(Source: ABC News)
Manning could spend over six decades of his life behind bars, but will likely one day see freedom

When you hear the words "leaker" or "whistleblower", these days you probably think of Edward Snowden.  Holed up at a Moscow airport indefinitely, Mr. Snowden has defied U.S. authorities who charged him under the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 U.S.C. § 792).

At the ripe age of 30, the Mr. Snowden embodies the kind of deliberate, principled leaker we're used to -- a Daniel Ellsberg of his time.  In his former role serving as a mid-level system administrator for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and then Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) he had a great deal of privileged access and commanded a $122,000 USD.  But for better or worse he threw that all away on principle, choosing to reveal to the world via two top newspapers -- The Guardian (UK) and The Washington Post -- that the NSA was spying on 99 percent of Americans' locations via telephone metadata.

I. Before Snowden, There was Manning 

By contrast a very different leaker finds his fate today, a leaker the media had almost forgotten before the inevitable storm surrounding his verdict picked up.  That leaker is Bradley Manning.

Mr. Manning's path to becoming a leaker began with his fateful decision to enlist in the U.S. Army as a Private First Class (PFC) in September 2007.  He was enrolled in basic training Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  A little over 5 feet tall and openly gay in his private life, Mr. Manning was "bullied" according to fellow soldiers.  Despite seeming on the verge of a breakdown, they report he did maintain an air of defiance, shouting back at drill sergeants who would eventually nickname him "General Manning".

After six weeks his commanding officers had seen enough and they sent him to a discharge unit.

Bradley Manning sign
PFC Manning was allegedly bullied in the armed forces for his relatively open homosexuality. [Image Source:]

The story could have ended there, but it didn't.  Facing a shortage of recruits, Mr. Manning was "recycled", with the discharge reversed in January 2008.  This time Mr. Manning survived the trials and tribulations of bootcamp.  Mr. Manning's father was an IT administrator and he himself had toyed with web development and programming.  Thus it seemed a natural fit when the Army slotted him as a high-tech intelligence analyst.  He quickly received TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) privileges, giving him access to a host of U.S. State Department and U.S. Military files and documents.

In 2008 he was introduced to a hacker community via a boyfriend who lived in the Boston area.  But they separated by Sept. 2009, leaving him depressed.  Shortly thereafter he was shipped off to Forward Operating Base Hammer, near Baghdad, arriving in Oct. 2009.  

II. Nov. 2009 : When The Leaks Began

In Nov. 2009 Manning was promoted from PFC to Specialist, but he was growing disillusioned with the armed forces.  He allegedly made contact with Wikileaks -- at the time a fledgling leaks site -- for the first time that month.  He was allegedly befriended by site founder Julian Assange, who encouraged him to leak any incriminating material he found.

Shortly thereafter he is accused of having began downloading off SiPRNet (a military network) hundreds of thousands of memos from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as memos from the U.S. Department of State (DoS).  He allegedly smuggled the data out on fake music.

Finding video footage from a camera onboard a chopper involved in an incident in which civilians -- including journalists -- wered killed, he vowed to leak the information.  He allegedly passed the video to Wikileaks in Feb. 2010.  

The site published it in April 2010 under the name "Collateral Murder", quickly vaulting it from a largely unknown site to one of the internet's biggest hotbeds of controversy.

III. Turned In, Charged With giving "Intelligence to the Enemy"

In May 2010, perhaps feeling conflicted about his actions, Mr. Manning reached out to a well known former hacker-turned-security research, Adrian Lamo.  Talking to Mr. Lamo in a series of AOL Instant Messenger chat, Mr. Manning began to hint at his illegal actions.  At that point Mr. Lamo -- an ordained "priest" and sometimes journalist -- offered to serve as Mr. Manning's confidante, protecting the information he was sharing.  But according to Mr. Lamo, Mr. Manning never clearly accepted his offer.

Adrian Lamo
Adrian Lamo, a former convicted hacker, made the surprising decision to turn Mr. Manning in to the feds.

Faced with a moral dilemma -- realizing the magnitude of the hordes of information Mr. Manning had indiscriminately dumped on Wikileaks -- Mr. Lamo decided that he must turn the young hacker in.  Mr. Lamo would later tell us that had Mr. Manning accepted clearly his offer to serve him as a religious or journalistic confidante, he would likely have been unable to blow the whistle on the self-styled "whistleblower".

But blow it he did and on May 27, 2010 he was arrested.

In the aftermath Mr. Manning was eventually charged with 31 counts:
  • UCMJ (U.S. Military Code of Justice) Article 92: Use of defense computer systems for unauthorized purposes. x6
  • UCMJ Article 104: "knowingly giv[ing] intelligence to the enemy"
  • UCMJ Article 134: publishing privileged data on the internet to damage the military (most of which overlap with other criminal code-based charges, x1 which does not)
  • Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 793e) offenses x15
  • Theft of gov't property, under the The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (18 USC § 641) x5
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (18 USC § 1030 (a)(1)) offenses x3
While he was not pressed with potential death penalty charges for the "aiding the enemy" charge (both due to the fact that Mr. Lamo publicly stated he might refuse to testify if the death penalty was sought and because the army has not killed its own in more than five decades), the UCMJ 104 charge threaten to send Mr. Manning away to a life sentence in prison.

Manning wideBradley Manning pled guilty to lesser versions of 10 of the 22 charges. [Image Source: AP]

In Feb. 2013 Mr. Manning plead guilty to a number of reduced versions of charges, a common tactic in military court.  In total he has pled guilty to reduced versions of ten Espionage Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act charges -- each of which would have carried a 10 year maximum sentence, but in reduced form carry 2 years a piece.  A judge rulled that his maximum sentence on these charges would be 16 years in prison.

The sentence today will deal with the charges he pled "Not Guilty" to -- the aiding the enemy (UCMJ 104) charge, the Theft of Gov't Property charges, and various unauthorized use (UCMJ 92) charges.

IV. The Verdict

Here's a quick recap on the charges so far:

Bradley Manning
 [CLICK to enlarge, sortable version here]

Ultimately the military court found Mr. Manning guilty of all five counts of theft of documents, but not guilty of aiding the enemy.

Manning arrives
Manning arrives at the sentencing hearing.  He was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, but guilty of numerous other charges. [Image Source: ABC News]

The theft counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The six civil infractions carry a sentence of two years.  And the computer fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years (which apparently the government did pursue.

Thus served consecutively, Mr. Manning still faces up 90 years in prison, at least, when his prior guilty pleas are considered.  That's assuming a judge assigns the sentences consecutively.  Wikileaks claims on their Twitter that the maximum is 136 years, although it's unclear where that number comes from:

The claim is confirmed by PBS's Alexa O'Brien:

If served concurrently Mr. Manning could be imprisoned for as little as 10 years.

Free Manning Protesters
Protesters outside the courthouse left disappointed. [Image Source: ABC News]

Likely the sentence will fall somewhere in between -- a couple decades behind bars -- but we shall have to wait for the final sentence to see.  The sentence on the charges will be given by Judge Col. Denise Lind at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

V. Editorial: Retrospect on an Angry Young Man Who Did Open Some Eyes

At an earlier hearing Mr. Manning, pleading guilty, stated:

I believed if the public was aware of the data [cables, memos, videos], it would start a public debate of the wars.  [The behavior of Americans in the chopper video] burdens me emotionally.... [And] I believed that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States, but might be embarrassing.

I think most of us can agree that Mr. Manning leaked the information at least partially out of good intent (even if all his motives weren't pure).  However, he also caused very real damage to the nation he vowed to serve.  And he clearly did appear to act afoul of the wording of the CFAA, Espionage Act, and UCMJ.

Personally I disagree with the "theft" chages from a technical standpoint, as I don't think you can really "steal" and electronic record (as the records are still there in SiPRNet), it does seem a fitting, if technically flawed description of Mr. Manning's actions.

At the end of the day both critics and supporters alike must remember that Mr. Manning was an angry, confused young man who thrust into a harsh wartime atmosphere against the advice of his commanding officers.  Mr. Manning will celebrate his 26 birthday in December, likely behind bars, where he's celebrated the last two years as well.

Bradley Manning billboard
The Manning story is a turbulent coming of age tale, that's hard to judge  in a solely positive or negative light. [Image Source: Nieman Lab]

The information leaked by Mr. Manning did provoke some legitimate political debate, but meat was too few and far between, compared to the sheer volume of documents that ranged from uninteresting to "slightly embarrasing" that Mr. Manning leaked.

To me, that's where I have trouble following the whistleblower argument.  Mr. Manning -- by his own words -- acted in part to "embarass" the U.S.  A true whistleblower does not aim to embarass his organization, but rather to expose its wrongdoing in as plain and stark terms as possible.  Mr. Manning's choice of terms -- coming from a man who allegedly suffered a great deal of bullying and was demoted while serving in Iraq -- are telling.

Bradley Manning
At best Bradley Manning was a whistleblower who looked to air troubling footage of civilians being killed in combat.  At worst he was a rash and tempermental document dumper looking to "embarass" the U.S. [Image Source: Getty Images]

The fact that Mr. Manning went to Wikileaks -- a site that seeks not to spread the truth, but to almost singularly discredit the U.S. -- and digitally sojourned with its glory-seeking founder was in my opinion a major mistake.  He should have persisted and found a source at a major outlet like The New York TimesThe Washington Post, or The Guardian.  I guarantee you he would have, had he not given up so easy, taking the intellectually lazy route of a scattershot document dump.

In that regard Mr. Snowden has a much stronger case as a whistleblower, even if he faces similar charges.

In many ways Mr. Manning shares a fair deal in common with hacker groups like Anonymous and Lulzsec, whom he likely looked up to -- and who vigorously defended him.  He had some legitimate reasons to be frustrated and outraged -- both personally and as a whistleblower.  However, the way he went about it was childish, and the haphazard "doxxing" of sorts that he did to SiPRNet simply bored the public to death, when a more targeted series of reports could have potentially shown the light on real wrongdoing.

The internet protest campaign against the Manning trial featured pictures of people holding up signs reading "I am Bradley Manning."

This is true there's a lot of Bradley Manning in a lot of us -- and that's not all good.  At his best Mr. Manning was a crusader against coverups, a brave resistor against bigotry, and a unabashed advocate of government transparency.  At his worst he was childish, arrogant, tempermental, entitled, and rash -- basically everything you'd expect a 22 year old to be at times.

At the end of the day his guilty verdict is inevitable.  But for better or worse there's no undoing his impact -- good or bad.  What's the best/worst news for Mr. Manning?  His actions will be remembered by history and analyzed in explicit detail.

Sources: PBS [liveblog], Charge Sheet [via The Washington Post], Google Docs [Manning's Statement], ABC News [liveblog]

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