Five years ago, the website WikiLeaks did not exist. Now the Swedish website is embroiled in one of the biggest leaks of US military secrets in American history, and two unnamed students from MIT might soon find themselves embroiled in the heart of the controversy.
Former hacker turned journalist, Adrian Lamo, is claiming that two students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology might have given the suspect, Pfc. Bradley Manning, encryption software and showed him how to use it. Lamo recently gained attention for tipping off the Pentagon to Manning’s possible involvement, which led to the apprehension of the army specialist. Lamo claims to know both men, but refuses to identify them to the press after claiming that at least one of them has threatened him. He also claims that both men work for WikiLeaks, the organization that published the leaked documents.
According to CNN the possible inclusion of the two MIT students is the result of a growing investigation following the leak of the “Afghan War Diaries”, which saw the release of 75,000 secret military documents that showed a new side to the war in Afghanistan. The documents paint a grim picture of the war, and highlight numerous incidents of civilian deaths, as well as several instances that WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange suggested to be war crimes. WikiLeaks also claims to be withholding more than 15,000 that they will release after they redact names and sources.
The documents show a situation that is becoming increasingly unattainable, as Taliban forces continue to gain ground while taking support from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, who may be the Taliban’s biggest allies. The papers also show direct support of the Taliban by Iran, and a possible- although unproven- case of weapons bought from North Korea. Perhaps the most damning information in the Afghan War Diaries is the number of unreported civilian deaths that count in the hundreds. The report claims that instances of friendly fire have also been greatly underplayed to the public.
The documents also show the growing reliance on special operations groups, such as the formerly secret commando unit, Task Force 373, a group of Army, Navy, and Marine special ops soldiers. The task force is said to have handled hundreds of assignments, and is frequently called upon for assassination missions. The report claims that despite an impressive success rate, the group has also been responsible for numerous civilian casualties.
Reception of the Afghan War Diaries has been split. Originally published by the New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, the Times have claimed that the documents are important for the public in order to see the truth about the war in Afghanistan. Other papers including the Washington Post, said that the papers don’t disclose any previously known malfeasance, and that the release and claims by WikiLeaks show an anti-war agenda by the website.
Government officials have condemned the leaking of the papers, focusing on what many called the “irresponsible” release of the names, locations, and tribes of several Afghans that are working with the US and Coalition Forces. WikiLeaks claims that they released the names because many of the Afghans in question are responsible for questionable, and possibly criminal behavior. The Taliban has responded and claimed that it would investigate the people named, and punish those it found guilty.
Although WikiLeaks is responsible for releasing the Afghan War Diaries to the media, the website claims that it did not know where the papers originally came from, and pointed to the nature of their website as evidence that it could not track the source, even if it desired to.
WikiLeaks is no stranger to legal controversies. In 2008, a court ruling shut down the website’s US site, but continues to operate in several countries, with its headquarters in Sweden.
Following the release of the papers, Lamo came forward with chat logs between himself and Manning that showed that Manning was likely responsible for the release of a video of a 2007 Baghdad airstrike that killed several civilians, which became known as the “Collateral Murder” video. Lama then claimed to offer Manning protection under journalistic shield laws, but Lamo claims that he declined, which ethically allowed him to turn over the chat logs to government officials. Further investigations led Army investigators to believe Manning was also responsible for the leak of the Afghan War Diaries.
Manning has since been arrested and charged with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified information, as well as jeopardizing national security. His supporters call him a whistleblower and a hero, while his detractors claim that he has endangered the lives of soldiers and Afghans by revealing names and details.
“I want people to see the truth … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.” Manning said in his chat logs, which were subsequently reported by the AP.
Lamo has now told investigators that two Boston-area men have confirmed in phone conversations that they helped Manning by supplying encryption software and teaching him to use it, and that both men work for WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has refused to comment.
According to the NY Times, Army investigators have expanded their investigation to include friends and associates of Manning, and that may have led them as well to students from MIT and, possibly Boston University, who might have connections to WikiLeaks.
The Boston Globe recently interviewed an MIT graduate who claims to have been in contact with Manning and exchanged several emails. The man, who refused to be identified, claims that the Army spoke to him several months ago to see if he, or any other known hackers were assisting Manning. The man claims that although he did have contact with Manning, he was in no way connected with the documents Manning leaked.
Manning is currently being held in solitary confinement in Virginia while the investigation continues. He will soon go before a military judge to face an Article 32 hearing- similar to a Grand Jury- although no firm date has been set.