Hacker Turns in Intelligence Officer Who Aired Nation's Dirty Laundry on Wikileaks
June 7, 2010 4:30 PM
Bradley Manning has become the first Wikileaks source to be arrested.
Manning will be facing charges for acting as a whistleblower, releasing thousands of documents that provided evidence of U.S. government wrong-doing.
Ex-hacker Adrian Lamo turned Manning in. He claims he did it to save U.S. lives.
Officer aired video of U.S. soldiers killing civilians, dirty documents; now faces charges
A desire to "do the right thing" may have cost a U.S. Army Intelligence officer, SPC Bradley Manning, his freedom. Manning, age 22 of Potomac, Maryland, has become the first know Wikileaks source to face charges in an
of government whistleblowing and hacker betrayal according to
Over the last several years Manning had been stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad. There he had unprecedented access to intelligence documents. However, upset over a demotion and what he perceived as a multitude of coverups, he decided to take action airing the United States government's dirty laundry.
An ideal place to conduct his activities was
. Since 2006 no leaker of documents to Wikileaks had ever been compromised. Wikileaks maintains high-level encryption for its document-submission process and its servers are hosted in several countries to avoid legal persecution.
After seeing several leaks on the site Manning found an item of his own, too compelling to keep secret -- a video of a U.S. military helicopter attacking what they believed to be armed insurgents. Except, the Iraqi convoy was really peaceful civilians, armed for self protection. The attack killed two Reuters employees. An unarmed civilian pulls his wounded children from the van in the video, after the army chopper had riddled it with bullets.
Manning at first didn't even realize the true secrets of the video, which essentially showed the murder of civilians. He stated, "At first glance it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter. No big deal … about two dozen more where that came from, right? But something struck me as odd with the van thing, and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory. So I looked into it."
Soon he realize the video's dark secrets and made the fateful decision to share it via Wikileaks. From there on he continued to leak documents and videos, using his Top Secret/SCI Clearance. Last year he leaked video of a May 2009 air strike near Garani village in Afghanistan that the local government says killed nearly 100 civilians, most of them children.
Getting the files was easy. Manning had access to two-topic secret networks -- SIPRNET, the Secret-level network used by the Department of Defense and the State Department, and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which serves both agencies at the Top Secret/SCI level.
The networks were "air-gapped" or physically separated from declassified networks. However, he used his direct physical access to easily grab information he wanted. He described, "I would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga,’ erase the music then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing and, odds are, they never will. [I] listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history. Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis … a perfect storm."
This year Manning conducted his most ambitious leak yet -- 260,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables that Manning claimed contained "almost criminal political back dealings."
Late last month Manning came into contact with
former hacker and Wikileaks donor
, Adrian Lamo, over chat and IM. Manning saw a kindred spirit in Lamo and soon was sharing with him his exploits with and asking him for advice. That proved to be a fatal mistake. Lamo handed over chat logs of Manning's admission to masterminding the diplomatic cable leak to FBI agents at a Starbucks near his house in Carmichael, California.
Manning was quickly arrested and is now being held in Kuwait as the U.S. Military and FBI investigates. [
: He has since been transferred to Baghdad, Iraq, according to Military statements] Lamo, who once
hacked Microsoft and The New York Times
, claims that
was only doing the right thing. He states, "I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger. He was in a war zone and basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air."
The FBI and Military haven't announced what charges Manning will face yet.
His family is shocked. His aunt was the first to hear. She received a collect call from Manning. He told her his Facebook password and told her to post the message, "Some of you may have heard that I have been arrested for disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons. See CollateralMurder.com."
His father states, "[He was] a good kid. Never been in trouble. Never been on drugs, alcohol, nothing."
In the end, being a "good kid" probably won't count for much when Manning has his day in court. As he's about to find out the hard way, being a whistle-blower in the U.S. government may seem like the higher moral ground to some, but it's also likely to earn your a trip to prison or worse.
"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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