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Sunday, 29 May 2011

O the enduring power of stories to enhance the features of things obscure, things half-understood, things kept out of view by the powerful entities that surround us and that suppress evidence of their power by gaming the media. Questions such as the one many are asking in light of the continuing silence of WikiLeaks, that hactivist posse of outlaw data handlers that has disconcertingly hit the deck following the emergence of multiple attacks on its integrity and the personal safety of its founder: 'Who is Bradley Manning?' A 20-minute video produced by 10 reporters at the Guardian lifts up the cover on this particular tome of secrets and goes some way toward explaining why Manning released classified military information to WikiLeaks and why he then gave himself away to the lurking presence in this drama: Adrian Lamo. Like Lamo, Manning is not a particularly heroic figure and one who is likely to be viewed by society as deeply flawed and slightly unpleasant.

One thing the video achieves is to show part of the reason why the US administration is intent on linking Manning and Assange together in a sort of conspiracy to spy on the US. It's an important achievement by the filmmakers as it reduces the burden of opprobrium that can reasonably be placed on the administration's shoulders. Manning's small-town background and his homosexuality neatly tie in with his aspiration to attend a prestigious US technology school, such as MIT in Boston. A kid from the boondocks in Oklahoma with a high IQ and an interest in computers from an early age, since his father bought him one, is likely to want to rub shoulders with the elite along the banks of the Charles rather than stay on Main Street with the hicks and their ingrained suspicion of anything out-of-the-ordinary. A military scholarship was the only way out. So he went to Boston. Did he meet Assange while he was there?

The picture at the top of this post shows Manning at an IT event in Boston surrounded by like-minded geeks. Manning is small of stature, is gay, and is smart. Therefore he was persecuted in the military and, the video tells us, was on the brink of discharge due to unfitness for service when staffing shortages led his superiors to deploy him to an operating base in Iraq. A peer in the video says he was completely unsuited to the military culture. He wanted something better.

Another peer describes the lax security amid the culture of copying in Iraq. There was plenty of opportunity to copy material and remove it from the secure confines of the operations room. This is mitigating evidence, as it says that Manning was not the only one in Iraq who did the wrong thing.

In December, Manning will be tried in a military court. It will be interesting to see what kind of information emerges at that time in the press to provide more detail about the administration's plans for Assange. Can the boys in Alexandria, Virginia, on the prosecution side establish a manifest link between Manning in Boston with Assange the white-maned Aussie globetrotter?

"Without information you cannot make informed decisions," wrote Manning at one point to Lamo during their online chat. It's a sophisticated response to an unusual situation, and mirrors almost exactly ideas present among journalists when they have their thinking caps on, when they're thinking about the real reason for their business. In Australia, the High Court said pretty much the same thing when it established a de facto First Amendment for this country during a famous court case involving the ABC and a New Zealand prime minister who felt that he had been defamed. Without political reporting there is no responsible government, the High Court said. Manning's mind is clearly his passport to the realm of the angels.

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