There is a delicious irony in that the trial of the private accused in the greatest intelligence leak in US miliary history is being court-martialed at Fort Meade, just outside Baltimore in Maryland. The base is also home to the National Security Agency, a state-sanctioned organisation that eavesdrops on conversations, phone lines, mobile networks or just about anything that is communication over or by any electronic medium trawling for usable intelligence.
And that is even a delicious irony that Private First Class Bradley Manning is the least-likely warrior that ever wore a uniform and swore to protect and defend his country from threats external or internal, so help him God.
Depending on your point of view, Private First Class Manning is either a first class hero or a first class zero for leaking 720,000 US military documents to WikiLeaks.
If convicted of aiding and abetting the enemy, Manning faces 154 years behind bars — meaning his freckled and weakling frame will never see the outside of a military prison. He has already pleaded guilty to all other counts, does not deny leaking the communications and faces between 10 and 20 years for those charges as it stands now.
The US top brass are all in a tizzy over this nerd in a uniform and what he spilled — but just who is Private First Class Bradley Manning?
According to testimony at his trial earlier last week, the 25-year-old military intelligence analyst lip-synced to Lady Gaga as he uploaded the documents to WikiLeaks — giving a whole new meaning, no doubt, to Poker Face and giving credence to the oft-cited oxymoron that indeed quest ‘military’ and ‘intelligence’ in the same sentence.
He joined the military when he was 19, in 2007, according to published reports, to pay for his college. He’s a native of Crescent, Oklahoma, and came from a divided family. His father, Brian, reportedly spent five years in the US military.
After his parents’ split, he moved across the Atlantic and settled with his mother in Haversfordwest, South Wales. If you have ever been to Haversfordwest — and sadly I can say that I have been more than once — you’ll know that the only good thing to come out of there is the ferry to Ireland. There, the transplanted Oklahoman was teased for his homosexual tendencies and he resorted to the internet to avoid real social intercourse with other townsfolk.
They returned to Oklahoma and he drifted through a series of dead-end and menial jobs before he joined up in 2007.
His officers soon realised that Manning was a computer genius — just the type of soldier needed to fight cyber wars of the 21st Century, where clicking a mouse can be as deadly as pulling a trigger. Boy, what’s the betting those officers are kicking themselves on that decision now ... There’s a recruiting slogan the US Army uses: Be all you can be. Yep — Private First Class Manning sure took that to heart.
Within two years, he was a military intelligence analyst sifting through reports and using complex logarithms to put two and two together — you know, that same type of analysis that was used to conclude that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction and the US should invade.
However, army life wasn’t what Manning had imagined it to be. Within months, he was whining on Facebook that he was beyond frustrated with people and society at large. And then came one that read: “Bradley Manning is not a piece of equipment”. No? But he was part of the military machine, a meat grinder that wants its men and women in uniform to conform and follow orders without independent thought and without questioning. Those who do are promoted, those who don’t are spat out, broken in body or mind and spirit.
Manning had a reputation for being a hot head — if you didn’t get what he was saying or if he didn’t agree with you, he was known to slam books on his desk and act like the prissy private his fellow soldiers all say he was.
He just didn’t fit in with the jocks and gung-ho culture, boo-rah!
But he was determined to make a difference, maybe not on the battlefield, but his body count was to be in type, reams of paper, electronic files, copied over to CDs and uploaded to WikiLeaks for the whole world to see. Like the incident where 12 people — including a Reuters photographer — were blown to bits by a gung-ho Apache gunship crew in Baghdad, an incident that saw them officially treated as enemy combatants. The unofficial and secret clips from the helicopter showed otherwise. That, apart from all the other 719,999 documents, is the one that has stung the US the hardest.
“Bradley Manning is now left with the sinking feeling that he doesn’t have anything left,” was another of his Facebook posts around the same time as the documents were flooding from the US servers to WikiLeaks.
Mick O’Reilly is always suspicious when people refer to themselves as a third party — and Manning is a first class example of the reasons why. Ready, fire, aim. Boo-rah!