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The Globe and Mail

WikiLeaks suspect thought actions might 'actually change something'

As a child, his classmates teased him for being a nerd. Later, he was taunted for being gay.

When he joined the U.S. Army, a lifelong dream, Bradley Manning found no respite. He endured a messy breakup with his partner and was subsequently demoted a rank for striking a fellow soldier. All the while, he bridled under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

With doors closing all around him, Private Manning searched for a window: He thought that by leaking classified information about his government's foreign policy, he might "actually change something."

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Pte. Manning, a slight, 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst, has emerged as the prime suspect in the disclosure of more than 260,000 diplomatic cables and 90,000 intelligence reports on the war in Afghanistan and a video of a military helicopter attack.

He is believed to have given the information, much of it classified, to WikiLeaks, a website dedicated to making private information public, which posted the war reports in August and the cables last month.

Today, Pte. Manning is being held in solitary confinement in a military prison in Quantico, Va., where he is under a suicide watch. He has been charged with illegally leaking classified information and faces a possible court-martial. If he is found guilty, he will face a maximum of 52 years in jail.

By his own account, stealing the documents was easy. While on assignment to a support battalion with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq, he would report for duty armed with rewritable CDs loaded with songs, erase the music and load up classified information.

While uploading, he liked to listen to Lady Gaga and lip-synch to Telephone.

"No one suspected a thing … [I]listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga's Telephone while ex-filtrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history."

"Pretty simple, and unglamorous."

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"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."

"Everywhere there's a U.S. post, there's a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed. Worldwide anarchy in CSV format. It's beautiful and horrifying."

"Information should be free … It belongs in the public domain."

Pte. Manning was text messaging Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker who had himself been arrested for computer crimes stemming from infiltrating the internal computer of The New York Times to use the paper's LexisNexis database account.

Mr. Lamo subsequently turned Pte. Manning in to the authorities, a betrayal he justified as "an act of conscience."

But by then, the soldier's prophecy had already been fulfilled.

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The reports and cables had been given to WikiLeaks.

Mr. Lamo subsequently supplied logs of his instant message correspondence with Pte. Manning to and The Washington Post.

Taken together, they paint a portrait of a troubled young man who used his proximity to sensitive documents to inflate his own sense of importance and highlight the world's unfair balance of power. His ultimate aim was "explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective," he wrote.

"If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?" he mused.

Pte. Manning grew up in the small town of Crescent, Okla., population 1,400. Once, he joked his hometown had "more pews than people."

The son of divorced parents, he was described in media interviews with childhood friends as showing an early interest in science, history and computers.

His father was a soldier, who was frequently away on assignment. His mother, according to other reports, struggled to adjust to life outside of Wales.

Pte. Manning apparently had trouble fitting in at school. He also nurtured dreams of joining the military.

"It always seemed to me that Bradley was actually more patriotic than probably even your average person," Jordan Davis, a boyhood friend told the Associated Press.

When Pte. Manning's parents divorced, he moved to Wales with his mother, but he returned to Oklahoma after dropping out of high school at 16. He hopscotched through various jobs, working at one point in a pizza parlour.

When he turned 18, he enlisted, becoming an intelligence analyst and deploying to Iraq. His difficulties adjusting to army life have been attributed in media reports to the pressures of having to hide his sexuality under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rules.

In his instant messages with Mr. Lamo, Pte. Manning does not mask his unhappiness and disillusionment with the U.S. Army and American foreign policy.

The chats show Pte. Manning's frustration at being "regularly ignored" at work.

"I've been isolated so long," he wrote. "I just wanted to be nice, and live a normal life … but events kept forcing me to figure out ways to survive … smart enough to know what's going on, but helpless to do anything."

Pte. Manning's turning point apparently came when he watched Iraqi police detain 15 people for printing anti-Iraqi literature that turned out to be a scholarly critique of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"After that … I saw things differently," he wrote. "I was actively involved in something that I was completely against."

His relationship with Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, was nurtured over time.

"I'm a source, not quite a volunteer … I mean, I'm a high profile source … and I've developed a relationship with Assange … but I don't know much more than what he tells me, which is very little," he said.

Mr. Lamo told CNN in an interview he believes Pte. Manning's actions were fuelled by vanity.

"[H] was made to feel important with his ongoing contact with Assange and special link to WikiLeaks, jumping ahead in the queue of people who were also leaking," Mr. Lamo said.

"I got the same chance to reinvent myself that I hope Bradley Manning gets," Mr. Lamo added, referring to life after his sentence: Six months detention at his parents' home, two years probation and $65,000 (U.S.) in restitution.

Pte. Manning, for his part, said he never sought the limelight: "I just want the material out there … I don't want to be part of it …" he wrote.

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