American officials are searching for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks in an attempt to pressure him not to publish thousands of confidential and potentially hugely embarrassing diplomatic cables that offer unfiltered assessments of Middle East governments and leaders.
Assange is like the kid in school who found the popular girl’s secret diary where she talks shit about the people she pretends to be friends with.
The person who’s believed to have turned over these cables was a 22-year-old Army Intelligence Analyst named Bradley Manning. Manning was arrested last week after admitting to the leak in a series of online chats. Manning also took credit for leaking the video that Wikileaks unveiled in April.
There will be a lot of debate about whether Manning should be considered a whistleblower or a traitor. In leaking the video, he was clearly trying to expose a coverup (Reuters had been unsuccessful in getting the footage showing U.S. troops killing one of their photographers). But with the cables, it’s not clear if Manning was trying to expose any particular wrongdoing or if he was just bent on undermining American foreign policy. Yet even if that distinction matters to some of us, it certainly won’t matter to the Obama Administration and the Pentagon.
While the true nature of what he revealed remains a big unknown, what isn’t a mystery is how this young Army analyst became disillusioned to the point of doing this. In his lengthy online chats with the man who eventually turned him in – a former hacker named Adrian Lamo – he pointed to one specific incident:
(02:31:02 PM) Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything
(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…
(02:35:46 PM) Lamo : I’m not here right now
(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently
(02:37:37 PM) Manning: i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…
Even as someone who thought the war in Iraq was ill-advised from the very beginning, and who fully expected an outcome where our occupation would eventually begin imitating the tyranny we’d set out to replace, I still find it fascinating to see this young man running into that glaring contradiction between our ideals and our actions. I have no idea yet how history will eventually judge Manning, but I understand how he ended up doing what he did.
If these cables are released, what will come next? Would it cause the unraveling of key alliances to the point that our national security would be threatened? Or does it merely expose embarrassing things that would only affect a narrow set of people and interests? Either way, the diary of the popular girl may be posted online soon.