I plan to write about U.S. v. Assange and related WikiLeaks espionage cases, so here is my disclaimer.
- posted January 1, 2020
I wanted to put this statement up on my blog, because I intend to write more about the U.S. prosecution of Julian Assange and related WikiLeaks espionage cases. I haven’t written about the subject regularly for public consumption, despite being an expert, by choice.
Since I am a subject matter expert on the Chelsea Manning court-martial record and the U.S. investigation into civilians involved in the 2010 breach, however, I have felt a responsibility from time to time to help others find their way through the court-record, which my work helped obtain, because it’s in the public interest.
Suffice it to say, what had previously been a non-issue, is now an issue. So, I need a disclaimer.
I had once expected to never write about this publicly again, but the subject continues resurfacing, and requires all the expertise and insight available, which includes mine, because again it serves a public interest, both in terms of our national security as well as those other interests that are inherent to liberal democracies.
I transcribed the legal proceedings of U.S. v. Pfc. Manning. During her court-martial there was no contemporaneous publically accessible court-record. I also reconstructed the once censored court-docket; and researched the U.S. investigation into civilians related to those breaches. My website became the unofficial repository of the court-martial proceedings. None of that was planned.
U.S. military prosecutors charged Manning with aiding the enemy. The charge is one of two punitive articles under the Uniform Code of Military Justice that apply to any person, not just military personnel (spying is the other). So comprehension (especially by legal subject matter experts) was key to public oversight of that trial. Aiding the enemy had not been used in that fashion since the U.S. Civil War.
My professional career as an investigative researcher began during the year-and-a-half-long court-martial proceeding almost eight years ago. When those proceedings began in December 2011, I was a blogger, who wrote mostly extramurally; I became a professional investigative researcher by the time those proceedings ended in August 2013. (The actual trial on the merits commenced in June 2013 and ended three months later). That was not planned either.
During the court-martial, the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the U.S. Army to publicly release an unclassified record of trial. Unlike in federal criminal trials in the U.S., where public access to the court-record is established First Amendment precedent; the right of public access to the record of court-martials is not firmly established in U.S. military law.
Based on a lawsuit by CCR, as well as my own FOIA requests and investigative research, which was used to support that litigation, an unclassified record of Manning’s court-martial was released in March 2014, seven months after she was sentenced to 35 years in military prison. That is the unclassified record of trial that the public has today.
Beginning about six months into the pre-trial proceedings, around the Summer of 2012 to about the Spring of 2013, my work documenting Manning’s court-martial was supported in part (both financially and morally) by Michael Ratner, who in addition to being the then head of CCR, until he passed in 2016, was also the constitutional lawyer for WikiLeaks in the U.S.
My work was also supported by my own funds and donations from others. For example, in August of 2013, I produce an exclusive interview with David Coombs, Manning’s lead defense counsel, that aired on Democracy Now with my own funds, alongside generous support from The Sparrow Project and Burning Hearts Media, which shot and edited that interview.
But it wasn’t until the end of 2012 that my blog became more widely known, in part because no one was doing exactly what I was at the level and depth I was doing it. That’s how I roll (as anyone who has worked with me before or since knows).
At that time I was being amplified by folks on social media with large followings. I think the public attention began around the time I published a verbatim statement where Manning pled guilty to ten lesser included offenses in February 2013, which was around the time I also published an analysis of the military prosecution’s grand theory of the case against Manning (which involved civilians) and how Manning intended to defend herself against it. That occurred about six months before her trial on the charges (although I had tweeted it a year before her trial), without the benefit of a publicly accessible record of trial and/or military prosecutors often waiving oral arguments in open session.
That theory centered on a criminal conspiracy between WikiLeaks and Manning that started in November 2009 and involved the Garani airstrike video and was based on an analysis of both the court record and other related open-source research including visits to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Around Spring of 2013, I discussed with Ratner how I needed to avoid any conflict of interest, as my work documenting the trial at Fort Meade, which began as a sort of creature from the Internet blogosphere was becoming the unofficial repository of the trial record.
It was also around this time that I began to be approached to write commentaries about the case for media outlets. As a result, my work became supported by foundations including the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Institute for Media Analysis (as well as my own funds).
After the proceedings concluded with Manning’s conviction on 20 of 22 charges, I continued to work on the Manning court-record which was released in the unclassified form it exists today in March 2014. I also continued my research into the U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks for the 2010 related breaches and publications. Most folks were caught up in the Snowden saga and didn’t have much interest in Manning or the U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks at that time.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in August 2013. In the Fall of 2013, in addition to Kim Dotcom and Glenn Greenwald, I was approached by Julian Assange (after arrangements were made by Ratner) to see if I would be available to work for WikiLeaks once their submission system was running. At the time it was not operational. They weren’t publishing much of anything either. That submission system did not launch until May 2015.
In January 2014, I moved to Berlin for what turned out to be just six months. I continued my work on the Manning court-record and the U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks. From about January to December 2014 my work on the Manning case and the WikiLeaks investigation was supported by La Quadrature du Net, a French digital rights organization founded by Jérémie Zimmermann.
Laura Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum as well as others like John Goetz wrote letters in support of my German work permit. Andy Muller Maghun of the Chaos Computer Club and Wau Holland Foundation helped me arrange those. During the time I was in Berlin, I lived with Sarah Harrison. Six months in, however, I knew I needed to leave and return to the U.S. The arrangement was not a good fit.
After departing Berlin in June 2014, I focused on friends and family I had neglected during the preceding years due to my work-load during the Manning trial. By the end of 2014, after traveling around Spain to discuss the Chelsea Manning case with Amnesty International at the invitation of the Chelsea Manning Support Network, I decided I needed to move on from the subject once and for all and set my sights on the next chapter of my professional development.
While I don’t know for certain, my understanding is that financial support from Ratner during those portions of the Manning pre-trial and in 2014 via La Quadrature du Net came from the WikiLeaks defense fund via Wau Holland.
Suffice it to say, I have met or been acquainted with some of the individuals who are the subject or otherwise associated with the organization, its supporters, and the U.S. investigations of WikiLeaks to varying degrees.
Naturally, my understanding of the case, the investigation, as well as the organization has evolved quite a bit over the last eight years. I have also engaged in a professional capacity with all kinds of folks about the subject– from journalists, technologists, lawyers, and sources.
The U.S. government’s understanding of WikiLeaks has evolved too. In 2008, the U.S. Army didn’t know what WikiLeaks was in terms of what kind of counterintelligence threat it was. Any leak of classified material is a counterintelligence threat, according to the Intelligence Community. In 2013, the Obama administration considered WikiLeaks a media organization, albeit one they were also investigating in regards to the organization’s orchestration of Edward Snowden’s travel from Hong Kong to Russia.
The public understanding (or misunderstanding) of what WikiLeaks has also been complicated by a lack of general comprehension about intelligence or its conflation with mere data/information and journalism.
I don’t want to get too deep into the analysis in this post. The organization itself has also shape shifted publicly somewhat over time as well, while there have been indicators for many years that have remained consistent if obscured by design and cognitive biases. I have written (and tweeted) about this elsewhere, and I am currently writing about it in a serious manner as I complete my masters.
It’s fair to say that just as journalism has changed in the digital era, so has espionage.
The public infatuation with the rise of mass leaking, what Michael Hayden has called “espionage porn,” and WikiLeak could also be viewed as a reaction in part to the perceived or actual intelligence failures, that some conclude led to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and/or the strategic blunder of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Just prior to WikiLeaks launch, for example, there was a decline in public trust in Western government’s intelligence enterprises.
It could also be viewed in part as a result of media economics, where leaks serve almost like blockbuster movies in today’s niche and fragmented news media siloes– a feature that has been exploited by foreign adversaries of the U.S.
This discussion requires great care. A genuinely civilian, non-governmental perspective should be expert not only in journalism, but also intelligence, and it should help inform the overall discussion. Public comprehension of the issues, as I wrote earlier, is vital to both our national security and other inherent interests as a liberal democracy.
While I have been working on other subjects since January 2015, I have consulted from time to time with a number of journalists, including William M. Arkin, about both the Manning case and the U.S. investigation of WikiLeaks both independently as his researcher– and also while he was at NBC News. I have worked with and for Arkin on a range of projects over the last several years.
In 2016, in the run-up to Manning’s sentence commutation and while working on a 200 page report on Oklahoma’s death penalty for a bipartisan blue ribbon commission headed by that States former governor and providing research for the first cost study on the capital punishment in that State, Arkin asked me to write a brief for Cynthia McFadden at NBC News, which I did. It was 20 pages. Having been Arkin’s researcher on and off between 2015 and 2018, I am also aware of developments in the U.S. investigation based not on my own work, but on his, including related events in the aftermath of the 2016 Russian election interference.
In 2017, I worked on high stakes commercial litigation matters, including several involving alleged cyber-crime and civil RICO.
In 2018, I even spoke to a class of national security law students at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. about the Manning trial. Given that some of those students were then or had plans to work for U.S. law enforcement and/or intelligence, I would say my interactions with others about this case has been fairly broad and diverse.
Also 2018, I started graduate school at Georgetown University, where I am pursuing a master’s in applied intelligence. I have also discussed and written about these cases in an academic setting.
In 2019, I authored a 60 page report for Airwars, and I have also written a number of studies and/or articles about intelligence (one co-authored and published in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence and another one forthcoming in the same journal in Fall 2020.)
I am also currently writing an ethical framework for the applied intelligence disciplines as practiced by the media. I intend to pursue a PhD in intelligence studies, once I complete my master’s.
A civilian non-governmental perspective needs expertise, and it needs to treat the subject with the seriousness it deserves. That has always been my intention. I plan to continue in that regard.
 See, for example, Gallup’s 2005 poll on public doubt in the “smarts of the U.S. I.C. in the wake of the pre-Iraq war intelligence failure, which found that “52% of Americans [were] not confident that ‘the U.S. intelligence community is giving the administration accurate information about possible threats to the U.S. from places such as Iran and North Korea” (para 3).