Threat Level Privacy, Crime and Security Online
Army Intelligence Analyst Charged With Leaking Classified Information
- By Kim Zetter and Kevin Poulsen
- July 6, 2010 |
Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, was charged with two counts under the Uniform Code of Military Justice: one encompassing the eight alleged criminal offenses, and a second detailing four noncriminal violations of Army regulations governing the handling of classified information and computers.
According to the charge sheet, Manning downloaded a classified video of a military operation in Iraq and transmitted it to a third party, in violation of a section of the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 793(e), which involves passing classified information to an uncleared party, but not a foreign government.
The remaining criminal charges are for allegedly abusing access to the Secret-level SIPR network to obtain more than 150,000
Manning allegedly passed more than 50 classified diplomatic cables to an unauthorized party, but downloaded at least 150,000 unclassified State Department documents, according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom. These numbers could change as the investigation continues, Bloom said. Both numbers are lower than the 260,000 cables Manning claimed, in online chats, to have passed to Wikileaks.
Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 19 this year, Manning allegedly passed one of the cables, titled "
If convicted of all charges, Manning could face a prison sentence of as much as 52 years, Bloom said.
Manning was put under pretrial confinement at the end of May, after he disclosed to a former hacker that he was responsible for leaking classified information to Wikileaks. He's currently being held at
The next step in Manning's case is an Article 32 hearing, which is an evidentiary hearing similar to a grand jury hearing, to determine if the case should proceed to court-martial.
Manning, who comes from Potomac, Maryland, enlisted in the Army in 2007 and was an Army intelligence analyst who was stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer 40 miles east of Baghdad, Iraq, last November. He held a Top Secret/SCI clearance.
In May, he began communicating online with a former hacker named Adrian Lamo. Very quickly in his exchange with the ex-hacker, Manning disclosed that he was responsible for leaking a headline-making Army video to Wikileaks. The classified video, which Wikileaks released April 5 under the title "Collateral Murder," depicted a deadly 2007 U.S. helicopter air strike in Baghdad on a group of men, some of whom were armed, that the soldiers believed were insurgents.
The attack killed two Reuters employees and an unarmed
Manning also said he leaked a separate video to Wikileaks showing the notorious May 2009 air strike near Garani village in Afghanistan that the local government says killed nearly 100 civilians, most of them children. The Pentagon released a report about the incident last year, but backed down from a plan to show video of the attack to reporters.
Other classified leaks he claimed credit for included an Army document evaluating Wikileaks as a security threat and a detailed Army chronology of events in the
"Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public," Manning told Lamo in an online chat session.
Manning anticipated watching from the sidelines as his action bared the secret history of
"Everywhere there's a
Wikileaks has acknowledged possessing the
In his chats with Lamo, Manning discussed personal issues that got him into trouble with his Army superiors and left him socially isolated, and said he had been demoted and was headed for an early discharge from the military.
He claimed to have been rummaging through classified military and government networks for more than a year and said the networks contained "incredible things, awful things … that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in
Manning discovered the Iraq video in late 2009, he said. He first contacted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sometime around late November last year, he claimed, after Wikileaks posted 500,000 pager messages covering a 24-hour period surrounding the Sept. 11 terror attacks. "I immediately recognized that they were from an NSA database, and I felt comfortable enough to come forward," he wrote to Lamo.
In January, while on leave in the
Manning passed the video to Wikileaks in February, he told Lamo. After April 5 when the video was released and made headlines, Manning contacted Watkins from
"He would message me, 'Are people talking about it?… Are the media saying anything?'" Watkins said. "That was one of his major concerns, that once he had done this, was it really going to make a difference?… He didn't want to do this just to cause a stir…. He wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn't happen again."
Lamo decided to turn in Manning after the soldier told him that he leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables. Lamo contacted the Army, and then met with Army CID investigators and the FBI to pass the agents a copy of the chat logs from his conversations with Manning. At their second meeting with Lamo on May 27, FBI agents from the Oakland Field Office told the hacker that Manning had been arrested the day before in Iraq by Army CID investigators.
As described by Manning in his chats with Lamo, his purported leaking was made possible by lax security online and off.
Manning had access to two classified networks from two separate secured laptops: 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, he said, were both "air gapped" from unclassified networks, but the environment at the base made it easy to smuggle data out.
"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," he wrote. "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," he added later. "Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis … a perfect storm."
Manning told Lamo that the Garani video was left accessible in a directory on a U.S. Central Command server, centcom.smil.mil, by officers who investigated the incident. The video, he said, was an encrypted AES-256 ZIP file.
(This story has been updated repeatedly since posting, including a correction to a statement Bloom previously made about the maximum sentence Manning faces. Last updated 17:45 pm EDT)
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