Re: A Gay don't ask don't tell his boyfriend, a self-described drag queen?December 13 2010 at 5:49 AM
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Midnight, May 22, 2010. Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley E. Manning is sitting at a computer at Contingency Operating Station Hammer, east of Baghdad. He is online, chatting with Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker and sometimes-journalist based in San Francisco.
"Hypothetical question," he asks Lamo. "If you had free rein over classified networks for long periods of time ... say, eight-nine months ... and you saw incredible things, awful things ... things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington, D.C. ... what would you do?"
Manning, 22, is probing Lamo for guidance and approval.
"I can't believe what I'm confessing to you," he types.
Outside of the chats, little is known about Manning. We know that he grew up in Crescent, an Oklahoma town made famous by one of the biggest whistleblowing cases in American history a decade before Bradley was born.
Currently, he's in solitary confinement at Quantico, Va., awaiting trial, and unable to speak to the press. His family and many of his close friends have been advised to not talk to the media.
If the allegations against Manning are true, he is responsible for the biggest leak of military secrets in U.S. history.
Records of the chats, which continued over several days, portray a dejected, disillusioned soldier. His long-distance relationship has ended, he's been demoted from specialist to private first class after he struck another soldier and the Army has removed the bolt from his rifle out of concern for his mental state.
Manning feels alone, invisible, that his career and his relationship - the life he had finally built after years of drifting - is falling apart. For months, he'd been disenchanted with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He points to a specific instance in which he investigated 15 detainees for printing "anti-Iraqi literature" but found that the paper in question was merely a scholarly critique of corruption in the government. He brought the revelation to an officer.
"He didn't want to hear any of it," he says.
Manning had lost faith in the U.S. military as a force for good in the world.
"I don't believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore," he tells Lamo. "Only a plethora of states acting in self interest."
In further chats with Lamo, Manning describes how he used his security clearance and computer skills to access confidential government networks and download classified material, including video of American soldiers killing civilians, hundreds of thousands of internal military reports and more than 260,000 diplomatic cables. Disclosure of the classified material, he says, will have implications of "global scope, and breathtaking depth."
He tells Lamo he's been delivering the classified information to Julian Assange, the founder of the shadowy whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which is releasing it publicly for the world to see.
The information he allegedly unleashed into cyberspace reverberated across the globe. The anti-war left seized upon the leaks as evidence that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unjust and unwinnable. The Taliban promised to kill those Afghans who, the documents reveal, have collaborated with the Americans. President Barack Obama said the leaks endanger the lives of American troops. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor predicted the leaks will lead to a new free-speech ruling in the Supreme Court, which could overturn the precedent set in the Pentagon Papers case, the foundation of modern-day jurisprudence on questions of national security and freedom of speech.
Growing up in Crescent
Crescent is stamped out in a one-square-mile rectangular grid and bisected by Oklahoma 74, which becomes Grand Avenue in town. There is the gasoline station, where men gather in the mornings to talk and drink coffee; the Baptist church - one of 15 churches in town - an unadorned, rectangular block, with a plain white spire and beige metal siding; Kelly's Café, which fills to capacity at lunchtime. A white grain elevator towers over the skyline. Crescent, by all appearances, is a happy, healthy little town.
Crescent's favorite son is Geese Ausbie, the "Clown Prince" of the Harlem Globetrotters, but there's another character who isn't as cherished - a 28-year-old woman who spoke up in 1974 and got the world's attention.
Several miles south of town, on the Cimarron River, a decommissioned Kerr-McGee plutonium plant sleeps in quiet, conspicuous retirement. The plant was closed in 1975, a year after one of its employees, Karen Silkwood, was last seen alive at a union meeting at the Hub Café, now closed. After the meeting, Silkwood drove south toward Oklahoma City, allegedly carrying documentation of gross safety violations at the plant, to meet with a reporter from The New York Times. Silkwood's car was discovered crumpled in the embankment, its driver dead. No documents were ever found.
An Oscar-nominated film about the story was made, and the name Silkwood became a rallying cry for union organizers. But, for Crescent locals, the story is more than lore. Many in Crescent know someone who worked at the plant with Karen Silkwood, and for years the town's residents shared an association with whistleblowing and martyrdom.
Several miles north of Crescent, a paved county road turns off the highway and into the countryside. The Manning family lived in a two-story house in the country, near the end of a gravel road before it turns to dirt. Trees obscure the view of the house from the road and cast shadows over the property. There was a swimming pool and a bountiful garden that produced what one neighbor called the biggest asparagus stalks he'd ever seen. The house was isolated and quaint. Neighbors were at least a quarter-mile away. Manning grew up here with his older sister, Casey, his mother, Susan, and his father, Brian.
Brian Manning spent five years in the Navy in the late 1970s, working with high-tech naval systems. He studied computer science in California and went to work for Hertz Rent-a-Car as an information technology manager. While in the Navy he was stationed at Cawdor Barracks in Wales. He married a Welsh woman, Susan, and moved with his family to Crescent.
As a boy, Bradley Manning was high-strung and abnormally intelligent.
"He was just a little nerd," said Danielle Curtis, a childhood friend of Manning's. She and Manning rode bikes around the neighborhood, swam in his pool, played "Super Mario Brothers" at her house and "Donkey Kong" at his.
Bring up Bradley Manning in Crescent, and you're likely to hear that he was "too smart for his own good." He was a promising saxophonist in the middle school band, always excelled in the science fair and starred on the quiz bowl team. On bus trips to quiz bowl competitions around Oklahoma, he and a small group of friends passed the time talking about ideas and big-picture questions of right and wrong.
"We'd talk about stuff that, for that age, was pretty deep," said Shanée Watson, who recently graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We discussed morality and philosophy a lot - I know that sounds weird, but that's what we did."
He was polite and obedient in class. He did not shy away from confrontation, however.
"You would say something, and he would have an opinion, which was a little unusual for a middle school kid," said the school's principal, Rick McCombs, who was a high school history teacher and coach when Manning was in school. "Don't get me wrong, we had the cut-ups and the clowns and the mean ones and the bullies and those kinds of things, but this young man actually kind of thought on his own."
While still in elementary school, Manning first expressed an interest in joining the U.S. military.
"He was basically really into America," said his friend Jordan Davis in an e-mail interview. "He wanted to serve his country."
High school in Wales
As Manning got older his playfulness receded. He stopped playing with neighborhood kids, spending more time on the top floor of his home, where he had his computer.
When Bradley was in middle school, Brian Manning came home one day and announced that he was leaving his wife.
Susan Manning and her son moved to a small rental house near the Baptist church. His grades dropped.
Amid the disintegration of his family, Manning was coming to terms with his sexuality. Watson recalls Manning gathering her and Davis to give them important news. Manning told them that he would shortly be moving with his mother to Wales. He also told his two best friends that he was gay.
Manning and his mother moved to Haverfordwest, Wales, population 13,367, where he attended high school. He was teased for being effeminate but apparently was not open about his homosexuality. Friends say he was quiet and kept his personal life to himself. He got into electronic music and spent a lot of time on the computer.
After high school, he returned to the United States, moved in with his father in Oklahoma City and went to work for Zoto, a software company. Manning's strained relationship with his father cut that living arrangement short - the situation turned toxic, at least in part because of his homosexuality, and his father kicked him out.
He moved to Tulsa and stayed with his friend Davis. He eventually moved into a south Tulsa apartment alone and worked low-wage jobs at f.y.e., a retail entertainment chain, and Incredible Pizza.
Manning drifted from Tulsa to Chicago to Potomac, Md., an outer suburb of Washington, D.C. He moved in with an aunt and began to get a steadier footing. He held jobs at Starbucks and Abercrombie and Fitch, took classes at a community college, and had enough money and stability to travel to Chicago for the Lollapalooza music festival.
In the late summer of 2007, Manning joined the Army.
"I think he thought it would be incredibly interesting, and exciting," Davis said. "He was proud of our successes as a country. He valued our freedom, but probably our economic freedom the most. I think he saw the U.S. as a force for good in the world."
Manning went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, but he suffered a nerve injury in his left arm, and his future in the Army was put on hold.
That Christmas on Facebook he posted cheerful pictures of a visit with his family in Oklahoma, including pictures of his father. After the holidays, Manning returned to basic training. He graduated in April 2008 and moved to Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona.
At Fort Huachuca, Manning was reprimanded for carelessly revealing sensitive information in video messages to friends that he put on YouTube. The infraction must not have been serious because by August he'd graduated from training as an intelligence analyst with a security clearance.
He was then stationed at Fort Drum in upstate New York.
'Living a double life'
On California's ballot that year was Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage. It was approved on Election Day.
Days later, Manning went to a rally against Proposition 8 in Syracuse, N.Y., an hour and a half from Fort Drum. At the rally, Phim Her, a high school student, interviewed an anonymous soldier for Syracuse.com, a local news website. The soldier was Bradley Manning.
"I was kicked out of my home, and I once lost my job (because I am gay)," he told her. "The world is not moving fast enough for us at home, work or the battlefield."
Manning told her that, for him, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was the worst thing about being in the military. "I've been living a double life," he said.
After Proposition 8 passed, Manning's Facebook wall became a flurry of activity, much of it related to the gay rights movement, although most updates were ordinary messages from a happy young man, newly in love. He spent the holiday season in the Washington area, and just before Christmas announced a relationship with a new boyfriend. He began posting more often:
"Bradley Manning is a happy bunny." "Bradley Manning is cuddling in bed tonight."
For an active-duty soldier, he was remarkably transparent about his sexuality on his Facebook wall. Over the next several months Manning's posts were nearly all related to progressive politics or his boyfriend. He seemed happy and confident.
In September 2009, his relationship status changed to single, and posts between him and his former boyfriend tapered off, although they maintained friendly communication. This was likely a safety measure in light of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. A month later he was sent to Iraq.
Manning arrived in Iraq in late October 2009. His infrequent status updates were mostly mundane: "Bradley Manning has soft sheets, a comforter, and a plush pillow ... however, the war against dust has begun," and "Bradley Manning is starting to get used to living in Groundhog Day."
In late November he posted, "Bradley Manning feels forgotten already," but for the most part he remained positive.
At the end of January 2010, Manning returned to the U.S. for a brief visit.
This is the period in which Manning is accused of having handed over at least some documents to WikiLeaks. Manning is officially charged with leaking classified information between Nov. 19, 2009, and May 27, 2010.
In his chats with Adrian Lamo, Manning referenced a "test" document that he leaked to Assange (presumably to verify Assange's identity), a classified diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, sent Jan. 13, 2010. WikiLeaks posted the document on Feb. 18, 2010.
If Manning leaked Reykjavik13, as the document has come to be known, he almost certainly did so during the eight-day period from Jan. 13, 2010, when the cable was transmitted, and Jan. 21, 2010, when he left Baghdad for the United States. Manning returned to Baghdad on Feb. 11.
On Jan. 14, 2010, the day after Reykjavik13 originated, Manning posted, "Bradley Manning feels so alone," on his Facebook wall. Perhaps this is the period when he decided to become a leaker.
Over the next several months, when Manning may have leaked most of the documents, he appeared happy and carefree. His posts were peppered with smiley emoticons. On March 14, he "wishes everyone a Happy Pi Day!"
Not until April 30, after a change in his boyfriend's relationship status, did his emotional state seem to deteriorate. That day he posted that he "is now left with the sinking feeling that he doesn't have anything left. ..." Days later, on May 5, 2010, he said he "is beyond frustrated with people and society at large," and the next day he said he "is not a piece of equipment."
That was Manning's last Facebook post. Later that month he apparently initiated a chat with Lamo, who had been profiled in Wired magazine. Manning, it seems, broke down to Lamo and over a series of days confessed his breach of U.S. military security.
Manning is charged with three counts of "unlawfully transferring confidential material to a nonsecure computer" - military jargon for leaking state secrets. If convicted, he could spend a half a century in prison.