The effect of Bradley Manning’s disclosure of thousands of classified documents have been reassessed and its now believed that the damage caused was not as bad as previously thought. Manning was cleared of the charge of “aiding the enemy” by a military court on Tuesday but may still go to jail for a very long time. Here are details.
The harm caused to U.S national interest by Bradley Manning who was accused of the nation’s biggest-ever security leak may have been grossly overrated.
A U.S. military judge cleared Manning on Tuesday of the most serious charge against him – aiding the enemy – in a verdict that indicated the soldier’s secrecy violations, while criminal, were not as dire as prosecutors had alleged.
Manning’s revelations to WikiLeaks, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and raw intelligence reports from the Iraqi and Afghan battlefields, violated his military oath and “put real lives and real careers at risk,” said former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
But the strategic damage to the United States – to its reputation and its ability to work with allies and conduct diplomacy – “was transitory,” said Crowley, who resigned in 2011 after publicly criticizing the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning in a military prison.
As reams of classified State Department cables – some containing unflattering portraits of foreign leaders or detailing U.S. envoys’ contacts with human rights groups – leaked to the public, some saw catastrophe for U.S. diplomacy.
Yet, despite what Crowley called a few “isolated cases” in which foreign counterparts were less candid than in the past, fearing their words might leak, the State Department was able to mitigate the damage.
In just one of dozens of examples, U.S. ties with Indonesia wobbled after the release of cables showing the U.S. Embassy suspected collusion between Jakarta’s security forces and the extremist Islamic Defenders Front, accused of attacks on religious minorities.
Indonesia’s presidential spokesman for foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah said the leaks were quite unpleasant but relations with the U.S. have continued normally since. He added that the government has learnt to be more careful with the flow of such intelligence.
The military judge, Colonel Denise Lind, found Manning guilty on 19 counts, including five espionage charges. Manning could face a sentence of 136 years in prison. Military prosecutors had pushed for a harsher judgement. They called him a “traitor” and said his actions had helped the al Qaeda network.
In Australia, a crucial U.S. ally in the Asia-Pacific region, the revelations have affected the way Western diplomats operate and report on political developments, and have curtailed events such as social dinner party chats where diplomats often gain insights on what is happening in a country.
In late 2010, Wikileaks cables revealed then Australian sports minister Mark Arbib as a regular source of information for U.S. diplomats. Danby’s name was also mentioned. One cable also described current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, then the foreign minister, as a “mistake-prone control freak”.
It remains to be seen whether the Manning verdict by a military court will impact future prosecutions, most notably against former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents exposing previously secret U.S. telephone and internet surveillance programs. Snowden, who faces U.S. criminal charges, has taken refuge in a Moscow airport.
President Barack Obama has been more aggressive than any of his predecessors in searching out and punishing those responsible for national security leaks.
In the wake of the WikiLeaks disclosure, Obama ordered new steps to protect classified material stored on government computers and, in November 2012, issued a “National Insider Threat Policy” aimed at stopping future leaks like those by Manning.