To date, Bradley Manning stands accused only of providing a classified video of U.S. operations in Iraq to WikiLeaks. But U.S. government officials say they consider Manning the prime suspect behind the flood of documents that have wound up being promulgated by the group determined to bust U.S. secrecy.
Manning, 23, seems like an unlikely culprit. Trained as an intelligence analyst, awarded a Top Secret clearance, deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 10th Mountain Division in 2007, he's a mere PFC, or Private First Class, not an Aldrich Ames, the elite spy who leaked to the Soviets. Instead of working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., or doing secret drops in Vienna, Manning's days were spent in an air-conditioned shack inside a small forward-deployed compound in Iraq.
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Skeptics of the government's case against Manning wonder how one young soldier, operating with a couple of computers in the middle of desert, could access and download so much classified information and do so undetected for so long. Indeed, it appears Manning might not have come under suspicion at all had he not confided in a reformed hacker named Adrian Lamo, and had Lamo, a civilian, not reported Manning's musings to the U.S. Army.
But in the modern military, which relies on information as much as bullets and bunkers, it's more easy than one might think to gain access to classified material and to disseminate it, according to interviews with numerous officials.
Manning's job was to make sure that other intelligence analysts in his group had access to everything that they were entitled to see. That included incoming intelligence streams from across the world on something called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), the Department of Defense's computer network for Top Secret information. Manning also had access to another information stream dubbed the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), the Pentagon's server for information classified as Secret. (Secret and Top Secret are differing levels of classifications for materials.)