WikiLeaks – Is Manning the Source or the Patsy

January 26, 2011

PFC Bradley Manning downloaded some classified documents and passed them on to a third party, but was that party WikiLeaks?  Was Manning the source of the documents that WikiLeaks released and if not who was?

In his article “NBC: U.S. can’t link accused Army private to Assange” that appeared on 24 Jan 2011 Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent for NBC reported the following.

Assange told msnbc TV last month that WikiLeaks was unsure Army PFC Bradley Manning is the source for the classified documents appearing on his site.

“That’s not how our technology works, that’s not how our organization works,” Assange said. “I never heard of the name of Bradley Manning before it appeared in the media.”

This statement raises the exceedingly interesting possibility that PFC Bradley Manning was merely a patsy and that he was not in fact the source of the documents that were released.  

As a computer professional with some background in security, I can say that the initial reports of the incident did not seem plausible.

  • It seems unlikely that a PFC had authorized access to such a wide range of documents from both the Department of Defense and the State Department and could access those documents in a form that he could download and carry off-site.
  • If Manning gained access by hacking, as the initial reports seemed to indicate, it is odd that the files were stored in a form that was not encrypted.  If the files were encrypted, Manning could not have had the skill or computer resources to decrypt them.  
  • Secure computers and networks are armed with software that detects attempts to access unauthorized information.  It seems nearly impossible that Manning could have been hacking on a massive scale and for such a long time and still evade detection.
  • Manning did not have sufficient motive.  He may have wanted to punish the Department of Defense for what he felt was unfair treatment, but he would have had no motive for releasing documents that would embarrass the Department of State.   However, the incident affected primarily the State Department; whereas, DOD suffered not at all.
  • It does seem plausible the Manning would be arrested and charged with being the WikiLeaks source because he is homosexual and many older Pentagon officials may still hold to the Cold War era belief that any homosexual is a security risk.  In addition, it is perhaps significant that the incident happened just before the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It is likely that those who opposed repeal saw Manning’s arrest as a way to influence the outcome of the vote.
  • Finally, there is also in the Pentagon a constituency that resists the interagency information sharing initiatives that were initiated in response to the 9/11 intelligence failures.  When interviewed by reporters, the resisters were no doubt diligent in emphasizing the dangers of expanded information sharing and it is not surprising that many reports emphasized their message: “See what broad access one young kid had.  I told you this information sharing thing would come to no good.”

For all these reasons and in light of Jim Miklaszewski’s report it  seems unlikely that Manning was the source.  But then who was?  Perhaps a good way to start is by asking the ancient question Cui bono (who benefits)?  We cannot know with certainty but we can say that if Israeli intelligence is not the source of at least the Iran portion of the leaked documents, it should have been.

With one exception, the WikiLeaks disclosures caused embarrassment but had no political significance. The one exception is the revelation that Middle East leaders pressured the U.S. for military action to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  A New York Times article quotes King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as saying in one of the leaked cables that the U.S. should “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.

Before these revelations, a U.S. attack could have been seen as a Zionist inspired plot to help Israel, seize Middle East oil, and attack Islam.  After the revelation a U.S. attack appears to be simply aiding allies.  Because it is urged by Saudi Arabia (guardian of huge oil reserves as well as Moslem holy sites), a U.S. attack could not be seen as an oil grab or as anti-Islamic.  

Who benefits? Israel is the primary beneficiary, but there are also constituencies in Saudi Arabia and in other Arab regimes that benefit from the unofficial disclosure which legitimizes U.S. intervention.  

Some readers may say, “Oh no, another conspiracy theory.”  That would be a name calling reaction, which does not rise to the level of a concept.  I am not expressing a judgment.  I do not claim that if someone leaked the Iran related documents for political purposes, they should not have done so.  I am not claiming that Bradley Manning did not leak any documents.  I am, however, claiming that it is unlikely that Manning leaked the Iran related documents and that there are many groups that had better means, motives, and opportunities for leaking them than did PFC Manning.

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