Main Wikileaks Source Outed

Overnight, Wired broke the news that Army SPC Bradley Manning, stationed at a forward deployed base near Baghdad, has been fingered by counterintelligence agents as the source behind Wikileaks' best scoops, including its "Collateral Murder" video that shows a fog-of-war killing of journalists by U.S. soldiers.

How did Manning get caught? He bragged about his exploits to a reformed 'Net hacker named Adrian Lamo, who is famous for turning himself in to to authorities after he hacked into the New York Times in 2004. Lamo, who goes by the Twitter handle @6, contacted the Army's Criminal Investigative Division when Manning boasted to him that he had leaked more than 250,000 highly classified diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. That, Lamo felt, could seriously endanger national security.

After Wired posted its story, Lamo began to receive inquiries over Twitter. He responded with a series of Tweets acknowledging he played the snitch.

"I outed Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty.I would never out an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There's a difference," he said in one. "I'm heartsick for Manning and his family. I hope they can forgive me some day for doing what I felt had to be done."

Jullian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, responded with a furious barrage of Tweets a bit later in the evening. "If Brad Manning, 22, is the 'Collateral Murder' & Garani massacre whistleblower then, without a doubt, he's a national hero." He called Lamo and one of the journalists who wrote the story "notorious felons, informers and manipulators." And allegations that "we have been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect."

Wikileaks is a bit of an enigma. Its posts on Australian Internet censorship and Scientology, as well as a steady stream of classified UK defense documents, have made it the enemy of counterintelligence investigators worldwide, as well as a daily must-check source for journalists. Assange, who consented to a profile by the New Yorker, is as eccentric and defensive as you'd expect the man at a center of a worldwide bullseye to be. But Assange has never been arrested; the U.S. is not currently seeking to extradite him for any crimes. The Collateral Murder video made some headlines in the U.S., and forced the Department of Defense to spend a few days reacting to it, but Wikileaks' direct impact on U.S. policy has been, so far, rather negligible. 

Assange believes that the journalism establishment in America is far too protective of the government; he Tweeted this a.m. that the Washington Post "had Collateral murder video for over a year but DID NOT RELEASE IT ... to the public."

Manning himself is in Kuwait, at an Army detention facility. It does not appear as if he has been charged with a crime yet, probably because the Army's Criminal Investigation Division is trying to figure out whether he leaked information to other journalists.  In the Wired story, he comes off as a young, isolated, lonely figure -- plucked from obscurity, suddenly given access to all-source intelligence product, and aggrieved at policy failures of his government.

"[I] listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga's 'Telephone' while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history," he told Lamo. "Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis... a perfect storm.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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