Is Notorious Army Secrets Leaker Gay - Or Transgendered?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 24, 2010

A young Army intelligence officer who leaked sensitive information has been placed under arrest. But a larger question about the young officer's motives has been raised: was SPC Bradley Manning gay? Or could it be the case that he is transgendered?

The speculation arises from reports that Manning, 22, was facing discharge for an unspecified "adjustment disorder," and from analysis of texts that Manning himself allegedly wrote that express a reluctance to be seen "as a boy" and refer to a personal "transition."

With Manning in custody in Kuwait and a barrage of speculation in the press about his guilt, his motives, and the possibility that the government might be engaged in some sort of covert operation against Wikileaks.org, the online whistleblower organization to which Manning had supplied information, it is hard to tell what elements in the story are factual.

Wired.com posted a June 6 story on Manning's arrest, noting that Manning, who had been stationed near Baghdad, had leaked footage of a helicopter attack that killed a number of civilians in Baghdad in 2007, including two journalists.


It was that footage that seems to have tipped Manning into the world of leaks and whistle blowing. But Manning didn't stop with the leaked footage of the helicopter attack. He also provided Wikileaks with another video, showing an attack in Afghanistan as well as with an Army document that assessed the level of threat Wikileaks posed to national security. Another alleged leak--as yet unconfirmed--is a cache of around 260,000 communiqués among U.S. diplomats and staff that reportedly has the potential to wreak serious harm to relations between the United States and a number of other countries.

Manning took credit for the leaks in correspondence with a former computer hacker, claiming that the immense number of filched communiques would create a sensation once they were posted online.

"Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public," Manning allegedly wrote to Adrian Lamo, a hacker who was convicted on felony charges stemming from a 2004 hack on the New York Times, reported Salon.com on June 18. The Salon.com article noted that Lamo and Wired.com writer Kevin Poulsen--who also has in the past been convicted on hacking charges--have had a long association, and called Lamo an "extremely untrustworthy source."

The article also noted that Manning's arrest has provided the U.S. government with something it seems to have wanted for some time: a way to pursue and prosecute Wikileaks, which since 2006 has operated with caution in order not to open itself to liability of criminal charges. The article cited the very Army document that had assessed Wikileaks as a national security threat--and which had been leaked by Manning to Wikileaks.

"Web sites such as Wikileaks.org have trust as their most important center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insider, leaker, and whistleblower," a reprinted portion of the leaked document read. "Successful identification, prosecution, termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the information by the governments and businesses affected by the information posted to Wikileaks.org would damage and potentially destroy this center of gravity and deter others from taking similar actions."

"In other words, exactly what the U.S. Government wanted to happen in order to destroy WikiLeaks has happened here: news reports that a key WikiLeaks source has been identified and arrested, followed by announcements from anonymous government officials that there is now a worldwide 'manhunt' for its Editor-in-Chief,' the Salon.com article read. "Even though WikiLeaks did absolutely nothing (either in this case or ever) to compromise the identity of its source, isn't it easy to see how these screeching media reports--WikiLeaks source arrested; worldwide manhunt for WikiLeaks; major national security threat--would cause a prospective leaker to WikiLeaks to think twice... ?"

The founder of Wikileaks is Julian Assange, who was described in a June 7 New Yorker article as an itinerant "international trafficker, of sorts" specializing in sensitive material. "Since it went online, three and a half years ago, [Wikileaks] has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from the Standard Operating Procedures at Camp Delta, in Guantánamo Bay, and the 'Climategate' e-mails from the University of East Anglia, in England, to the contents of Sarah Palin's private Yahoo account,' the New Yorker article continued.

" ...WikiLeaks is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency," noted the article. "Assange does not even have a home. He travels from country to country, staying with supporters, or friends of friends-as he once put it to me, 'I'm living in airports these days.' He is the operation's prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does."

Assange recently gave an interview in which he discussed "neoceonsorship" and said that Wikileaks sought to "achieve just reform throughout the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency" and spoke of Wikileaks as a "publisher of last resort."



Questions of Accuracy

The Salon.com article reported that the Lamo and Poulsen had at one time a modus operandi in which Lamo would hack a company's system, Poulsen would mediate between Lamo and the affected company and "offer... Lamo's cooperation," and then Poulsen would report on the hacking in articles at SecurityFocus Online. Salon went on to call Poulsen the "personal media voice" for Lamo, who the article described as being "notorious in the world of hacking for being a low-level, inconsequential hacker with an insatiable need for self-promotion and media attention, and for the past decade, it has been Poulsen who satisfies that need."

Salon.com then questioned exactly how Lamo and Manning came into contact, noting that the two corresponded through a series of encrypted emails" and then claiming that Lamo has declined to provide details about the initial correspondence between himself and Manning.

The actual extent of the leakage attributed to Manning is also in some doubt. Wikileaks indicated that the purported 260,000 sensitive diplomatic communiqués being bandied about in the press were not, in fact, provided to the online site; vie Twitter, Wikileaks stated that the claims that "we have been sent 260,000 classified U.S. embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect," though the Twitter statement went on to call Manning a "national hero," according to a June 8 posting at The Daily Beast.

That same article quoted an unnamed individual with the State Department as saying, ""If he really had access to these cables, we've got a terrible situation on our hands. We're still trying to figure out what he had access to. A lot of my colleagues overseas are sweating this out, given what those cables may contain."

Reports say that, according to Manning, the communiqués reveal "back room deals" and conduct that is nothing short of "criminal." Wired attributed to Manning the declaration that the cache of sensitive communiqués would have global repercussions: "Everywhere there's a U.S. post, there's a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed," Manning reportedly claimed. "It's open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It's Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It's beautiful, and horrifying."

But the most unusual wrinkle in the story may be speculation that Manning is gay or--more likely, according to online sources--transgendered. Analysis of texts allegedly written by Manning led BoingBoing.com to theorize in a June 20 article that the "adjustment problem" Manning was facing discharge over might have been related to gender identity.

Examining chat logs purportedly between Lamo and Manning, BoingBoing zeroed in on comments made by "bradass87" (Manning) that seemed suggestive of a gender identity issue.

"i feel, for some bizarre reason... it might actually change something," wrote bradass87 of the leaks he'd perpetrated. "i wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me... plastered all over the world press... as boy..."

A subsequent posting amended the last part to, "as a boy." bradass87 also wrote, "i've totally lost my mind... i make no sense... the CPU is not made for this motherboard... i just wanted enough time to figure myself out... to be myself... and be running around all the time, trying to meet someone else's expectations.. im just kind of drifting now... waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged... and figure out how on earth im going to transition... all while witnessing the world freak out as its most intimate secrets are revealed."

Added bradass87, "its such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically."

The article's author, Xeni Jardin, took note of the word "transition," speculating that this might have referred to something more than the adjustment to civilian life, and offered a possible recap of the sense behind the texts: "I can accept prison or the death sentence as punishment for leaking these documents, I just can't accept the possibility of going through that before I've fully transitioned to being seen by others as female, which is how I already see myself."

"I don't have access to complete, verifiably authentic chat logs between Manning and Lamo," cautioned Jardin. "None of us, probably not even the people who do have access to those logs, have a clue as to what Manning's motives might have been. While speculation runs wild, we don't know what, if anything, Manning actually leaked to Wikileaks."

Jardin cited a source with deep ties in the LGBT community" who also zeroed in on a specific phrase. "To me, the most telling line is 'The CPU is not made for this motherboard," Jardin's source said. "It's such an unusual phrase, and it's the one that jumps out at me most strongly, besides the use of the word 'transition,' which is very prevalent among trans people. We even use it as a verb. That portion of the exchange is pretty tightly packed with trans code words and lingo and analogies."

As the controversy in the United States over the anti-gay policy of denying openly gay and lesbian soldiers the right to serve their country in uniform continues to rage, a significant secondary effect of the story--whether or not Manning turns out to be transgendered or gay--is likely to result. Anti-gay elements are sure to seize on the story as "proof" that LGBTs are not trustworthy and should continue to be excluded systematically from the military unless they are willing to keep quiet about their orientation.

The opposite argument is also likely to come into play: how much less likely are individuals to exhibit untrustworthy behavior when the mental and emotional pressure of continually being required to lie--in direct conflict with the integrity the military promotes among its servicemembers--is removed?

Those questions, along with issues of Manning's guilt or innocence, his motives, and the disposition--and existence--of the reported cache of inflammatory diplomatic communications may take some time to sort out, if indeed a full and transparent account can ever be assembled and made public.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook