So let’s look at two recent, much darker cases, in which such hot-button words and phrases as “traitor,” and “treason” and “worst national security breach” have been tossed around, to see how Manning compares with cold-blooded spies.
First, the man himself:
Manning, an intelligence analyst deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, became alarmed by what he saw as violent misconduct by U.S. soldiers and eventually turned over three-quarters of a million pages of classified information to WikiLeaks, which published some of them in 2010.
In addition to the disclosures mentioned above were at least 100 instances of cases dealing with Afghan informants, battlefield assessments from Afghanistan and Iraq, files on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and cables about the Middle East that his supporters say helped prompt the Arab Spring.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Manning’s disclosures “have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions and induced democratic reform.” Norman Solomon, founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, wrote an op-ed in USA Todaypublished Wednesday that said he would deliver a petition of 100,000 signatures to the Nobel Committee saying Manning deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
On the darker side — all treachery and zero idealism — there’s Aldrich Ames. A CIA counterintelligence officer with a drinking problem and a taste for the high life, Ames made millions by selling secrets to the Soviet Union and then Russia in the 1980s and 1990s, enabling their security forces to execute at least 10 Russians who were secretly working for the United States. Arrested in 1994, he pleaded guilty almost immediately and was sentenced to life without parole.
Also in darkness: Hanssen, the supervisory special agent for the FBI who sold secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia for 22 years. The final report of the Justice Department’s Commission for the Review of FBI Security Programs said that “Hanssen turned over . . . an estimated twenty-six diskettes and 6,000 pages of classified information.” The information was penetrating — it included names of Soviet agents who had approached U.S. intelligence, and at least three of them were later executed.
Hanssen pleaded guilty to more than a dozen charges of espionage, apologized and was sentenced later that year to life in prison without parole.
“I could have been a devastating spy, I think,” Hanssen was quoted as saying in the report, “but I didn’t want to be a devastating spy. I wanted to get a little money and to get out of it.”
Plato Cacheris, the attorney who represented both Ames and Hanssen, sees stark differences. “Manning has different motivation,” he says. “Ames and Hanssen did what they did for financial reasons,” and besides, “they were dealing directly with our sworn enemy, and Manning is not necesarily in that category.” Still, he said, “I’m not sure they were more dangerous to national security.”