Manning’s detailed account of his work as an intelligence analyst in Iraq and his decision to divulge sensitive documents is certain to elevate his folk-hero status among the band of supporters who hail him as a conscientious whistle-blower rather than a traitor.
“We were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us,” the 25-year-old soldier said, speaking calmly and quietly. It was spawning “frustration and hatred on both sides,” he said, adding: “I became depressed.”
Manning said that WikiLeaks never pressured him to turn over documents and that he came to see the group led by Australian Julian Assange as the best vehicle to dump the war logs and cables into the public domain.
“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information . . . this could spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general,” Manning said in a statement he read while seated next to his attorneys in a packed courtroom at Fort Meade.
U.S. officials have said the leaked information exposed intelligence sources and embarrassed key officials of foreign governments. Intelligence assessments of the damage will not be presented until the sentencing phase of Manning’s court-martial.
He is expected to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for his plea to the charges related to the misuse of classified information. He is set to stand trial in June and will face charges including aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act. A conviction probably would result in a life sentence.
Manning said computer glitches in Iraq led him to back up certain files. Those workarounds later helped teach him to easily copy data onto CDs. On Jan. 8, 2010, he stuck a CD with classified information into a pocket and took it to his housing unit at a Baghdad base, where he used his personal computer to transfer the data to a memory card.
Later that month, while on leave in Massachusetts, Manning said he confided in a man he was dating about his desire to disclose classified data. The man tried to be “supportive,” Manning said, but their relationship was fraying.
Staying with an aunt in the Washington area as a blizzard blanketed the region, Manning said he called The Post, seeking a journalist willing to examine documents detailing security incidents in Iraq. He said he spoke to a female reporter who didn’t seem to take him seriously because she said she would have to discuss any information with a senior editor.