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Adrian Lamo  (Source: Facebook.com)
"It was one of the hardest decisions I've made", said Lamo, but lives were at stake

Yesterday's story about U.S. Army Intelligence officer, SPC Bradley Manning's arrest received a lot of attention, which perhaps is not surprising.  It had all the trappings of high drama -- a young military officer leaking confidential media onto the internet, computer crime, and national security.

Immediately after writing the story, we contacted Adrian Lamo, the man who turned in Manning, to try to get his perspective on why Manning is in his current legal predicament and why he felt the need to turn him in.  Lamo graciously responded and we conducted a phone interview, gaining a lot of insight along the way.

Lamo, who currently works as a journalist and security expert, says that the situation was anything but ordinary.  He states, "People confess federal crimes to me every day and I don't turn them in.  But those cases didn't have this kind of national security risk."

He says that Manning's initial leaks might have been justified.  He says, "Certainly, releasing the gun cam footage would have been something I would have done in his place."

The gun cam footage referenced came from a 2007 attack on unarmed civilians who were mistaken for having weapons.  The civilians were journalists and the weapons turned out to be actually camera equipment.  A Reuters employee was killed in the attack.  A second attack in 2009 was also leaked and showed another strike, this time in Afghanistan, which killed apparently defenseless civilians.

However Manning's desire to leak went beyond just a quest for the truth.  He stated that Manning was "pending discharge" and "not a routine discharge".  This discharge was in no way related to his leaking activities, but Lamo did not wish to divulge the reason, out of respect for Manning's family.

He says that Manning basically was "disillusioned with the system, had internet access, and saw a solution that was far easier" than pursuing channels within the government.

Lamo says the point where Manning crossed the line was when he leaked the diplomatic cables.  According to Lamo, "He described them as not particularly damning, but he just wanted to release it regardless.  He talked about creating chaos in the U.S. foreign policy."

As much as Lamo says he hates the abuse and overuse of the word "nation security", he says that the leak constituted a real threat.  He points out that the diplomatic cable contained conversations that would likely be taken out of context, much like what would happen if  your full email record was leaked and all your friends, family, and coworkers found out what you were really saying about them.  Lamo states, "On a scale of nations [the creation of] a hostile environment can cost lives."

Lamo says he has repeatedly likened Manning's activities to "a kid playing with a rifle, shooting shells in the air", commenting "sooner or later someone is going to get hurt"

He says that suggestions that he somehow owed the government information are utterly ridiculous. He says that you can easily gain access to his plea agreement from his 2003 arrest (for hacking into Microsoft and New York Times servers) and there was no provisions in it that he would "do anything of the sort". He also points out that he successfully completed probation and has no obligations to the government. He says that they wanted him to "sign a form" not to discuss this information, but that he refused to do so, which is how he was able to talk to first Wired and now DailyTech on this subject.

As far as general thoughts on the topics of leaks, he says he generally stands by Wikileaks.  He says that despite repeated attacks on him and fellow security expert Kevin Poulsen by Wikileaks director Julian Assange, he still supports and donates to the site.  He says, "Wikileaks is an important source, regardless of who runs it."

He adds, however, that it needs "more oversight". He suggests a model like is used in a missile silos -- have a couple people screen every decision to post, rather than leave that discretion to just one person. That way, "common sense" would hopefully prevail and someone would prevent the leaking of information that would pointlessly endanger countries.

That said, he also adds that he would suggest that those looking to leak in the future consider first going to news agencies with information.  He says he is not aware of the Washington Post, for example, ever endangering the national security of the U.S.  He also encourages people in positions like Manning to contact him or other experienced individuals before they act, not after.

He continues, "Informing on him was a very hard decision for me, one of the hardest I have ever made.  I was also arrested [around] his age, so I know what it's like."

Asked if Manning had a future and could one day be successful, Lamo responds, "Absolutely.  If nothing else, he can get a book deal out of it."

 



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RE: Adrian Lamo is the victim...
By Eris23007 on 6/9/2010 5:19:18 PM , Rating: 5
Jason,

I agree with and applaud your openness to re-evaluation of opinions given new facts. I strive to do the same in day-to-day life and find this quality sorely lacking in the majority of the population.

...however...

I would argue that this illustrates the critical importance of separating journalistic news - reporting of fact - from editorial analysis and/or opinion. I know this has been a frequent debate over your articles and I suspect you will recall that I have criticized the blurred line you have taken between news and analysis in the past (so I may as well be direct in pointing it out). I also deeply respect your willingness to address these issues directly and attempt to be similarly forthright.

I am aware that it has become common in the news industry to blur the line between fact and analysis/opinion (e.g. the AP's "accountability journalism"). But I would argue that by focusing your coverage on the facts of a scenario and allowing intelligent readers to form their own analytical conclusions, you are less likely to be tagged with either flip-flopping or arrogant. I personally believe (opinion warning!) that people prefer to form their own opinions when given the chance, as opposed to being spoon-fed what they "should" think. I believe that the merging of fact and opinion has been a major contributor to the downfall of the traditional news media and has encouraged the rise of players who make no attempt to hide their biases (e.g. Fox or MSNBC).

I respectfully urge you to carefully consider this example of the perils of mixing the two and hope you will consider this chain of events the next time you are reporting the news on a controversial subject.


RE: Adrian Lamo is the victim...
By ebakke on 6/9/2010 7:52:45 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
I agree with and applaud your openness to re-evaluation of opinions given new facts.
I agree completely, and I want to give Jason credit for that. Most people (including myself at times) suck at this.

quote:
I would argue that this illustrates the critical importance of separating journalistic news - reporting of fact - from editorial analysis and/or opinion.
That was half of my original point. If you want to report news, report news. If you want to opine on news, opine. DailyTech has this weird mash of both where an author can do both. But frequently the opinion/bias of the author makes its way into the article, not just the comments.

The other half of my original point was disappointment in formulating an opinion (and a strong one at that) before having the facts. It reminds me a lot of "I don't have all of the facts...but I believe the police acted stupidly."

And that brings me right back to my original post. I'm torn between giving Jason a tip of the hat, or a wag of the finger. I guess both is always an option.

(Not that a tip of my hat, or a wag of my finger means anything to anyone.... but that's the point of these comment sections, right? To give an outlet for us all)


RE: Adrian Lamo is the victim...
By Eris23007 on 6/10/2010 10:43:20 AM , Rating: 2
Tip o' the hat and wag o' the finger?

I had no idea Steven Colbert surfed DailyTech!

:-D


RE: Adrian Lamo is the victim...
By michael67 on 6/10/2010 11:56:36 AM , Rating: 2
I have to agree on this one, there should be more a differences between news and opinions.

Opinions from the author should be in italics ore different letter type, and the articles should have more of a differences between opinion and the news.

And the redaction should not except news articles that don't follow those rules


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