2011-01-31 The Guardian and The Telegraph Falsely Incriminate Bradley Manning

The Telegraph this evening ran a story on tomorrow's Wikileaks book by the Guardian editors David Leigh and Luke Harding - just one of several books in a publishing run by Wikileaks' media partners. Among the revelations forthcoming in that volume, we are told, is the rather stale information that Bradley Manning is alleged to be Wikileaks' anonymous source for Cablegate and the War Log releases.

The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, of The Guardian, name Specialist Bradley Manning, the soldier being held in a US military jail, as the alleged source of the information which was passed on to The Guardian by WikiLeaks.

While Rayner attempts to present this information as if some new information was being disclosed in the book, it appears, in fact, that we will learn nothing new from it. As the facts stand, Bradley Manning is still the "alleged" source of the information. He has not been convicted of the acts with which he is charged, and all of the evidence in favour of those charges yet available to the public is highly speculative.

The distinction between reportage which mentions Manning as "Wikileaks' source" and that which mentions him as "Wikileaks' alleged source" is of some importance, since to the extent that newspapers - for whatever reason - elide this difference, public opinion might be swayed in such a way as to incriminate Manning, and to prejudice his trial. It is therefore important that media organizations treat the distinction with care.

We learn in the Telegraph, however, that Leigh and Harding, in an attempt perhaps to convey the information in an easy narrative, may have glossed over this distinction in the two chapters which deal with Bradley Manning. All the information they relate appears to be paraphrasal of the Lamo-Manning chatlog - a document that has been available to the general public on Wired.com since June 2010.

WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, which is published this week, devotes two chapters to the means by which Mr Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, including US diplomatic cables and military logs relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Camp Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad, the army intelligence worker was issued with two US laptops, one connected to the US State Department and Department of Defense, the other connected to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, through which secret communications were sent.

“From his first day at Hammer, he was puzzled by the lax security,” the authors write. “The door was bolted with a five-digit cipher lock, but all you had to do was knock on the door and you’d be let in.” The soldier is said to have downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents on to computer CDs labelled “Lady Gaga”.

He is alleged to have turned to WikiLeaks because he had been impressed by its release of 500,000 pager messages intercepted on the day of the September 11 attacks on New York in 2001, which “made him feel comfortable that he, too, could come forward to WikiLeaks without fear of being identified”

All of the supposedly new information above is drawn from one section of the Lamo-Manning chatlog.

(01:52:30 PM) bradass87: funny thing is… we transffered so much data on unmarked CDs…
(01:52:42 PM) bradass87: everyone did… videos… movies… music
(01:53:05 PM) bradass87: all out in the open
(01:53:53 PM) bradass87: bringing CDs too and from the networks was/is a common phenomeon
(01:54:14 PM) Adrian: is that how you got the cables out?
(01:54:28 PM) bradass87: perhaps
(01:54:42 PM) bradass87: i would come in with music on a CD-RW
(01:55:21 PM) bradass87: labelled with something like “Lady Gaga”… erase the music… then write a compressed split file
(01:55:46 PM) bradass87: no-one suspected a thing
(01:55:48 PM) bradass87: =L kind of sad
(01:56:04 PM) Adrian: and odds are, they never will
(01:56:07 PM) bradass87: i didnt even have to hide anything
(01:56:36 PM) Adrian: from a professional perspective, i’m curious how the server they were on was insecure
(01:57:19 PM) bradass87: you had people working 14 hours a day… every single day… no weekends… no recreation…
(01:57:27 PM) bradass87: people stopped caring after 3 weeks
(01:57:44 PM) Adrian: i mean, technically speaking
(01:57:51 PM) Adrian: or was it physical
(01:57:52 PM) bradass87: >nod<
(01:58:16 PM) bradass87: there was no physical security
(01:58:18 PM) Adrian: it was physical access, wasn’t it
(01:58:20 PM) Adrian: hah
(01:58:33 PM) bradass87: it was there, but not really
(01:58:51 PM) bradass87: 5 digit cipher lock… but you could knock and the door…
(01:58:55 PM) bradass87: *on
(01:59:15 PM) bradass87: weapons, but everyone has weapons
(02:00:12 PM) bradass87: everyone just sat at their workstations… watching music videos / car chases / buildings exploding… and writing more stuff to CD/DVD… the culture fed opportunities
(02:01:44 PM) bradass87: hardest part is arguably internet access… uploading any sensitive data over the open internet is a bad idea… since networks are monitored for any insurgent/terrorist/militia/criminal types
(02:01:52 PM) Adrian: tor?
(02:02:13 PM) bradass87: tor + ssl + sftp
(02:02:33 PM) Adrian: *nod*
(02:03:05 PM) Adrian: not quite how i might do it, but good
(02:03:22 PM) bradass87: i even asked the NSA guy if he could find any suspicious activity coming out of local networks… he shrugged and said… “its not a priority”
(02:03:53 PM) bradass87: went back to watching “Eagle’s Eye”

The primary source for the Lamo-Manning chatlog is the ex-hacker Adrian Lamo, who claims that it is a record of a sequence of instant message discussions he had with Bradley Manning. In recent months, a concerted investigation was carried out into the trustworthiness of Adrian Lamo, in the light of serious discrepancies in the narrative he had given to various media about the content of the chatlogs. The results of this investigation are to be found on FDL.

The investigation recommends the conclusion that Adrian Lamo is not a trustworthy source, and casts doubt on the provenance of the Lamo-Manning chatlog.

Worryingly, the Guardian editorial position appears, according to the Telegraph, to be that the Lamo-Manning chatlog can be treated as the testimony of Bradley Manning himself.

Last night Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian, defended the decision to name Mr Manning as the source of the material, saying it was a matter of record that the soldier had openly admitted to being the source of the data.

If The Guardian has no new information, it is exceptionally irresponsible to treat the Lamo-Manning chatlog as sufficient evidence to speak of Bradley Manning as Wikileaks' source. It appears, from the Telegraph's quotation, that Leigh and Harding have used the chatlog to present a reconstructed narrative - a move which is likely to present a seductive version of events for the general public wherein Manning was in fact the source.

Whether this is the case or not, it is certainly irresponsible of the Telegraph, in an attempt to create news where none exists, to report this information as it has done, as if it were new information. The Telegraph article is the product of a convenient looseness with the facts, a lack of requisite journalistic rigour, and a dogged commitment to breathless sensationalism, on the part of journalists from both the Telegraph and the Guardian.

It is to be hoped that the prospects at trial of Bradley Manning - who faces as many as 55 years in extraordinarily punitive prison conditions - are not unduly influenced by tonight's display of unrestrained media venality.

FDL's Coverage of Bradley Manning Story

Bradley Manning Coverage

Key Wikileaks-Manning Articles

Manning-Wikileaks Timeline

Lamo Interview Transcripts

Update: David Leigh defends the Guardian editorial position on his Twitter account. The central pillar of his argument is apparently the flimsy speculation that Manning's legal counsel would have openly denied the veracity of the Lamo-Manning chat log if it were not accurate.