Image from Flickr via savebradley

By Heather Smith

Among the secrets revealed by Pfc. Manning, after leaking 40 years of diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department: The U.S. pressured the European Union to accept genetically modified crops. It pressured Spain to stop investigating Guantanamo. It was using the United Nations to spy on other countries. It knew the military coup in Honduras in 2009 was “illegal and unconstitutional,” though it had done nothing to stop it.

Among the secrets revealed by Pfc. Manning after leaking the 91,731 documents that became known as the Afghan War Diary: The war was not going well. The U.S. was trying to conceal the fact that the Taliban had acquired surface-to-air missiles. Both U.S. and NATO forces had killed more civilians than their official numbers revealed, including a school bus fill of children strafed by French soldiers.

Among the secrets revealed by Pfc. Manning in the leak of 391,832 classified military reports known as the Iraq War Logs: U.S. soldiers had submitted over 1300 reports of members of the newly formed Iraqi military torturing, and sometimes murdering, detainees. Few of these reports were investigated, most were ignored. Over 15,000 more people had died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq than had been recorded, bringing the total up to over 100,000.

Manning was too valuable an intelligence analyst to lose over something as paltry as a blonde wig.

The morning after Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison, one more secret was revealed. “I am Chelsea Manning,” Manning wrote, in a statement read by Today Show host Savannah Guthrie. “I am a female… I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).”

Secrets. Manning arrived in an era when being gay was no longer a secret for most Americans. According to Manning’s friend Keith Rose, Manning confided that her supervisor “completely knew” about Manning’s sexual orientation and “had no problem with it as long as he did his job properly.” A few others knew, too, Manning told Clark, but in deference to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Manning limited her gay signals to small things that wouldn’t get her tossed out of the Army. A self-portrait of Manning in a blonde wig and lipstick sent to a supervisor with the caption “My Problem” was ignored.

In Baghdad, Manning worked in a drab warehouse-like building called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF. Her job at Forward Operating Base Hammer was to detect threats in locally gathered information to keep troops out of danger. Manning was too valuable an intelligence analyst to lose over something as paltry as a blonde wig.

The December after Manning disappeared into military prison, protests began to break out in Tunisia, a few weeks after newspapers began to publish excerpts of State Department cables that described, in mind-numbing detail, the minutiae of the War on Terror—eating imported ice cream with the families of wealthy dictators in poor countries, promising to find friends for their private pilots.

12. (S) The dinner included perhaps a dozen dishes, including fish, steak, turkey, octopus, fish couscous and much more. The quantity was sufficient for a very large number of guests. Before dinner a wide array of small dishes were served, along with three different juices (including Kiwi juice, not normally available here). After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake. (NB. El Materi and Nesrine had just returned from Saint Tropez on their private jet after two weeks vacation. El Materi was concerned about his American pilot finding a community here. The Ambassador said he would be pleased to invite the pilot to appropriate American community events.)

13. (S) El Materi has a large tiger (“Pasha”) on his compound, living in a cage. He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day.

Manning remained locked up, like a secret, while the secrets Manning had released continued to move through the world.

That January, the Ben Ali family fled to Saudi Arabia with, it is said, 1.7 tons of gold. They tried to flee to France first, but the government there refused to allow their plane to land.

Demonstrations broke out in other countries: Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and onward. They continue today. Had it been Manning’s secrets that set them in motion? Opinions vary. The prosecutors at Manning’s trial had trouble showing specific effects, especially harm, that stemmed from Manning’s actions, other than what Amy Davidson has described as “a diffuse embarrassment” of the United States in general.

On September 20, 2011, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was repealed. Manning had already been in military prison for eleven months, kept in solitary confinement, without access to outside visitors, under conditions that would would later be defined, in a UN report, as torture. Manning remained locked up, like a secret, while the secrets Manning had released continued to move through the world.

Manning’s 35-year sentence is about half the amount of time the military prosecutor asked the judge to deliver (60), and a third of the possible maximum (90). Parole could come as early as eight years from now, or as late as never.

Things that can put you away in prison for less time than giving away secrets:

Selling secrets:
CIA Officer Harold Nicholson, for example, was arrested in a DC airport in the 90’s on his way to deliver list of confidential informants and covert agents to Russian agents. Nicholson was sentenced to 24 years, and then to another eight after he was caught directing his son from prison in a scheme to collect “pension” payments from those same Russians.

Shooting into a group of people that you think have guns but who are actually journalists for Reuters from a helicopter, then shooting the people who attempt to rescue them:
The video of the shooting is perhaps the most well-known thing that Manning ever leaked, but the military personnel in the film itself were never cited for their actions.

Participating in the massacre of a village of unarmed civilians:
William Laws Calley was sentenced to life without parole for his role in the My Lai massacre, but was later pardoned by Richard Nixon. He unexpectedly apologized for the massacre at a Kiwanis Club meeting in 2009.

Torturing and sexually abusing the prisoners in the prison you’re supposed to be running:
Lieutenant Charles Graner, of Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to ten years and released on parole in 2011, after receiving time off for good behavior.

Giving away secrets:
In 2005, Matthew Diaz, the Navy Judge Advocate General at Guantanamo Bay was frustrated by the way the prison was being run. It seemed to him that many of the detainees shouldn’t even be there, yet the government wouldn’t even release their names. Diaz tucked a paper with the names of 551 detainees inside a Valentine’s Day Card with a picture of a cartoon chihuahua on it and addressed it to Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights. The lawyer, incapable of believing that someone at Guantanamo was actually trying to help her, gave the card to the FBI, who traced it back to Diaz. Diaz was sentenced to six months in military prison. The names that he tried to leak to Olshansky were released by the Pentagon a year later, but Diaz remains dishonorably discharged and his license to practice law remains revoked.


Manning has been in prison since the age of 22, when a hacker named Adrian Lamo contacted the FBI and the Army and told them that Manning had told him over a series of chats that Manning was the person behind the leaks, which had been percolating through the media over the last few months. PRISM, the NSA’s internet surveillance program, had been authorized by Congress nearly three years earlier, but there are no signs that what Manning was doing even registered with them. Manning had burned America’s secrets onto rewritable CD-ROM discs while lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”

Next to Manning was a Gerber army knife and a chair with the words, “I want.” carved into it. Adkins sent Manning back to work.

The transcripts between Manning and Lamo make for painful reading: Manning desperate to reveal, to disclose; Lamo distracted.

(02:31:02 PM) Manning: i think the thing that got me the most… that made me rethink the world more than anything

(02:35:46 PM) Manning: was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police… for printing “anti-Iraqi literature”… the iraqi federal police wouldn’t cooperate with US forces, so i was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the “bad guys” were, and how significant this was for the FPs… it turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against PM Maliki… i had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees…

(02:35:46 PM) Lamo : I’m not here right now

(02:36:27 PM) Manning: everything started slipping after that… i saw things differently

Lamo wasn’t the only person with whom Manning shared secrets. During this time she was a kind of an anti-secret machine, telling the truth to nearly anyone who would listen.

In May of 2010, a month after the video of the helicopter shootings was released on Wikileaks, Manning was found sitting in the fetal position on the floor of a storage room by her then-supervisor, Paul Adkins. Next to Manning was a Gerber army knife and a chair with the words, “I want.” carved into it. Adkins sent Manning back to work.

(02:28:10 AM) Manning: i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public
(02:28:10 AM) Lamo : I’m not here right now
(02:28:50 AM) Manning: if i knew then, what i knew now… kind of thing…
(02:29:31 AM) Manning: or maybe im just young, naive, and stupid…
(02:30:09 AM) Lamo: which do you think it is?
(02:30:29 AM) Manning: im hoping for the former
(02:30:53 AM) Manning: it cant be the latter
(02:31:06 AM) Manning: because if it is… were fucking screwed
(02:31:12 AM) Manning: (as a society)
(02:31:49 AM) Manning: and i dont want to believe that we’re screwed

Heather Smith writes about art, bugs, and democracy. She is currently at work on a book about insects, humans, and the various misunderstandings that arise between them.

At Guernica, we’ve spent the last 15 years producing uncompromising journalism.

More than 80% of our finances come from readers like you. And we’re constantly working to produce a magazine that deserves you—a magazine that is a platform for ideas fostering justice, equality, and civic action.

If you value Guernica’s role in this era of obfuscation, please donate.

Help us stay in the fight by giving here.