News & Politics

WikiLeaks Mysteries Deepen

Did “don’t ask, don’t tell” play a role?

Army SPC Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old Potomac resident who’s under investigation for leaking classified video of a US helicopter strike to a whistleblower group, was going to be discharged from the Army because of “an adjustment disorder” before he was apprehended, according the man who says he reported Manning to US authorities.

Adrian Lamo, a well-known ex-computer hacker, tells The Washingtonian that when Manning first contacted him via instant messenger, he identified himself as “an Army intelligence analyst” with access to classified material and wrote that he was about to be discharged from the service because of the disorder. Lamo declines to elaborate on the nature of any condition or the circumstances behind Manning’s discharge but says that Manning described them.

“I’m going to respect his privacy on that the same way I would if, say, you were being discharged for Asperger’s, which is near and dear to my heart,” Lamo says. Lamo has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum. However, he says that the disorder was not the basis for Manning’s discharge.

Reports that “personal issues . . . got [Manning] into trouble with his superiors and left him socially isolated” have raised a question among some observers about whether Manning could have been dismissed under the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which forbids homosexuals from serving openly. In an interview with the New York Times, Lamo said he thought Manning was motivated to leak by “ideology” and “because he was dissatisfied with certain military policies,” but Lamo declined to say what he meant. “It’s a personal matter for him, and I do not think it was one his family would want aired in the national media.”

When The Washingtonian asked whether Manning was being discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Lamo said, “It’s not my place to speak on Mr. Manning’s behalf. In general terms, he was not a supporter of the [DADT] policy, as a number of soldiers are, both straight and gay.” Lamo says that Manning expressed his views on the military’s policy “at least in passing once or twice.”

Lamo says he had no intention of identifying Manning to investigators when they began their correspondence: “I started talking to him because I enjoyed talking to him.” Lamo read from what he says were transcripts of the instant-message exchange he had with Manning. The young solider contacted Lamo first after reading a profile about him in Wired magazine. Manning opened the correspondence with “Hi, how are you? I’m an Army intelligence analyst.”

Lamo says Manning quickly elaborated on the reason for his message. “If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day seven days a week for eight-plus months, what would you do?” Manning asked.

Manning told Lamo he was deployed at a forward operating base in Iraq, where he had access to classified military networks. In the course of their exchange, Lamo says Manning told him he’d discovered footage of an Apache helicopter strike in Iraq in 2007 and leaked it to the Web site WikiLeaks. The video, which the Web site released in April, shows US forces firing on what they believe to be enemy fighters but that turned out to be a group mostly of unarmed civilians, journalists, and children. Some of those killed were armed, and there had been fighting in the vicinity that day.

Lamo says it wasn’t until Manning claimed to have leaked 260,000 classified embassy cables to WikiLeaks that he decided to call federal authorities. Lamo says that Manning never showed him the cables but that after he mentioned a specific military operation by name, Lamo was afraid he could become implicated in Manning’s alleged leak.

After that conversation, Lamo says, he got in touch with authorities from the Army and the FBI and met with them on May 25 or 26.

Lamo says he believed that Manning had been in touch with the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, because Manning described aspects of a forthcoming profile in the New Yorker about Assange and his group before it was published. WikiLeaks, through its Twitter feed, has denied knowing Manning’s identity.

The magazine profile was available online last week and was published in print this week. Manning, according to Army officials, was taken into custody two weeks ago. That coincides with the time that Lamo says he met with US authorities and showed them the transcripts of his conversation with Manning.

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