By DAVID DISHNEAU and PAULINE JELINEK
FORT MEADE, Maryland – Lawyers for the gay Army intelligence analyst blamed for the biggest leak of U.S. secrets in the nation’s history are employing a three-pronged defense: The troubled young private never should have had access to classified material, his workplace security was inexplicably lax, and the data in question caused little damage to national security.
It’s unclear whether any of the arguments will be effective in a preliminary hearing entering its fifth day Tuesday. The military has released a text file, purportedly discovered on a data card owned by Pfc. Bradley Manning, boldly stating the importance of data that would make its way to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks.
“This is possibly one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day,” Manning wrote, according to digital-crimes investigator David Shaver.
Almost 500,000 classified battlefield reports were also on the card, Shaver said, making the letter one of the most forceful pieces of evidence against the 24-year-old.
Manning is accused of illegally leaking a trove of secret information to WikiLeaks, a breach that rattled U.S. foreign relations and, according to the government, imperiled valuable military and diplomatic sources. The hearing is to determine whether Manning should be court-martialed on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Until Monday, the defense largely focused on painting Manning as an emotionally troubled gay man serving during the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, and arguing that the classified material proved harmless in the open. Manning’s lawyers have yet to acknowledge or deny his responsibility for leaking of hundreds of thousands of U.S. war and diplomatic cables and a classified military video of an American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.
The prosecution said evidence showed that Manning communicated directly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and bragged to someone else about leaking video of a 2007 helicopter attack to WikiLeaks.
Investigators pointed to one May 2010 exchange between Manning and a mathematician named Eric Schmiedl.
“Are you familiar with WikiLeaks?” Manning allegedly asked.
“Yes, I am,” Schmiedl wrote.
“I was the source of the July 12, 2007, video from the Apache Weapons Team which killed the two journalists and injured two kids,” Manning wrote, according to the prosecution.
Manning seemed to take in Monday’s proceedings calmly. Civilian attorney David Coombs put his arm around Manning’s shoulder several times.
Paul Almanza, the presiding officer, twice removed spectators and reporters from the hearing Monday for sessions dealing with classified information. By ruling the leaked diplomatic and military information should somehow remain secret, even though it has been published by media around the world, Almanza undermined the defense argument that no harm was done.
Manning supporters fumed. His defense also challenged thousands of cables found on Manning’s workplace computers, arguing that some didn’t match those published by WikiLeaks and that others couldn’t be matched to the young private’s user profile.
The defense is also expected to call at least three witnesses before Almanza makes his recommendation. The Army says it may then take several weeks for the commander of the Military District of Washington to decide whether Manning will be court-martialed.