- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Maj. James King, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist
Last Friday, Tom asked where Bradley Manning’s chain of command was while he was smuggling large quantities of secret documents on "Lady Gaga CDs" from their Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in Iraq in order to hand off to WikiLeaks.
Great question. As an Army intelligence officer and former troop commander, I have been wondering about this since the whole thing started. Manning had a history of issues a mile long. Prior to his deployment he had problems with roommates, screamed at superior officers, and had senior NCOs question if he was fit to deploy for fear that he could do harm to himself or others. Once he got downrange, the issues continued. During a counseling session, he flipped over a table and reached for a weapon. There was even concern that Manning was a suicide threat. The risk was thought to be so high that his weapon was rendered inoperable by having the bolt removed by an NCO. Had his chain of command done the right things no one would have heard of Bradley Manning, and instead of being locked up in a prison cell at Fort Leavenworth he would probably be laying on his parent’s couch after having been discharged from the Army for discipline and mental health reasons.
So what went wrong? How did someone with so many red flags perpetrate one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history? In my opinion, the single point of failure was Manning’s company commander, Maj. Elijah Dreher. Some may point the finger at the Brigade S-2, who is the unit’s senior intelligence officer, but he is only an advisor to the brigade commander and has no real command authority over soldiers. Maj. Dreher did have command authority but testified that he was not aware of the incidents and claims he was never informed about Manning receiving mental health counseling. This begs the question, what was he doing when all of this was going on? Part of a commander’s job, at any level, is to have an understanding of the health and welfare of their organization. Maj. Dreher clearly did not know what was going on in his.
Had Maj. Dreher been more aware of the soldiers in his organization, Manning may have been stopped on several different occasions. Had Maj. Dreher been aware of Manning’s pre-deployment issues, he could have recommended that he not be deployed. Col. Miller, the brigade commander, testified that there was no pressure to deploy someone they felt was un-deployable. I deployed to Baghdad at the same time as Manning’s brigade. The brigade I was in left behind over 600 soldiers, the equivalent of an infantry battalion. Being short that many soldiers did not affect operations, so being short one intelligence analyst would not have affected theirs.
Even if it was vital to deploy Manning, he still could have been stopped long before WikiLeaks. Had Maj. Dreher been aware of the welfare of his soldiers he would have known that the NCOs in his company were so concerned about Manning’s mental health that they removed the bolt of his rifle to inhibit him doing harm to himself or others. Even if all other flags were missed, this one should have been so big you could see it from the moon. At this point Manning’s commander should have suspended his clearance. A company commander has the authority to locally suspend access to classified systems. It’s a simple Department of the Army form. The suspension does not mean he no longer has a clearance and his access can be quickly restored. One simple form could have saved the United States a lot of embarrassment.
Finally, to answer the other question Tom asked in his post regarding the fate of Manning’s former chain of command, what did happen? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure, but it appears that it was surprisingly very little considering the magnitude of what Manning perpetrated. The article that Tom links to in his post stated that the brigade S2, Maj. Clausen, and the company commander, Maj. Dreher, had both been relieved from their positions, but for issues not related to the Manning case — Dreher for "not being truthful about property reports" and Clausen for "not providing adequate intelligence." Only Master Sergeant Adkins lost his rank and position due to Manning.
Major Jim King is a U.S. Army intelligence officer who has been on three-year-long deployments to Iraq as an infantry platoon leader, advisor to the Iraqi army, and a surveillance troop commander. Maj. King has also served as a brigade S2 and is currently participating in the Army’s CGSC Interagency Fellowship program. This represents his personal views and are not necessarily the views of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.