Late last night, in violation of military court rules, the Freedom of the Press Foundation released audio of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s personal statement before a Fort Meade, Md. court. The foundation, which openly supports Manning, immediately began using the audio to bolster the case that the military analyst deserves protection from laws against disclosing classified information and "aiding the enemy."
One such argument is that Manning went to great lengths to not leak anything that would do serious harm to the United States or its partners. Heard in his own words for the first time, Manning talks about the meticulous manner in which he handed over information. (Warning: It’s very jargony.)
Of the documents release, the cables were the only one I was not absolutely certain couldn’t harm the United States. I conducted research on the cables published on the Net Centric Diplomacy, as well as how Department of State cables worked in general. In particular, I wanted to know how each cable was published on SIRPnet via the Net Centric Diplomacy. As part of my open source research, I found a document published by the Department of State on its official website.
The document provided guidance on caption markings for individual cables and handling instructions for their distribution. I quickly learned the caption markings clearly detailed the sensitivity of the Department of State cables. For example, NODIS or No Distribution was used for messages at the highest sensitivity and were only distributed to the authorized recipients.
To the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, this testimony pours cold water on the Manning critics who accused the analyst of leaking files with abandon:
To impugn Manning’s conduct, it is often claimed – by people who cannot possibly know this – that he failed to assess the diplomatic cables he was releasing and simply handed them over without having any idea what was in them. Here is Manning explaining the detailed process he undertook to determine their contents and ensure that they would not result in serious harm to innocent individuals…
But this misses an important point. When it comes to disclosing classified information, you don’t get bonus points for trying hard not to release damaging information. Remember, the WikiLeaks dump reportedly outed the identities of hundreds of Afghan informants working for the United States. While it’s thankfully true that those informants haven’t been subject to reprisals from the Afghan Taliban, that doesn’t justify the leaking of those names.
In the aftermath of the leaks, the Pentagon had to scramble to protect those informants, which is one of the reasons the government retains the authority to decide when and how to publish sensitive information. Besides that, Manning also leaked materials that even WikiLeaks refrained from publishing as advised in its own "harm minimization review." This is not to say that Manning deserves the book thrown at him for what he did, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a reason every military analyst with a conscience isn’t simply allowed to decide what can be safely disclosed and what can’t.
State Department spokesman calls treatment of Bradley Manning “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”Josh Rogin
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |