An interesting feature in New York magazine about the alleged leaker to Wikileaks of countless US documents. Manning is a hero because he saw American illegality in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond and wanted to act. Not remain silent. He was bullied in the US military as a gay man. A troubled soul who has changed the course of history, for the better.
This extract details his exchange with hacker Adrian Lamo, the man who eventually turned him into the authorities:
I wanted to talk to Lamo, and after I tracked him down online, he invited me to the Coliseum, a Long Island motor inn where he greeted me at the door of his small room. He wore a half-smile, quipped that he was staying until he exhausted his finances or died, and made a beeline for the bed—he was unsteady on his feet. And then he shut his eyes. And kept them shut for much of our three-hour conversation. He was articulate, even thoughtful, but didn’t seem entirely present. He often paused for 30-second intervals before speaking.
It was only when I asked about his life as a hacker that Lamo seemed to become fully engaged. “It is the one thing I get excited about,” he told me. Lamo is a high-school and college dropout, but as a hacker he thought of himself as a bold explorer of new worlds, a Columbus. His hacks were at once clever and incredibly dumb—and always sensational. “Why not go in and behave like a user and see what can be made to behave differently than expected?,” he explained. Lamo didn’t damage the systems he entered—“I didn’t want to be malicious”—but left behind a quirky signature, as if to say, “I could have hurt you.” At Yahoo News, he edited a couple of stories. Later, he hunkered down at a Kinko’s copy shop for 24 hours and, with nothing but his laptop, hacked so deep into MCI Worldcom’s computer system that he could have fired then-CEO Bernie Ebbers. “I was tempted,” Lamo told me—but he just took a screen shot.
Lamo’s hacks made him famous mostly because he ran to the press after each one. Unfortunately, the FBI turned out to be an avid reader of his press. In 2003, the government arrested him for busting into the New York Times’ computers—Lamo had added his name to the list of op-ed contributors and created several Nexis accounts, mainly to keep up with news of himself. At the time, Lamo was furious at the government. His arrest “strikes a blow against openness,” he said. Hackers rallied around him. As far as they were concerned, his only crime was “that of outsmarting you”—the government.
In the Coliseum Motor Inn, Lamo lit a cigarette, a Camel with a pellet of menthol in the filter, and sucked on it like a straw. Smoking seemed to make him wistful. “[WorldCom] is a long time ago now,” he told me.
Lamo’s life as a hacker had come to an end at 22, and with it, a part of him seemed to die. He’d been sentenced to house arrest rather than prison, but he told me, “I’ve been diagnosed with major depression that largely began after my clash with the FBI.” (Two weeks before Manning reached out, Lamo had been confined to a mental-health facility.)
If Lamo suffered, he didn’t let on to his public. Hacking was now out of the question, but arrest had enhanced his fame. Young admirers reached out to him, including, in 2007, a 17-year-old named Lauren Robinson. “I liked his ideals and such back then,” she told me. Within a year, they were married—Lamo was 26 at the time. At first the romance was exciting. Soon, though, reality set in, Robinson recalled. “We’d sit around on computers all day,” she complained. As she saw it, his main activity was tending “the Adrian Lamo persona,” which existed almost exclusively online. “Eighty-five percent of his time was on a computer,” she said. He refused to work for pay. “I won’t whore out my skills,” he told Robinson. His father paid their rent. In the real world, Lamo was barely hanging on. But as Robinson, now divorced, recalled, online his reputation was intact. “People kind of saw him as a hacker idol,” she said. Bradley Manning must have too.
It wasn’t even much of a hack, Manning told Lamo, according to the logs. The Army’s “infosec”—Manning used the military term for information security—was so sloppy that a lowly intel analyst could sift through the government’s most closely held secrets. “it was vulnerable as fuck,” he wrote to Lamo. Manning downloaded data onto a CD marked “Lady Gaga,” lip-syncing as he supposedly did his job: “pretty simple, and unglamorous,” he wrote. No one had ever taken note of him, and no one did now: “everyone just sat at their workstations … watching music videos / car chases / buildings exploding … and writing more stuff to CD/DVD.” Then, the government alleged, he fed it to WikiLeaks.
In their online conversations, Lamo wanted to know more and encouraged Manning any way he could. He flirted. The two exchanged photos, assuring one another of their “sexiness,” according to a person who read the unedited portions of the chat logs, sent each other emoticon hearts, and used endearments like “sweetie.”
But Lamo wasn’t Assange, offering Manning a part in a noble cause. Even as he flirted, Lamo contacted a friend connected with military counterintelligence. Lamo didn’t want to find himself on the wrong side of the FBI again. Also, as Lamo saw it, Manning posed a threat to the nation. Manning said he leaked hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables: “holy fracking crap, 260,000 documents, do you think you could go through those and say they’re not going to cause any lives to be lost.”
Lamo, who soon started working with the authorities, led Manning on.
bradass87: “i think im in more potential heat than you ever were.”
“Not mandatorily,” Lamo reassured him.
Manning isn’t a classic whistle-blower. Disturbing information didn’t cross his desk, prodding him to act. Manning snooped—according to the timetable he proposed to Lamo, he’d been at it since almost the moment he arrived in Iraq. “i had always questioned how things worked, and investigated to find the truth,” he said. One of Manning’s first discoveries was a troubling 2007 video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. In the video, the viewer watches through the crosshairs of a .30-caliber gun—almost complicit—as the gunner killed two Reuters journalists, mistaking a Telephoto lens for a weapon, and wounded two children. For Assange, the meaning of the video was clear, and to make his point he edited the video into a version he called “Collateral Murder.” It caused a worldwide scandal and overnight gave WikiLeaks, a tiny group of activists, credibility.
“What is your endgame?” Lamo asked Manning.
Manning didn’t have one. He’d started leaking as a way to protest the conduct of the war. The Apache helicopter killings were “wrong,” he wrote to Lamo. But soon he embraced a broader principle: Open the drawers. “information should be free,” he told Lamo, reciting the hacker mantra. According to the chat logs, Manning said he leaked Iraq and Afghan war logs, reports on Guantánamo prisoners, and a cache of diplomatic secrets. “explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective,” Manning thought of himself as honorable, even heroic—“I guess I’m too idealistic,” he said. “i want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” He hoped to provoke “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms … if not … then we’re doomed as a species.” He added a personal coda: “i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens.”
Lamo played Manning, reassuring him while, in reality, he had nothing but disdain for him. When Lamo was arrested, he’d been offended by the government prosecution—“criminalizing curiosity,” he called it. Now he was offended by Manning. “He’s a traitor at best,” Lamo said. And, worse, a child. “He was almost eager to explain his leaks, current, past, and future. Like a kid showing off a new toy,” Lamo told me. He was disgusted by the way in which Manning conflated his own precious moral awakening with the future of U.S. diplomacy. The leaks could “compromise our ability to make the world a better place, which we do in a lot of ways,” Lamo later said.