Chelsea Manning 12: mid-tour leave

In her pre-trial statement, Chelsea explains that, after flying from Iraq to the US on January 23, 2010, she went straight to her aunt’s home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C. She quickly got in touch with Tyler Watkins and arranged to visit him in Waltham, Massachusetts where he was studying at Brandeis University. She says:

I was excited to see [him] and planned on talking to [him] about where our relationship was going, and about my time in Iraq.(8, 13)

As she goes on to explain however, the visit turned out to be a huge disappointment for her: Tyler was not as happy to see her as she was to see him:

When I arrived in the Boston area, [Tyler] and I seemed to have become distant. He did not seem very excited about my return from Iraq. I tried talking to him about our relationship, but he refused to make any plans.(8, 13)

Despite Tyler’s unaffectionate behavior, Chelsea did try talking to him about her uncertainty as to what she should do with the classified information she had brought back from Iraq. Instead of actually telling him that she had such information, she says, she approached the subject by asking him hypothetical questions about what he would do “if he had documents he thought the public needed access to.” He didn’t have a specific answer for her though, but “seemed confused by the questions.” Then, she says:

I…tried to be more specific, but he asked too many questions. Rather than try to explain my dilemma, I decided to just drop the conversation.(8, 14)

Chelsea stayed in Waltham for a few days but, as she puts it in her statement, she soon came to feel she had “overstayed her welcome,” and so she returned to her aunt’s home.

Chelsea’s short visit to Waltham does not seem to have been entirely unhappy and frustrating though. While she was in Waltham she went with Tyler to an “open house ” party at “BUILDS” the “hacker space” at Boston University where, while she was posted at Fort Drum, she had first met other hackers. Someone made a video at this party, and a short excerpt from it appeared in a documentary, “WikiSecrets” which was produced by the American television network, PBS, and broadcast on May 24, 2011. The segment begins at around the 16:55 point of the video. In a room crowded with people, mostly young, very casually dressed, Chelsea and Tyler can be seen standing to one side, leaning up against a table. They look comfortable and relaxed but they are not talking and they have quite serious expressions on their faces. As the camera pans by a second time, Chelsea notices and smiles coyly combing her fingers through her air and tilting her head slightly. In another part of the room, we catch a glimpse of the party’s host, David House, the founder of BUILDS. David House was apparently interviewed by PBS for the documentary and actually narrates this segment of it. Speaking from memory of Chelsea’s behavior at the party, he says:

[She] didn’t strike me at that time as being a particularly memorable or remarkable individual. What [she] was doing was mostly socializing, meeting others, trying to learn about how this scene evolved and actually functioned.(10)

At a later point in the PBS documentary (26:57), the shot of Chelsea and Tyler standing together at the party is shown again and this is followed by another, presumably earlier, photo of Chelsea and Tyler happily embracing each other. These shots are shown in conjunction with some remarks by Kim Zetter, a reporter with Wired magazine. After Chelsea had been arrested, her boss, a senior editor of Wired had managed to obtain a copy of the “chat logs” of the online conversations between Chelsea and Adrian Lamo, the person who finally turned Chelsea in to the US government. Chelsea had mentioned Tyler in the chats and so, Kim Zetter got in touch with him. Here is what she says about their conversation.

[Chelsea] had told him that [she] had uncovered information that concerned [her] and [she] was considering leaking it, and so [she] was weighing whether or not the good that [she] felt [she’d] be doing by leaking the information outweighed any kind of personal suffering that [she] might undergo for leaking it.(10)

Just after she got back to her aunt’s house in Maryland, the area was hit by a snowstorm and Chelsea had no choice but to spend her time thinking about what she should do with the SIGACT tables. (8, 14)

During this time a blizzard bombarded the mid-Atlantic, and I spent a significant period of time essentially stuck at my aunt’s house in Maryland. I began to think about what I knew, and the information I still had in my possession. For me, the SIGACTs represented the on-the-ground reality of both the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt we were risking so much for people that seemed unwilling to cooperate with us leading to frustration and hatred on both sides.(8, 14)

I began to become depressed at the situation that we found ourselves increasingly mired in, year after year. The SIGACTs documented this in great detail, and provided context to what we were seeing on-the-ground. In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations we become obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists, on being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our host-nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects, of accomplishing short term goals and missions.(8, 14)

I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to [this] information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan. I also believed a detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time, by different sectors of society, might cause society to re-evaluate the need, or even the desire to engage in [counter-terrorism] and [counter-insurgency] operations that ignored the complex dynamics of the people living in the affected environment each day.(8, 14)

These remarks by Chelsea deserve careful consideration by anyone who is undecided as to whether she is a traitor who wanted to hurt her country or a hero who wanted to save its soul and set it back on the right path. Of course, in her pre-trial statement, she is presenting her motives in the best possible light, but given the apparent honesty that characterizes the whole document and the amount of careful detail it contains, it is hard to believe that she is deliberately concealing her true reasons for publishing the classified information. Moreover her description of her motives fits in perfectly with everything that is known about her politics and morality at earlier points in her life; it all paints a picture of a patriot who loved her country but was courageous and independent-minded enough to risk everything in an effort to show her fellow citizens that their leaders were betraying the American values of freedom of speech and democracy.

Having tried to provide a sort of philosophical foundation for her actions during the second part of her mid-term leave, Chelsea goes on to provide the details of what happened.

At my aunt’s house, I debated about what I should to with the SIGACTs. In particular, whether I should hold on to them or disclose them through a press agency. At this point, I decided it made sense to try and disclose the SIGACT tables to an American newspaper. (8, 15)

Chelsea began by phoning the Washington Post. She spoke to a reporter there who told her that the paper might be interested in the information but she seemed unenthusiastic and Chelsea felt she wasn’t being taken seriously. So she phoned the New York Times, but there she was unable to speak to a human being.

I called the public editor number on the New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from the New York Times. (8, 15)

It was at that point that Chelsea decided to submit the information to Wikileaks, an organization she had become familiar with when training as an intelligence analyst in Arizona in 2008. To do this she used an anonymous chat line — one that connected a Wikileaks staff member with a potential source while protecting both person’s identity. One of the Wikileaks staff on the chat line pointed Chelsea to a link to the website’s submission system. She didn’t upload the material immediately, however.

After ending my [chatline conversation], I considered my options one more time. Ultimately, I felt that the right thing to do was to release the SIGACTs. On 3 February 2010, I visited the [Wikileaks] website on my computer, and clicked on the “Submit Documents” link. Next I found the “submit your information online link” and elected to submit the SIGACTs via the TOR Onion Router…(8, 16)

Tor is a system intended to provide anonymity online. The software routes Internet traffic through [a] network of servers and other TOR clients in order to conceal a user’s location and identity. I was familiar with TOR and had it previously installed on my computer to anonymously monitor the social media websites of militia groups operating within central Iraq.(8, 16)

I followed the prompts and attached the compressed data files…I attached a text file I drafted while preparing to provide the documents to the Washington Post. It provided rough guidelines stating, “It’s already been sanitized of any source identifying information. You might need to sit on this information, perhaps 90-180 days, to figure out how best to release such a large amount of data and to protect source. 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.” (8, 16)

I returned from mid-tour leave on 11 February, 2010. Although the information had not yet been published by [Wikileaks], I felt a sense of relief by them having it. I felt [I] had accomplished something that allowed me to have a clear conscience.(8, 16)