The civilian lawyer for Bradley Manning, the Army private who allegedly leaked tens of thousands of classified U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks, is seeking to question the severity of the leak by requesting the government’s own internal damage assessments that reportedly contradict statements that Manning irreparably damaged national security.
Manning’s defense attorney, David E. Coombs, is attempting to get evidence from the government to defend Manning in his upcoming pre-trial hearing on Dec. 16, but says the government is stonewalling him.
“The defense has repeatedly requested the below discovery in this case, but the government has consistently responded with a blanket denial of the defense request,” Coombs wrote in the partially redacted filing.
The evidence Coombs seeks includes copies of internal reports conducted by task forces assessing the damage from and the classification levels of the 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables and 500,000 classified Iraq and Afghanistan war field reports allegedly leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks.
Published information about the various reports put them at odds with each other, Coombs notes. One assessment conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that all of the information allegedly leaked was dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already commonly known due to previous public disclosures, while an official at another government office indicated that the leaks had caused damage to national security.
Coombs wants to use the DIA report, along with another unpublished one apparently commissioned by the White House, to ban witnesses from describing the leaks as more damaging than these official reports found them to be.
Manning is charged with 22 violations, which could get him up to life in prison if convicted.
The filing also sheds light on other likely avenues Coombs will use to mitigate or challenge the charges against Manning, including questioning the actions of President Barack Obama and Manning’s betrayer, Adrian Lamo.
For instance, Coombs seeks “known evidence tending to diminish credibility of any government witness including, but not limited to, prior convictions under Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 609, evidence of other character, conduct, or bias bearing on witness credibility under M.R.E. 608. Specifically, the defense requests the name and contact information for any law enforcement agent working with —.”
The name is blacked out in the document, but could be an indication that the defense will seek to discredit Lamo, a former hacker and prosecution witness who turned Manning in to authorities after Manning allegedly confessed to Lamo in chat logs that he leaked thousands of government documents to WikiLeaks.
In a section of the document that refers to the White House, the document seeks information about any assessment “given by any member of the government to —”. Although the identity of the person receiving the assessments is redacted in the document, a subsequent sentence seems to indicate it refers to President Barack Obama.
“The defense requests any e-mail, report, assessment, directive, or discussion by — to the Department of Defense concerning this case in order to determine the presence of unlawful command influence,” the sentence reads.
At a press conference last week, members of the Bradley Manning Support Network, which has raised money for Manning’s defense, argued that public comments that President Obama made earlier this year suggesting that Manning is guilty constituted illegal command influence on the military court from the nation’s commander in chief.
Obama told an audience in April, “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law.”
“I can’t imagine a juror who wants to have a future in the military … going against the statement of [guilty] made by his or her commander-in-chief,” said Kevin Zeese, a legal advisor to the Bradley Manning Support Network. Zeese was referring to the military judge and jury who will preside over the hearing and subsequent court martial of Manning and could be swayed to convict based on Obama’s statements.
Coombs’ filing also addresses issues around Manning’s alleged mistreatment in prison, asking the government to hand over copies of all audio and video surveillance of the visitation booths at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, and at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where Manning was moved earlier this year. Coombs requested a video the military apparently took of Manning when he was ordered to surrender his clothing while in custody earlier at Quantico.
“When PFC Manning was being ordered to surrender his clothes as part of the unnecessary suicide risk, the Brig made the decision to videotape this event along with an interrogation of PFC Manning by — and others,” Coombs writes. “The defense believes the video will support PFC Manning’s claim of unlawful pretrial punishment. The government has yet to respond to the defense request.”
The request also appears to solve some of the mystery behind two of the charges against the former Army intelligence analyst related to unauthorized software he’s accused of installing on classified government networks during the time he allegedly siphoned hundreds of thousands of documents off that classified network. Manning allegedly installed the software twice on Army computers connected to SIPRnet, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network that has been identified as the original source of WikiLeaks’ large-scale U.S. releases.
The charges never identified the nature of the software, but last April, an Army spokeswoman clarified the charges for Threat Level. “The allegations … refer to data-mining software,” spokeswoman Shaunteh Kelly wrote in an e-mail, noting that the two allegations related to “the same data-mining software used on two different dates.”
Kelly, however, declined to identify the exact data-mining program that was used, writing that “Identifying at this point the specific software program used may potentially compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.”
If Manning installed data-mining software on his SIPRnet workstation, it could potentially strengthen the government’s case against him if it can be shown that the software helped him search for and steal documents. But “data-mining software” is a broad term for any number of different kinds of software programs that collect data.
In order to make the case that Manning wasn’t the only soldier to install unauthorized programs on classified networks, Coombs requested forensic images of each computer from the Tactical Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (T-SCIF) and the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Iraq, where Manning allegedly downloaded the data that was passed to WikiLeaks. Coombs is hoping to prove “it was common for soldiers to add unauthorized computer programs” to government systems, that apparently helped the soldiers do their work.
Among the programs soldiers commonly installed, he writes, were mIRC (an Internet Relay Chat client for Windows); Wget (a web crawler that improves activity on slow or unstable network connections); GEOTRANS (an application that allows a user to collect and use geographic coordinates from a variety of systems, maps and data sets); and Grid Extractor (an executable program that extracts MGRS grids from text documents and imports them into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet).
Both of the last two programs mentioned, GEOTRANS and Grid Extractor, could conceivably be classified as data-mining programs, though it’s not known if either of these programs was specifically installed by Manning or if one of them is the basis for the government’s charges against Manning. If the defense can show that these programs were commonly used by Manning and other soldiers to aid in their daily work, this could weaken those particular charges against Manning.