Evan Hansen Headshot

Is Bradley Manning a Traitor or a Hero?

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The U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is now entering his 14th month of incarceration on suspicion of passing classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, and evidence supporting both sides of the argument has steadily mounted. It's spawned a divisive national debate about the role and legitimacy of whistleblowers in a democracy that's unlikely to subside no matter what the outcome of his pending court martial.


As editor of Wired.com, I've had a unique view of the debate. That's because, since June 2010, our news team has been in exclusive possession of online chat logs recording intimate conversations between Manning and an ex-hacker, Adrian Lamo, in whom he confided and who ultimately reported him to the authorities.


Today, for the first time, we're making the full Manning-Lamo logs available on Wired.com, with a few minor redactions to protect the identities of some private individuals identified in them.


We've held some of this material back out of respect for Manning's privacy. But now many of the personal facts of his life have come out independently, and the reasons for not publishing have considerably weakened. Inasmuch as the conversations shed light on the personal pressures in Manning's life at the time of his arrest, publishing the logs serves a valid news interest, and at this point we believe it will cause little additional harm to Manning.


In the logs, Manning's state of mind emerges as an important piece of evidence in understanding his alleged decision to transfer hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks, and -- as one of the most prolific information anarchists in history -- illuminates a growing global movement calling for greater government transparency and openness by any means necessary.


In the logs, Manning speaks candidly of his feelings of fragility, drug use and self-described breakdowns brought on by the multiple pressures of his situation, including a painful break-up with his boyfriend. He also describes coming to terms with his desire to live life as a woman -- something he says he'd struggled with for years but was finally embracing, just at the WikiLeaks furor was about to erupt around him.


Reading into the full logs, one is struck by Manning's sense of desperation, but also by a newfound sense of decisiveness after years of vacillation over his deepest feelings and beliefs. Despite the enormous pressures, he was, by his own account, making progress in coming to terms with his personal demons, appearing in public as a woman for the first time just weeks after his first WikiLeaks drop.


This thread in the chats belies the simplistic and perhaps tempting explanation that Manning was little more than a psychically damaged time bomb, a random loose cannon.


There is ample evidence here to suggest that Manning's motives were, if tangled with personal angst, at root a conscientious protest against what he saw as injustices in need of an honest public airing.


Some Manning supporters have compared him with Daniel Ellsberg, the White House lawyer who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, changing the political debate around the Vietnam War. Some have credited the leaks with sparking democratic protests across the Middle East. And there is little evidence yet that the spills caused serious damage to the U.S.


Manning's form of protest, no matter how sincere, is miles from any classic whistleblower we've ever seen before.


The indiscriminate and irresponsible scope of his leaking puts him in the class of a new, and far more ambiguous species of global social and political protester that's finding expression in various degrees in groups ranging from WikiLeaks to Anonymous to Lulzsec -- global, anonymous and anarchistic.


His motives appear to spring from a far more complex place than a desire to right a clear wrong. At times he seems to verge on hopes for worldwide revolution.


Indeed, as Manning heads to trial, civil disobedience as a tool for social and political change is being challenged by a new strategy of info disobedience that is faster, farther reaching and far more unpredictable in its results than anything we've ever seen before.


There are no borders here, no heroes or traitors, no paths to self-realization: Just the information.

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