'Solitary whistleblower' claim challenged

By Raf Sanchez

Prosecutors alleged that Bradley Manning, 25, plotted with Julian Assange. Photo / AP
Prosecutors alleged that Bradley Manning, 25, plotted with Julian Assange. Photo / AP

A United States soldier was acting as an agent of WikiLeaks as he "systematically harvested" hundreds of thousands of classified files, prosecutors said yesterday.

On the opening day of a court martial, the US Government challenged Private First Class Bradley Manning's claim to be a solitary whistleblower who was "young, naive but good-intentioned" as he carried out the largest intelligence leak in American history.

Prosecutors alleged that Manning, 25, plotted with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and worked to fulfil a "most-wanted list" of documents desired by the anti-secrecy website.

They also claimed that the leaked files had directly aided al-Qaeda in its struggle against the US and that Osama bin Laden had made use of the WikiLeaks releases. The Government said it would use computers recovered from the raid on bin Laden's compound to show that the terrorist leader had read leaked files about US forces in Afghanistan.

"This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped the information on to the internet and into the hands of the enemy," said Captain Joe Morrow, for the prosecution.

He said the soldier's co-operation with WikiLeaks was far more extensive than previously disclosed and that he started aiding the website "within two weeks" of being deployed to Iraq in November 2009.

Manning used his position as a junior intelligence analyst to search secret military networks for information wanted by WikiLeaks, starting with files about the controversial prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

By the end of November, he had allegedly smuggled out an encrypted video of a US airstrike in Afghanistan which he passed to WikiLeaks.

Throughout his time in Iraq, Manning engaged in extensive online conversations with Assange, Morrow said. They allegedly worked together to devise a sophisticated system for stealing files at a rate of 1000 documents an hour.

Assange claimed diplomatic asylum in Ecuador's Embassy in London last year where he is avoiding extradition to Sweden on sex charges. He is also the subject of a US federal investigation into whether he can be prosecuted for publishing the information Manning leaked.

David Coombs, defending Manning, described him as an idealistic young man who wanted to "lift the fog of war" and show the US the "true nature" of its campaigns in the Middle East.

He said that Manning, then 22, had been unable to get over an incident on Christmas Eve 2009, when a roadside bomb went off in Iraq.

Nearby US troops escaped unharmed, but the blast hit an Iraqi family of five, killing one and wounding four. "He could not forget the life that was lost on that day," said Coombs. "From that moment on Pfc Manning was struggling."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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