In the tape of the call, an angry Susan can be heard screaming at Brad: “Get away from him! You get away from him!” In the background, a concerned Bradley asks his father, “Are you okay?”
Susan told the dispatcher that Bradley was upset “because I have been telling him he needs to get a job, and he won’t get a job.”
In the audio, she lays down an ultimatum to his father: “You better find somewhere for him to go, because he ain’t staying here.” (In March of this year, Brian Manning filed for divorce.)
So Bradley took the old red Nissan pickup his dad had given him and hit the road.
In July 2006, Bradley’s aunt in Potomac received a call from her former sister-in-law in Wales. Bradley was in Chicago, broke and living out of his truck in someone’s driveway. Could Debbi help?
Debra Manning called Bradley on his cellphone and offered to wire him money. She also offered him a temporary place to stay. About 30 hours later, Bradley showed up at her house. He had driven almost 700 miles in one day.
Thus began a 15-month interlude in the Washington area that would be one of the most tranquil in Bradley’s life. He found a job at Abercrombie & Fitch, then a better one at Starbucks. With his uncle’s help, he enrolled in Montgomery College, in the hope that it might be a steppingstone to the University of Maryland. After one semester in which he failed an exam, he dropped out and never returned.
Still, he seemed productive and more or less happy. “He was extremely organized, extremely tidy,” his aunt said. “This was not somebody who was flailing around.” So she was stunned when, over dinner at the now-gone Broadway Diner in Rockville, Bradley announced that he had enlisted in the Army and would be leaving in a week or so. To her concerned questions, he replied that service would allow him to go to college.
Debra would later learn that it was her brother who encouraged Bradley to enlist because, he said, it would give structure to his son’s life. “Twisted his arm,” was how Brian Manning put it to a PBS “Frontline” correspondent.
In October 2007, Pvt. Manning reported for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. “He really didn’t like a lot of the people,” said a friend in Washington. “They weren’t very nice to him.” At 5-foot-2, “he was the smallest guy in the group. There are two types of small guys: the guys, who, if you mess around with them, they break your arm. And then there are the type who just take it. And he just took it.”
Despite his struggles, Manning was excited about his future in Army intelligence, a field that suited his analytical mind. “It’s going to be a different crowd when I get through with basic,” he told the friend. “I’m going to be with people more like me.”
He enjoyed classes at the Fort Huachuca, Ariz., intelligence school, where he received a top-secret security clearance, graduated and joined the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
It was here, constrained by the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, that he began speaking out anonymously about gay rights. He attended a rally in Syracuse and noted on Facebook that he had gotten an “anonymous mention” in an article. The reporter wrote of a gay soldier who complained he was “living a double life. ... I can’t make a statement. I can’t be caught in an act.”
Manning now had a love interest: Tyler Watkins, a freshman interested in neuroscience at Brandeis University who was an active member of Triskelion, the Brandeis club for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Manning began to make weekend visits to Watkins’s dorm at the tranquil, wooded campus west of Boston. On his Facebook page, Watkins declared that he was “totally in love with Bradley Edward Manning!!!!!!!”
The trips to Boston exposed Manning to new friends and a vibrant tech community. A friend named Danny Clark introduced him to Pika House, a rambling, cooperative-style clapboard house near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose residents — mostly students — practiced creative chaos: tacking circuit boards to the ceiling, hanging a traffic signal upside down from the porch.
Clark, who runs a small software firm, provided a sympathetic ear to Manning’s Army and family woes. “He always seemed in control. Even when he was in desperate situations, he came up with inventive ways to be as fine as possible. ... I was part of the world he hoped to join after he got out of the Army,” Clark said.
Manning was not adapting well to the military culture. He clashed with a roommate he thought was anti-gay and one he thought was racist, according to a friend. He quarreled with other soldiers and pushed some chairs in anger. By August 2009, a supervisor, Master Sgt. Paul D. Adkins, noted that he was showing signs of “instability” and required him to seek mental health counseling, according to an Army report. Manning received an initial screening but no regular therapy, the report said. Because he could not discuss his romantic relationship with an Army therapist, Manning on his own saw a civilian counselor off the base.
Adkins and a major discussed leaving Manning behind when the unit deployed to Iraq in the fall, “as I felt he was a risk to himself and possibly others,” Adkins said in a statement. But the Army was short on intelligence analysts in Iraq. Manning was clearly bright and his behavior had started to improve, so his superiors decided to send him.
At the same time, Manning tried to reassure his family he would be okay. He told his aunt he was eager to use his training in a war zone. He told his sister not to worry because he would be “in an air-conditioned trailer behind the front line.”
On one of his last visits to Boston, Manning told Keith Rose, a friend he had met at Brandeis, of his misgivings about Iraq because of what he was learning as an intelligence analyst. “He expressed a feeling to me like how messed up the situation is,” Rose said. “He said things like, ‘If more people knew what was going on over there, they would not support the war.’ ”
In Baghdad, Manning worked in a drab warehouse-like building called a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF. His job at Forward Operating Base Hammer was to detect threats in locally gathered information to keep troops out of danger. He told friends he enjoyed the intellectual challenge.
He also confided that his supervisor “completely knew [he was gay] and had no problem with it as long as he did his job properly,” Rose said. A few others knew, too, Manning told Clark, but in deference to the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, he limited his gay signals to small things that wouldn’t get him tossed out of the Army. He kept a fairy wand on his desk and used an online account password of TWinkl.
Three months into his Baghdad assignment, by now promoted a rank, Manning had a two-week leave and flew back to the States to see his relatives in Potomac and his boyfriend in Boston. He also saw Clark, who took him to the hacker space open house at Boston University, a high point of his leave.
During the visit, according to Wired.com, which interviewed Watkins, Manning confided to his boyfriend that he had “gotten his hands on” sensitive information and was considering passing it to WikiLeaks. Since the Wired story, Watkins has not spoken to the media and did not return phone calls for this article. (After Manning’s arrest, federal investigators swooped into Boston looking for leads on WikiLeaks among Manning’s friends in the tech community, which one called a chilling experience.)
The lovers were not getting along. One evening, they went to a Triskelion meeting, and Rose said he noticed Manning sitting dejectedly in a corner. “He came home expecting some kind of homecoming, to be embraced. Instead, he’d been ignored.”
Shortly after Manning returned to Baghdad in February, WikiLeaks began posting documents that appeared to have been leaked from inside the U.S. government. They included an Army counterintelligence report warning of the risk of leaks from within the Army to WikiLeaks.
Founded in late 2006 by a peripatetic Australian and former hacker named Julian Assange, the site was conceived as an “uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking,” with servers peppered throughout the world. By early 2010, it had earned some ink for posting the “Climate-gate” e-mails from a British university and Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo e-mails.
But it was the April 2010 posting of a 2007 video shot from a U.S. Army helicopter hovering over the streets of Baghdad that put WikiLeaks on the map. The action is viewed through the crosshairs of an Apache gunship, as unseen shooters take aim at suspected insurgents, saying, “Light ’em all up. Come on, fire!” The gunfire killed about a dozen people, including two Reuters employees — a driver and a photographer, whose lens had been mistaken for a weapon. WikiLeaks dubbed the piece “Collateral Murder.”
Not long after, Manning e-mailed friends a link to the video, urging them to check it out. According to Wired.com, Manning messaged Watkins, asking, “Are people talking about it? ... That was one of his major concerns, that once he had done this, was it really going to make a difference? ... He wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again.”
The same month the video appeared, Manning began to exhibit “bizarre behavior” at work, including showing “blank stares when spoken to” and stopping in mid-sentence, according to Master Sgt. Adkins in a memorandum written for an investigation into whether any supervisors should be punished for failing to properly discipline Manning and for failing to run a secure SCIF. The following sequence of events is taken from that report, portions of which were read to The Post.
Manning’s strange behavior increased in “frequency and intensity” and gave “an impression of disrespect and disinterest” to his superiors. Adkins sent Manning not to a therapist but to a chaplain.
On May 7, Manning left his work area about 6:30 p.m. and was found an hour later “sitting on the floor in a fetal position in a storage room.” It appeared as though he had been cutting open a vinyl chair. Etched in the chair were the words “I want.” A Gerber army knife lay at his feet.
Later that evening, having returned to his shift, he struck a female soldier in the face. He would later say he had no intention of hitting her and had no idea why he did.
The brigade psychiatrist, Capt. Edan Critchfield, diagnosed an “occupational problem and adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct.” Two sources familiar with the case said Manning’s adjustment disorder was related to “gender identity.” The psychiatrist recommended that Manning be discharged. The bolt was removed from his weapon, and he was reassigned to work in the supply room.
A day later, Capt. Matthew Freeburg decided to suspend Manning’s top-secret security clearance but never processed the paperwork. On May 24, Manning was demoted to private first class because of the assault.
Adkins, Critchfield and Freeburg all declined to comment for this story.
With his military career disintegrating, Manning turned to cyberspace. On May 9, he sent a Facebook message to a novelist in Minneapolis he had never met, wondering if he could speak to him “in confidence, sometime in the next year or so?”
Jonathan Odell, who is gay and writes about race and culture in the American South, said he was intrigued when Manning wrote that he had been involved in some “ ‘very high-profile events,’ albeit as a nameless individual thus far.”
Odell perused Manning’s Facebook wall. Manning again linked to an interview he gave anonymously, this time telling the Washington Blade (in an April 1, 2010, piece) that even though he was stressed because of the military’s gay policy, he had to “dodge” questions about sexuality in therapy sessions.
Odell said he thought the soldier “was reaching out for someone to tell his story” and messaged back that he understood, he had read the Facebook posts.
“Facebook,” Manning replied, “doesn’t even touch the surface.”
Odell said he never heard from Manning again.
Instead, less than two weeks later, an e-mail from Manning popped up in Sacramento on the laptop screen of Adrian Lamo, who had been convicted in 2004 of breaching the computer systems of the New York Times and others, and sentenced to six months’ house arrest. Lamo, a controversial figure in the hacker community, said in a series of phone interviews that he speculated that he had come to Manning’s attention because of tweets he wrote suggesting people donate money to WikiLeaks.
They continued their correspondence by instant message. Manning’s handle was Bradass87. He said he was an intelligence analyst pending discharge and had had “unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months.” He also painted himself as “isolated,” “desperate,” “broken” and “self-medicating like crazy.”
And in the following hours, according to excerpts of chat logs provided to The Washington Post and Wired.com by Lamo, Manning referred extensively to what he said he found in the networks, including the quarter-million State Department cables — most of them unclassified — and the Baghdad video, “i want the material out there,” he said.
(The logs — Lamo provided The Post a small portion — have been authenticated by Army investigators, according to an intelligence official familiar with aspects of the case. According to a second source, the investigators matched the logs on Lamo’s hard drives with logs found on Manning’s hard drive.)
Lamo was impressed by the video leak but, he said, felt uneasy about the cables. He consulted an ex-boyfriend who had worked in counterintelligence, who advised him to turn the soldier in. Lamo did, three days after he began chatting with Manning. The chats continued, with Lamo probing for details.
And Manning appeared to be providing them, expressing a sense of outrage about the United States’ conduct in war and foreign policy. He said the cables revealed “crazy, almost criminal political backdealings.” In a chat published by Wired.com, he said: “The thing that got me most was discovering that 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing ‘anti-Iraqi’ literature” had in truth printed a “benign political critique” against the corruption in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet. He “ran” that information to his superior. But the officer “told me to shut up and explain how we could assist” the federal police in finding more detainees.
“Everything started slipping after that,” he wrote. “I was actively involved in something that i was completely against.”
He noted at another point that if he were “more malicious,” he could have sold the cables to China or Russia — “made bank.” But the data, he said, belong in the public domain. “Information should be free.”
Lamo later said he was “deeply conflicted” about reporting Manning, “given that Bradley is an individual acting out of his conscience and his desire to make the world a better place. ... However, he was actively trying to disrupt U.S. foreign policy.”
Lamo asked Manning what he would do if his role with WikiLeaks “seemed in danger of being blown?”
Manning replied: “i don’t think it’s going to happen”
“i mean, i was never noticed ...
“and who would honestly expect so much information to be exfiltrated from a field network?”
Long before the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Defense Department created a secure network to share operational plans and intelligence among military personnel. The data obtained by WikiLeaks came from this network, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, to which more than half a million people have access. State Department cables are also accessible through SIPRnet because the department has found it less costly to piggyback on the military’s network than to build its own. But only employees with a “need to know” are authorized to see these cables.
Manning, despite his clearance, would not have had such a need. The Army alleges that he “knowingly exceeded [his] authorized access” to obtain the cables. He also lacked access to portions of the Afghan and Iraq databases, said the intelligence official familiar with the case, and allegedly installed unauthorized software on the SIPRnet to get at them.
The Army had security protocols that would have prevented the breach if followed, the official added. But safeguards to detect unauthorized installation of software had not been activated at the SCIF. Audit logs of computer activity were not reviewed. Bags were not inspected as personnel entered and left. To boost morale, the official said, people were allowed to bring in CDs and listen to them.
“The unit personnel that had responsibility for security of the network failed to do their job,” the official said. “It was flat-out apathy and a failure of the chain of command.”
In the chats, Manning appeared to share that view. “Everyone just sat at their workstations ... writing more stuff to CD/DVD,” he wrote Lamo. “ [The] culture fed opportunities. ... weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis ... a perfect storm.”
Manning, with his history of emotional fragility, should at a minimum have had his clearance reviewed, said Joel F. Brenner, former national counterintelligence executive. His outbursts and emotional issues “should have been the big trigger.”
Nobody “cared about him,” said the intelligence official familiar with the case. “If somebody had taken an interest or tried to work with him, that very well may have changed his behavior.”
David Charney, a psychiatrist who has consulted on espionage cases, said supervisors can be trained to recognize signs of distress in people before they take actions that could harm national security. Young adults often don’t know their place in the world. “When there’s a lot of confusion about that,” he said, “then you really are talking about a deeper sense of being unmoored in life.”
Bradley Manning was detained on May 29 and held in Kuwait. On July 29, he was transferred to Quantico, where his treatment became an international cause celebre. The U.N. special rapporteur on torture asked to see him without being monitored but was not permitted to do so. In mid-April, Manning was moved to a medium-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which officials said has a greater array of mental health services. He has been deemed competent to stand trial. Army officials said he "maintains a presumption of innocence" throughout the pretrial process. He had not entered a plea as this story went to press.
“We have seen nothing that proves to us that he did it,” Debra Manning said.
Friends and relatives who have visited Manning say he tries to keep abreast of current events, following, for instance, the uprisings across the Middle East and the men’s college basketball tournament.
“He tries to think about the outside world as much as possible,” his cousin Chris in Potomac said. “You can tell he doesn’t want his mind confined to the prison.”
Ellen Nakashima is a Washington Post staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Greg Jaffe and staff researchers Julie Tate, Alice Crites and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this story. This portrait of Manning’s life comes from interviews with more than 30 relatives, friends and colleagues. Some asked for anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the case.