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Messages from alleged leaker Bradley Manning portray him as despondent soldier

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010; A02

Bradley Manning, 22, had just gone through a breakup. He had been demoted a rank in the Army after striking a fellow soldier. He felt he had no future, and yet he thought that by sharing classified information about his government's foreign policy, he might "actually change something."

A series of instant messages from Manning to a stranger open a window into the anguished state of the former Army intelligence analyst, who was detained late last month for allegedly leaking classified video and documents to Wikileaks.org.

The military has not detailed the allegations against Manning, who is being held in Kuwait pending an investigation, and his attorney could not be reached. His aunt, Debra van Alstyne, reached by phone, declined to comment on the allegations but allowed that the family was "shocked and surprised" by them.

"We love him, and we'll stand by him through this process," she said.

The logs of messages between Manning and Adrian Lamo, provided to The Washington Post by Lamo, reveal a young man who was at once privy to government material of the highest sensitivity and confronting a personal crisis of the highest order. While stationed in Iraq, he decided to turn to Lamo, a former hacker whom he did not know but who would ultimately report him to authorities out of concern that lives could be at risk.

"I'm an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder,' " Manning said by way of introducing himself to Lamo, who had recently been profiled on the Web site of Wired magazine.

"If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?" he wrote.

In the days that followed -- the two exchanged messages for no more than a week -- Manning seemed intent on impressing Lamo with what he could access from his post in Iraq. He wrote of a "database of half a million events during the iraq war . . . from 2004 to 2009 . . . with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures," as well as 260,000 diplomatic cables "explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective."

But much of the exchanges focused on Manning's unhappiness.

"Ive been isolated so long . . . i just wanted to figure out ways to survive . . . smart enough to know whats going on, but helpless to do anything . . . no-one took any notice of me," he wrote at one point. Another time, he wrote: "im a wreck."

In one particularly poignant message, Manning wrote: "my family is non-supportive . . . im losing my job . . . losing my career options . . . i dont have much more except for this laptop, some books, and a hell of a story."

Young man adrift

Manning was born in Crescent, Okla. His parents are divorced; his mother lives in Wales, his father in Oklahoma. He confided in Lamo that he was homeless in 2006 and had drifted from Tulsa to Chicago before landing at his aunt's house in Potomac.

He is slight, 5-foot-2 and 105 pounds. He was looking for a connection.

In a phone interview, Lamo said he does not know what prompted Manning to allegedly leak. "I think it was a confluence of things -- being a thin, nerdy, geeky type in an Army culture of machismo, of seeing injustice," he said.

Wikileaks has declined to say whether Manning was a source but has stated, via a Twitter post, that it would defend him based on allegations that he was. It has also said the allegations that it had "been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect."

In his exchanges with Lamo, Manning said he had sent files to a "white haired aussie," whom he later identified as Julian Assange, the peripatetic founder of Wikileaks.

Manning referred in his chat with Lamo to a leak of a classified cable from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, dated Jan. 13. Wikileaks published a document matching that description Feb. 18.

He also told Lamo that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton "and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and finds an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format to the public . . . everywhere there's a US post . . . there's a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed."

It's "important that it gets out . . . i feel, for some bizarre reason . . . it might actually change something," he said.

A spokesman for the State Department has said that officials are working with the military in its investigation. "Clearly, classified information, anytime it is released in the public domain, can have a potential negative impact on our security," spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday.

'Damning' video

Among the files Manning said he leaked was a video of a May 2009 airstrike near the village of Gerani in Afghanistan that local officials claimed killed scores of civilians. But that video, which Manning said Wikileaks "hasn't decrypted yet," was "not nearly as damning" as a video of a 2007 U.S. Army helicopter attack on Iraqi insurgents that showed civilians, including two Reuters employees, being gunned down. Lamo said Manning gave Wikileaks the video footage in February. Wikileaks, which said it had multiple sources for the footage and accompanying documents, posted the video in April under the title "Collateral Murder."

It's unclear how significant those videos may have been in prompting the alleged leaking.

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Eric Bloom, said Manning, who entered the Army as a private in October 2007, was demoted last month for an assault. He said he was not facing early discharge.

In one message, Manning said: "i'm exhausted . . . in desperation to get somewhere in life . . . i joined the army . . . and that's proven to be a disaster now . . . and now i'm quite possibly on the verge of being the most notorious 'hacktivist' or whatever you want to call it . . . its all a big mess i've created."

Staff researcher Julie Tate and staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

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