain access to.
Quite frankly, there are reasons that we don't give out this information. The American people don't need to know everything. Seriously. I'll explain why later in a special section near the end. For now I would like to ask this question. What could you reading this now at your office job or in your living room do with the situation report of a flyover of the area near the Naltar Valley? You couldn't do a thing with it, but if you could see it then others could too. Particularly, agents of the Taliban located inside the Naltar Valley.
Classified information isn't kept secret because the US government cares that the people of America know about their missions, but the truth is that the more people who know the more likely it is that something really important to the security of at least the soldiers in the war zone is jeopardized. Maybe you don't see it that way, but imagine if your home address and the schedule of where to find you at any given moment of the day were in those documents. For thousands of Marines and soldiers, it was. That is why the information in the SIPRnet is so valuable, because the lives who are tied up in the information stored within it are more important to the United States than the obscure idea of transparency. Information security is one of the most crucial elements in modern warfare. That's why when I was in Iraq we weren't even allowed to have cell phones on deployment. Any sort of slip up or spillage could mean disaster for not just the Department of Defense, but the individual soldiers actually fighting on the front line.
Soldiers like PFC Manning are charged with being the first line in protecting that information. As someone under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Manning broke that trust the country placed in him. He understood this before making the leaks. By this fact alone he has committed a very serious crime. On top of UCMJ regulations, the promissory documentation he signed to get his security clearances and the oath he took to gain his level of information access all agree that he very much broke the law.
2) Who is Bradley Manning?
If we are focusing our question of whether or not this person is a hero or villain we have to know what type of person he really is.
According to PBS Frontline's study of Manning, he grew up outside a small rural town in Oklahoma. He excelled in mathematics and science, and competed in science fairs where he usually performed well. He continued studying math and science and eventually went to gain a fundamental interest in computer software and engineering. His mother, a native English woman, and father divorced and she moved back to England, taking Manning with her.
While in England he was considered an outsider and had trouble fitting in. Around the time that he was 15 he moved back to the USA to live with his father. His relationship with his father seems to be a strained one – one childhood friend saying that Manning always seemed afraid of his father, more than normal kids are. Manning's father, who had also previously served as an intelligence analyst for U.S. Navy, said that the family was a happy one during the time that Bradley Manning was a child up to the time when he moved back to the United States.
After he moved back, it seemed the Manning still had problems socializing and with adapting to his new family. After his high school graduation he continued to live with his father in Oklahoma. Within a relatively short time he began having problems with his father's new wife. They would fight often which culminated one evening when Bradley Manning apparently threatened to attack her with a knife according the wife's distressed 911 phone call. After this, Manning moved out of the house.
After he left home he went on to move across the United States. He had several different jobs and was unable to hold on to any due to strained relationships with coworkers and employers. His father suggested joining the military to give him structure and three square meals a day. He enlisted with the U.S. Army at 19.
Manning's intelligence was not in question. He scored high enough on his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to be be placed in any military occupational specialty he chose. The ASVAB is the standardized military test given to all potential recruits to test for military suitability. Manning held an interest in both computers and politics on an international level. For this reason he opted to take on a role with Military Intelligence as an intelligence analyst, as his father had in the Navy.
Manning's Military Boot Camp training was not a successful experience. An army roommate described Manning as talking back to Drill Sergeants and having what many in the military would consider a belligerent attitude towards his superiors. This often attracted the negative attention of Drill Sergeants. Along with this he also faced other recruits' disapproval, likely due to the attention of his instructors.
"The kid was barely five foot ... He was a runt, so they pick on him. He's crazy, pick on him. He's a faggot, pick on him. The guy took it from every side. He couldn't please anyone."
He was sent to the discharge unit after six weeks. Many sources have stated that Manning entered the discharge unit because of bullying. This differs, however, with Manning's own testimony:
Once at Fort Leonard Wood I quickly realized that I was neither physically nor mentally prepared for the requirements of basic training. My BCT experience lasted six months instead of the normal 10 weeks. Due to medical issues, I was placed on a hold status. A physical examination indicated that I sustained injuries to my right shoulder and left foot.
Due to those injuries, I was unable to continue “basic.” During medical hold, I was informed that I may be out-processed from the Army; however, I resisted being chaptered out because I felt that I could overcome my medical issues and continue to serve.
While in the Army, Manning had more trouble. After reporting to Fort Drum he was referred to an Army mental-health counselor. It seems that he declined the Army professional in lieu of a civilian counselor. He was not comfortable confiding in an Army professional (likely due to being gay under the Don't Ask Don't Tell regulations). His civilian counselor reported that Manning would often call him over the phone crying "very violently." He would call after conflicts with officers and other soldiers, and he would protest that "his superiors were stupid" and that "he couldn't stay in this situation any longer." A friend reported an event at this time where Manning had cried uncontrollably for more than two hours after watching movies one night. This was the mental state he was in during the few months he was at Fort Drum before deploying to Iraq. Two of his superiors felt that Manning was unfit for deployment. Still, as numerous sources have said, the Army was in need of qualified analysts, so Manning was deployed regardless.
While deployed to Iraq, Manning faced more problems. His relationship with his boyfriend started to unwind. At some point during his Iraq deployment his boyfriend officially broke up with him. Manning posted on Facebook that he felt alone and hopeless along with numerous other distraught postings. During this time he also sought out information on sex reassignment surgery from counselors in the US. At one point, during a leave he took midway through his deployment, he spent a few days dressing as a woman, acting out as a woman and even going by the name "Breanna." All this to say that, leading up to his arrest, Manning had shown signs of complete breakdown and lack of competency as a soldier. On May 7th he seemed to suffer a major breakdown of sorts:
According to army witnesses, he was found curled into a fetal position in a storage cupboard, with a knife at his feet, and had cut the words "I want" into a vinyl chair. A few hours later he had an altercation with a female intelligence analyst, Specialist Jihrleah Showman, during which he punched her in the face. The brigade psychiatrist recommended a discharge, referring to an "occupational problem and adjustment disorder." His master sergeant removed the bolt from his weapon, and he was sent to work in the supply office, though at this point his security clearance remained in place. He was demoted from Specialist to Private First Class just three days before his arrest on May 27.
It was during the months I've described that Manning leaked information to WikiLeaks.
3) The information itself is not conducive to "whistle blowing".
Manning is being called a hero most because he is a whistleblower to war crimes committed by the U.S. Military. I suppose this is one of most important criteria to hero/villain status. What are the supposed war crimes that he made public? The point I try to make to people about this is that whistleblowers actually are bringing to light actual grievous crimes that were intentionally covered up. As I said, just being on the SIPRNet doesn't mean that it was covered up. You just don't need to know it. And what he unearthed wasn't criminal either.
What was it that we actually discovered from the leaks? Have you really heard of any major crime that the Americans are guilty of that was suddenly brought to light? Honestly, when this hit the news, I wondered if all of a sudden we were going to see a massive rebellion where all of this information was cited as evidence and heads would roll. What surprises me is that more than 3 years later, there is still very little that shows that America was guilty of anything whatsoever. I mean, seriously: 600,000 documents and we can't find anything significant about a senator's affair, or political assassinations or secret satellites or bugs in people's homes or any of the other stuff that gets leaked right when the montage starts at the end of the movie and the evil politicians get lynched?
In reality it was just a lot of stuff that wasn't that interesting unless you happen to be directly involved, i.e. the people of the country in question, the people we are after, the units involved or the agents we were using in the country (several of whom may be dead now). The truth is that what was leaked was a massive bulk of military logs from front line troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a huge collection government cables between different states which the US either sent, received or intercepted. Manning's own testimony said that he thought that there shouldn't be anything that might hurt the country, but that the leak would embarrass it. As I read that, it seems that he wasn't actually reporting any crimes, acts of injustice or villainy on the part of the United States.
What has been been talked about is widely misinterpreted by the media and followers of the subject due a basic lack of understanding of warfare or international politics or even open biases against the United States government. A lot of information proved that in fact a war was going on, but that isn't a war crime. I tried very hard to find good evidence of wrongdoing on the side of the United States from the leaks and wasn't able to find much of anything besides hearsay and exaggeration. Few were able to point to the actual document that they referenced for fact-checking.
Ultimately I grew tired of searching and asked the question directly here on Quora. At the time of this writing, the only things that have surfaced are some interesting points internationally, but is still very light on whether the Americans actually did anything that would be considered by a rational and unbiased observer with full information of the events as a legitimate war crime. Most of the answers are regrettably copy/pasted and lack any references to fact-check them whatsoever, which really didn't help me much in my own research. My question: WikiLeaks: What actual information has been gained from the roughly 700,000 documents released to Wikileaks?
One item many claim as evidence of a war crime is the video labeled by WikiLeaks as "Collateral Murder". I have had a problem with that since the first time I saw it. I was finally given my chance to speak out against the editing of that video and gross negligence in how it was presented. As someone who was present in Iraq at the time the video took place I gave my analysis on how the pilots followed the SOP on such engagements, were presented with an extreme amount of evidence to believe that their actions were in fact justifiable and that only evidence presented after the fact could have saved anyone in the video that day. You can see that answer here: Jon Davis' answer to U.S. Military Operations: Did the US military kill two Reuters journalists in 2007?
(Actual unedited video: WARNING: Contains violent images)
There is a reason that many think this is a war crime. It’s violent, ugly, and terrifying. It’s gut-wrenching, tragic, and angry. The targets are at a complete disadvantage and stand no chance. No quarter is given -- the Americans are merciless. Little good can be found in this video.
But it isn’t a war crime. It’s just war. It shows the ugliest side of modern warfare and for those unaccustomed to war, it is sickening. It simply must be a war crime. Yet it isn't.
As I wrote in my analysis of the undoctored, unedited version, you can see very clearly that any reasonable soldier would have made the same decisions as those of the pilot and gunner. Given the context of the day, which is often never mentioned, the attacks on Americans earlier that day, the suspicious behavior of the targets and the complete failure of Thomson Reuters to make it known that they had reporters present in the area, the gunners made the right call, as much as any of us may hate the result. As hindsight has proven the innocence of the targets, no reasonable person could have expected the gunners to know this. Quite frankly I believe they followed their Standard Operating Procedures and Rules of Engagement to the letter. This, the most often cited “war crime” in the entire collection of documents simply isn’t evidence of an actual war crime.
There is a great deal of other things going on in war logs and the diplomatic cables. But I will be honest, I expected to see more. I expected to hard evidence or something that would be the indisputable nail in the cross of many. But it would seem that those nails aren't there. I am still looking into what turns up and I may do a retraction if I can't beyond a reasonable doubt deny that a war crime was committed and proven by Manning's evidence.
4) What actual good has the information spillage brought?
Some of what was apparently discovered came from those who first received the information, being The New York Times and UK's The Guardian. In their initial filings they found that much of what was disclosed held key information on the names and locations of informants and agents working for or aiding the United States intelligence network. This placed hundreds if not thousands of people in danger, not only of losing their information source, but even their lives.
In all fairness I don't know everything about the information, just what I read in his statement given during his trial, which isn't that impressive, and information that referenced it. If you do know of something pertinent I will invite you to share at What actual information has been gained from the 300,000 documents released to Wikileaks? Until then, so far all I have seen is some evidence that Iceland's banking system was influenced by the UK and Netherlands and that in war people get shot, often the wrong people.
What is most damaging seems to be the nature of the war logs and the cables themselves, rather than anything within them. By seeing such a bulk of information laid out as they were we can see more than the bits and pieces of what was discovered, but all together we see the forest, the actual grand organization of how the military, diplomatic and clandestine services operate and communicate. We see deep level information into how these services act and are thus able to seek weaknesses inherent in those structures. The leak, more than damaging America for uncovering its supposed wrongdoings, uncovered something far more damaging. Now enemy agents have a diagram of our command networks, policies and procedures in action. They can now more clearly assign value to vulnerabilities. Wars are won or lost on less. We also have to remember that we aren't just concerned with terrorism, but every future enemy we may ever face now has access to that level of information as well.
If it did do any good, there is evidence from some of the cables that leaders in Tunisia were shown to have taken part in corrupt practices which may have had a hand in leading to the protests there, which eventually grew into the Protests and Revolution in the Middle East (2011).
Yes, that's a big deal, but could anyone have predicted it from what Manning disclosed? And even if you could, how did it prove wrongdoing on the part of the Americans? What was it the whistle-blower was trying to show us? Was there ever actually a plan? I just can't see how he has truly blown any whistles or unearthed anything as important as what people are attributing to him.
I'm sorry, but until I see that an actual "war crime" has been intentionally covered up and proven by anything that he released I just can't see it as anything other than classified information that shouldn't have been leaked.
What has turned up is that there is a great deal of information about other countries doing some form of wrongdoing. A prime example of this is the diplomatic cables intercepted showing evidence of corruption in leadership in Tunisia. These had at least some impact impact on that country and, following local events, helped lead to the protesting and ousting of their leadership.
What is more important is the impact that country had on the rest of region. Following the protests and revolt in Tunisia, protests broke out all over the Middle East in what has been called the "Arab Spring." The impact of this is that several nations' leadership changed hands, two military coups in Egypt and two full blown civil wars. While I don't think it is completely fair at all to say that Manning is responsible for the unrest and instability in that region, it is safe to say that what he did has had an effect there.
So as far as hero goes, I still don't think that the information qualifies him for hero status. It seems like he had something that he knew was valuable and so he leaked it. The problem is that none of it seems to be criminal enough to warrant his reaction. I'm still doing research on what has been dug up in the last three years, but right now, given the weak evidence to support any actual war crimes and the sheer volume of what he disclosed, I can only question his motives.
5) Misconceptions about the Manning Case
Since his arrest, his fame seems to be a manifestation of misinformation and a lack of understanding of how the military operates, a fact of which it seems all too ironic in that perhaps a bit more transparency by the government, or maybe the attempt to understand a bit more from the public, would probably have solved this. Since his internment, he has been promoted as a heroic figure by many groups for their own reasons.
Whistleblowing in the Military
I have to consider if he had other options. Perhaps what he did he should have been done on some level, but did he have to disclose to a third-party nation, even more a private organization outside the United States with proven aims at damaging the country's reputation, with no regard for the lives he put at risk? Did he have to break every security disclosure law possible? Was there no other way?
Quite frankly he had plenty of other options if he wanted them. It is also often cited that there was an attempted cover-up of his discoveries, particularly surrounding his discovery of the executions by the Iraqi police. His testimony is that he attempted to tell a few people within in his platoon, but that it never went any further than that. In his statement his commanding officer told him to drop it and focus on finding more of the Iraqi insurgents.
This testimony is painted by public defenders of Manning into proof that the government purposefully made attempts to cover up. It isn't. When I read it I see someone spending a lot of time doing things beyond the lawfully given orders he was given. He had already become a burden to the unit for his discipline problems. He was now trying to make an argument for an event which he couldn't have possibly known about unless he had gone deep into information which are both outside of his experience level and above his paygrade. I don't believe that itself makes it wrong, but suspicious. For this reason I don't believe he ever disclosed the full nature of what he found for fear of rightfully losing his security clearance, facing punitive action, and worse, his previous leaks being discovered.
I base this on the lack of any follow-through on the matter. If such an event were known to Manning he had an obligation to seek not his commanding officer of his platoon or small unit, but to report it up the chain of command far above his unit commander. In the Marine Corps we have a process known as "Request Mast," which allows a Marine the protected right to speak with anyone up his chain of command up to his commanding general. I am not as knowledgeable of U.S. Army law, but I know that such provisions exist and that they were not utilized. Instead, he sought to leak the information directly to the public with no filter whatsoever. Manning's extreme disregard for practices within the Department of Defense to protect whistleblowing and the way that this is either not known or ignored by the general public is one of the most frustrating events in the whole matter for many such as myself.
In complete honesty, the fact that he knew that some of the individuals he was helping to catch were being executed by Iraqi police and did not seek to openly report it through the military channels available to him for fear of being caught doing something else illegal speaks much more to me about the the nature of cowardice and selfishness than it does to courage.
To add to this even further, Manning testified that he tried to take this up with other members of his platoon and his commanding officer only only after he released the Iraq and Afghanistan War logs, the Reykjavik cables, as well as the video of the July 2007 attack in Baghdad. At this point it was already one of the largest disclosures of classified information in US history, not to mention the most damaging to the military itself. This tells us, and according to Manning's own testimony, that when Manning released the War Logs and the Video he had made no attempt whatsoever to take all the things he himself considered warcrimes to his chain of command.
The truth was that he did what he did because he never thought he would get caught. He thought that in the very small community of his few friends he would be a hero and that besides this, he was too smart to ever be found out. According to his confession, he devised a good plan to cover up his tracks and hide his identity when reporting his information, aided by WikiLeaks. Directly before he made his last transmission, he forgot to perform the all-important step of covering his tracks. The truth is that he got sloppy. He would have kept going so long as he didn't make a mistake. He never "came forward" with anything publicly as whistleblowers do, but was simply caught.
If you would like to more about options were available to Manning and what choices he should have made I invite you to see Jon Davis' answer to Chelsea Manning (formerly PFC Bradley Manning): What should Bradley Manning have done?
Accusations of Manning's Torture and Detention
It has also been asserted that Manning has been tortured during his detention. This too, I feel is something that lacks understanding, or even an attempt to understand how the military justice system works. Reports circulate that Manning is made to sleep naked without sheets and in solitary confinement without being convicted. What many don't understand is the nature of custody which someone would be placed under who has been a confirmed security risk, having shown many signs of psychological instability and even alluding to the threat of suicide.
The jail had 30 cells built in a U shape, and although detainees could talk to one another, they were unable to see each other. His lawyer said the guards behaved professionally, and had not tried to harass or embarrass Manning. He was allowed to walk for up to one hour a day, meals were taken in the cell, and he was shackled during visits. There was access to television when it was placed in the corridor, and he was allowed to keep one magazine and one book. Because he was in pre-trial detention, he received full pay and benefits.
On January 18, 2011, the jail classified him as a suicide risk after an altercation with the guards. He was placed on suicide watch, had his clothing and eyeglasses removed, and was required to remain in his cell 24 hours a day. The suicide watch was lifted on January 21 after a complaint from his lawyer, and the brig commander who ordered it was replaced. The fact is that in an interview with his father done by Frontline he reported that the guards treated him well and that he was ok. This wasn't torture, nor was it the "years of physiological torture and solitary confinement" though it was severe. Perhaps most damning of all to this argument is that in the Frontline interview Manning's own father was interviewed, himself a intelligence analyst once in the Navy. In his words Manning seemed to be well treated and taken care of.
Manning as a Figurehead for Homosexual Oppression
Manning's sexual preference has made him a hero to many in the gay community for standing up to the military for their unfair treatment of homosexuals. Many have said that he did what he did because of being bullied in the military for being gay, which is simply not supported by evidence nor his own testimony. He has been shown supporting gay rights and did support the effort to repeal DADT. This, however, has nothing to do with spilling sensitive military information to third party individuals.
It is unfortunate how the government has acted in regards to this segment of the American people, but this man is not your hero. At best he was going through a great deal of psychological problems which exploded into the largest information leak in world history. His activism in this realm is notable and good, but what he did is not something that itself is related to his gay rights activism. He didn't attack the stance of gay rights in the American military, he just attacked the United States.
His homosexual status should not be an issue in this case, namely because he has never once stated that it has anything to do with his motivations. Yet it has become inexorably interwoven with the case to those who stand behind him. The fact of the matter is that he broke many laws in doing what he did, and if equality is what we are all seeking, equality under the law is not something we readily throw out. Besides that, given the friends I have made and the experiences I have with gay members of the military and the members of the gay community I have grown to know and respect since my time in the military, I just have to say that you deserve a better hero.
6) Why did he do it?
Perhaps this the truest question for determining what makes a hero: why did he do it?
In his written statement during his Article 32 hearing, he gave these reasons for disclosing his arguments. I'd like to remind readers that this is an account written after his arrest during the time prior to his hearing and shows signs of a great deal of assistance in wordsmithing for this particular admission from his defense team. It is my opinion that much more time was spent on the choice of language used in this presentation than he actually spent on his decision to disclose classified information.
Still, in fairness, I have given his words some consideration regarding his actions.
He states in his testimony regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the SigActs.
For me, the SigActs represented the on-the-ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I felt that we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us, leading to frustration and anger on both sides. I began to become depressed with the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in year after year. The SigActs documented this in great detail and provide a context of what we were seeing on the ground.
In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism, or CT, and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second- and third-order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment every day.
He states in his testimony regarding the the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the 12 July 2007 aerial weapons team, or AW team, video.
I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure-cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled — if not more troubled that me by what they saw.
He states in his testimony regarding the unauthorized storage and disclosure of the Net Centric Diplomacy Department of State Cables:
The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that should become public. I once read a and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.
Manning describes his motivations to be that of a selfless person caring nothing for his own safety and only feeling that the information needed to be heard by the public.
Based on the evidence I have seen, I just don't believe him.
Perhaps by this point you see what I mean. The man obviously didn't have respect for what he was doing and didn't grasp the gravity of it. Not long after he started making the leaks he began bragging about the act with other personalities in the hacker community including Adrian Lamo which eventually became a major part of the evidence against him.
They talked about restricted material in general, then Manning made his first explicit reference to the leaks: "This is what I do for friends." He linked to a section of the May 21, 2010, version of Wikipedia's article on WikiLeaks, which described the WikiLeaks release in March that year of a Department of Defense report on WikiLeaks itself. He added "the one below that is mine too"; the section below in the same article referred to the leak of the Baghdad airstrike ("Collateral Murder") video.Manning said he felt isolated and fragile, and was reaching out to someone he hoped might understand.
Lamo again assured him that he was speaking in confidence. Manning wrote: "but im not a source for you ... im talking to you as someone who needs moral and emotional fucking support,"
As I have also discussed, Manning was at this point very much at odds with the Army and his unit, mind you only after joining after he found it too hard to survive in a civilian lifestyle. He made repeated stances against both of them on a philosophical level. He had faced more than a year of making himself an outsider in that environment. He also faced at this time an identity crisis as he attempted to redefine his sexuality, due in large part to the (regrettable) circumstances surround the DADT policy of the United States Military and being dumped by his boyfriend and only emotional link.
It was only after all of this that he met up with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
In his testimony Manning testifies that he knew Assange personally through internet chats, an act itself is also against WikiLeaks' own policies. Manning developed a friendly relationship with a member of the WikiLeak's staff and spoke often for as much as an hour or so. I believe that Assange gave Manning the connection he needed. In a related manner, Assange seems to have wished to gain access to this information, not for the virtuous reasons believed by many in the world community and that they report currently, but for much more nefarious motives. The Frontline piece reported that Assange initially attempted to sell the edited copy of the video to news outlets for $1,000,000. When no one bit, he released the video to the public in hopes of gaining support for his organization. Also during their four week investigation of the diplomatic cables the Times and Guardian discovered sensitive information inside that would endanger the lives of foreign agents inside Afghanistan and elsewhere. They decided that the elements of the data set containing names needed to be redacted before they would publish. Assange disagreed. According to David Liegh, the Investigations Executive editor of the Guardian:
We really have got to do something about these redactions. And [Assange] said, "These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die."
He was eventually forced to make hasty and incomplete edits to the publishing. And even though the $1,000,000 deal to sell Manning's video deal fell through, Assange continued to pull information from Manning until Manning's arrest.
Returning to the subject of Manning's motivation in the matter, it seems to me that Manning's true motives do not reflect what was asserted in his testimony years after the fact, but were those of a very angry and confused soldier trying to gain favor with the only people who saw value in his existence ... activists manipulating Manning to garner information from him for their own various ends. From everything I have seen it seems that the only real truth in the matter is that he did in his own words, "want to embarrass the United States", at any cost.
Why the American people don't need to know everything.
My statement earlier in this answer has brought on some controversy. One person brought up the statement that the 25 years that it takes for classified information to become publicly declassified. I get where he is coming from in that a secret should not be secret for so long. 25 years seems like forever really. It also doesn't seem like the situation report from a pilot or of a sentry is something that has value, especially 25 years later, but there is something that is still relevant and important. One thing that has been crucial to this argument is that there is very little actual evidence of war crimes from much of the disclosure. What has been seen, particularly from the war logs is the fundamental nature of how the United States military actually works, its structure and its communication network, its policies, strategies and tactics. The hundreds of thousands of documents themselves aren't that interesting, but they are each a puzzle piece to a much larger picture. Together they give onlookers a vision of how the military actually works, its strengths and its vulnerabilities. Another problem is that the military structure doesn't change that fast. Many decades could easily pass without the fundamental structure and departmental relationships of many units ever changing. This happens because the military is successful in what it does and has evolved over the course of hundreds of years. In that light, that information is still sensitive years after it is made. For that point, 25 years later will still expose weaknesses gaining exponential risk every year you take away from that number. You touched on that in your answer.
Second, there is evidence that government cables did result in the death of at least one person. A General reported that those most hurt were the collaborators in Afghanistan. People who gave information to the Americans on where to find Taliban agents had their names publicly disclosed. After this many pulled out and would no longer work with us. One person was killed for his actions by the Taliban. The information network was hopelessly destroyed and the war became even more difficult. Most people aren't aware of this. But let's think about what it means when we think about the people who exist in the Taliban. They use tactics such as intimidation, vandalism, kidnapping and assassination to achieve their goals. Add to this that they hold a grudge. They have existed for decades and decades from when more of our information on the Afghanistan war becomes public, they will act on it. This news will look like little more that "continued violence in Afghanistan" on what few American news outlets talk about it, but it will be from our disclosed information. If this were released 5 years, 10 years, 20 or 24 years sooner... imagine how that would impact those people.
Finally and this is perhaps most important there is a reason why it is fair to say that the American people don't need to know everything. There is something that often gets forgotten in this discussion. That is that there is a means for the will of the people to be enforced with full knowledge of what is going on, even if the people themselves do not. What I am eluding to is that the government itself is a means to safely make informed decisions on sensitive matters... if it is done right. We have a representative government where we elect people to make choices as we would make them. We entrust them with the security clearances to have the information to make decisions we can't. We elect them on the premise that they will act as we would, or better. It is their job to do this. Those who most directly ensure that the military is acting in the interests of the civilian population are an extension of our will at the voting booth. We have to remember that the civilian oversight is appointed by elected officials, such as the secretary of the Defense and the secretaries of the Army and Navy. There are so many civilians in government who absolutely have access to what is going on and the ability to do whatever needs to be done about, and we control who those people are. If you really, really think that you don't trust the government enough to do a good job with this responsibility, then I ask that you not shackle the military, but instead choose better leaders. They ultimately have the power to know what is going on and act on it in a way that is supposed to represent you. For that reason I don't feel that the general American needs to be given all information that exists.
As I said, do I believe in transparency in government? Yes, I made a point of that in my answer to the question. Where I draw the line is when there can be a reasonable argument that the disclosure of a piece of information may one day lead to the physical harm toward any of our fighting people, those who aid them or any of our allies abroad. At that point, to me at least, the risks outweigh the benefits. I will also quote one friend I have seen weigh in on the issue. "If Americans could keep their mouths shut, there would be no secrets from them." Few good people want you to not know everything that is going on. There is just the risk that in 300 million people, someone is going to release that information out into the rest of the world. Manning is a prime example of this.
As I said, I believe that Manning was a very bright individual. His mental strengths aren't something I question, though his stability at the time I do. I don't think he is an idiot, but he was foolish. I think he was a young idealist, but that in and of itself doesn't make one a hero.
I feel if he were to ever be asked how he viewed himself he would have probably responded with a different label, that of "victim". I believe that Manning felt as if he were the victim in a much larger story. He started off life as awkward and bullied, feeling an innate superiority toward others owing to his intelligence when surrounded by a peers in a small rural background. He thought he was special. He thought that he was different than those who he was surrounded by and that made him dangerous.
As he grew older he grew rebellious. The divorce of his parents seemed to only conflate this. After a move to England he wasn't received any better, facing bullying there as well. A move home only erupted in violence. Add to this his problems dealing with his own identity and his sexuality. During a particularly destructive period in his life, he joined the Army. No one forced him to. He wasn't drafted or coerced. He joined voluntarily knowing full well the rules and regulations he would be expected to uphold.
There he regularly came into conflict with other soldiers and superiors. He was belligerent and thought himself above the regular soldiers around him. He found that he was neither physically nor mentally able to live in the military. When asked to do his job as lawfully ordered he responded back with more belligerence and acting against his fellow soldiers. He faced a relationship breakup during a major deployment and seemed to exhibit the signs of a complete breakdown. During this time he attacked a female coworker, suffered from a loss of identity, and was found crying naked in a cabinet, knife at his feet. It was during this time that Manning made his leaks.
As I have said, I believe Manning was angry and confused. He hated his situation and those around him. He felt that he was superior to those around him and that he deserved better. Yet at the same time he was scared. He felt hopelessly alone and lacking any control. He believed himself above the rules that restricted the movements of the others while yet desperate for others to connect with, the whole while wishing to regain the control by punishing the Army and the United States.
With all these things in mind, he broke one of the cardinal laws of the military. He broke the trust given to him in safeguarding information sensitive to the security of the American Military. In what many have, perhaps correctly, called "an angry tantrum," he repeatedly broke virtually every information security law he was subject to. He purposefully neglected military reporting protocol when he found information he found questionable or outright criminal. Instead he sought out every source he could to leak as much information as he could grab to the public, landing finally in the hands of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks made Manning feel important and valuable. They made him feel like he was doing something that mattered and that he mattered. They made him feel smart and that he was the idealistic hero that he believed himself to be. He bonded with them and gave them what they wanted. For that small price he gave up American military information on how we are structured, where our resources are located, the names and locations of our agents, information that would irreparably damage our relations with many nations, and at least one video that has been released that has since then been edited and vastly manipulated by people out to profit from smearing the United States with misinformation and half-truths. "If it Bleeds, it Leads" is the the old news adage and Assange knew this very well. In my opinion, Assange milked the young soldier for as long as he could.
I don't believe that Manning is a hero. On a level I feel very sorry for someone with such potential who made every mistake imaginable. However I can't help but feel that sense of anger and betrayal when I think about what he did and why I believe he did it.
To me, his noble and heroic testimony is one constructed because someone needs to gather support by painting himself as the hero he may even believe he is. I believe they are the well-constructed words of his defense team and his supporters, as well as those of a person with a lot of time on his hands to think about how best to excuse himself of his situation, with more than a few misaligned priorities.
I feel for all the reasons I have stated, that Manning lacks many of the necessary qualities of heroism. He did not act for the good of the people, but in his own words "to embarrass the United States." To do this he endangered his fellow soldiers across multiple theaters of war and put American diplomacy in a difficult position for years to come. For that he faces a possible lifetime in prison. I can't in my farthest reaching imagination believe that Manning did any of this believing he would suffer any consequences. In his arrogance he got lazy and sloppy. He forgot a crucial step and got caught. This is Bradley Manning.
The legacy he has left will be an important one. As I write this, his case is nearing its completion. The ramifications of it will set the precedent for further leaks by active military members of the United States government and particularly the Department of Defense. Particularly in the case of the charge "aiding the enemy". If he is found guilty it will indisputably set down the precedent that making information sensitive to the government available to the general public is effectively providing a conduit to America's enemies.
In my own opinion I feel that he will probably be found guilty of these charges. Perhaps the judge will have mercy on him, but if I were a betting man I don't think he will. In this case Manning will have as much as a lifetime sentence with an additional 154 years in federal prison for his other charges.
As I said, I don't think that Manning would ever have done any of this had he truly understood the ramifications of what he was doing or if he believed he would ever get caught. Either way, he has already pleaded guilty to many charges each carrying its own punishment. Manning will go to prison.
In spite of this, I don't think that he will serve his full sentence. I see him gaining a great deal of new supporters after the verdict, no matter what it may be. I see political pressure mounting and Manning being set free much sooner.
No matter what the case, I see him becoming a hero to millions of people who probably don't see this the way I do, nor would ever read that which I have written. This I fear will lead to more leaks and a culture that supports this regardless of what information is gained. You can see this copy-cat behavior in others like Edward Snowden.
In the future I fear that it will become something much more dangerous. I fear that the so called "whistleblowers" will become more and more numerous and more and more reckless with what amounts to little more than attention seeking behavior rather than true heroism. I fear that leaks like this will threaten our security much more directly in the future and just as with this case, prove very little if any actual wrong doing on the part of the party that is most hurt by the spillage. It's my fear that someday, because of Manning, the nature of leaking will become such a "heroic" thing to do that real people will be hurt. It is my opinion that if people don't understand the importance of information security, innocent Americans, as well as millions of others around the world, are going to die. I don't think that anyone who could do all this, could or should ever be called Hero.
About Me and Why I'm Writing
I am a Marine, honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps in 2008. My primary military occupational specialty was tactical data network specialist and this was the role I carried on my first tour in Iraq in 2005 and I was also present in Iraq in 2007.
My job centered on building and maintaining the information network with which mission critical information and communications were carried out. Our responsibility was to ensure that that data network was secure from outside threats both physical and through our network. I maintained my base's SIPRnet that is discussed over and over in the Manning case. We knew the information was critical, mission-important and not necessary for the general public at their malls. This was effectively my area of operations during 2005:
There is a great deal of information that wasn't that important, and could be opened in the name of transparency, but to us the importance is keeping the knowledge not from the American public, but from the enemy. The War Logs in particular gave key insights into how the military operates at a strategic level and that knowledge, all by itself, is something that someday will likely be used against the United States. It contains our units' strengths, logistical information, deployment schedules, reporting structures, enemy assessments, not to mention citing specific names and locations. This is valuable information to an enemy agent and people have died from far less.
To many of us, that risk is too high a cost to pay for the transparency that so many feel they deserve. The truth is that so many don't value the costs of such transparency. Do I believe in transparency in government is important? Of course. You should be able to see how your local school district is allocating its resources. You should be able to know what laws are being made. You should be able to understand why a new playground cost $4,000,000 dollars and you should know what public servants backed by tax dollars are being paid. You should be able to question that.
But when it comes to the military, you have to understand that very few if any of us are concerned with keeping a secret from you about what we did in Iraq or Afghanistan. We keep this information behind a protective wall for the protection of ourselves and our fellow Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen. That's why I picked up such a focus on the Manning case. At my level it was really never considered that another service member would just spill such information so carelessly. I wanted the honest reason why he would do this thing which constitutes, in our world, treachery.
On the subject of "heroes" I also have many opinions. From my perspective, in history, one is not just judged based on a short list of outcomes, but on the broader ramifications of their actions. When we judge Manning I hope that people don't just take the simple answer. They don't just look at the question, "What good has come from the actions?" But instead ask themselves, "What should have been done?", "What options were available?" "Could this have been done in a way that none of those who were helping us got hurt?"
My simple answer is "Yes, it could." Many out there are under the assumption that Manning is being imprisoned because he blew a whistle. What they don't understand is that he did it in the worst possible way from the standpoint of people actually serving in the military. If you would like to know more on this I've written an answer What should Chelsea Manning have done? It will give you a breakdown of all the options Manning had available and why I believe that there is a problem that they weren't taken.
With that said, the much broader question out there now is if these actions qualify one as a hero. While my opinion is obvious, I haven't yet made it totally clear why I have taken such an interest in the matter.
I too served in Iraq in 2005 and again in 2007. I too experienced things that I didn't like in a war I wasn't sure I understood. There is much I wish was different and much I wish had been done, but to me a hero isn't someone who just does something that many think should happen. It is a person who does the right thing, the right way. They do it for the right reasons. As yet, it seems that motives in this case have been all but lost, and yet, to people like me, they are the most important element to the entire story. For me the word hero is being given out often now and not for t