New York Magazine has published "Bradley Manning's Army of One," a feature by Steve Fishman profiling the young soldier accused of serving as a leak source to Wikileaks while serving as an intelligence officer in the Army.
Fishman's article about "one of the most unusual revolutionaries in American history" breaks new ground in exploring some of the experiences that may have shaped Manning's life, and some of what might have been happening for the soldier internally before the alleged leaks. That includes gender and sexual identity issues Manning is believed to have been dealing with while in the Army (more to the point, dealing with the hostility and hate from others around those deeply personal matters).
Those same issues have been previously addressed here on Boing Boing, but Fishman investigation makes clear what reading through the lines on the Lamo chat logs only hinted at— and helps explain why Wired News may have held back some of the log transcripts it did. Manning was going through a lot, it seems, including a crisis of conscience over what the soldier was witnessing in Iraq. But another profound personal change was under way at the time: transitioning gender from male to female. Manning had already shifted to self-identify as female by the time the exchange with Adrian Lamo took place.
For Manning, nothing was okay. In
October 2009, he arrived at Forward
Operating Base Hammer, a dusty backwater
40 miles from Baghdad. There,
Manning felt more isolated than ever–
"it's awfully stressful, lonely." Intel analysts
sometimes worked fourteen-to-fifteenhour
stretches in "a dimly lit room crowded
to the point you cant move an inch
without having to quietly say 'excuse me
sir,' 'pardon me sergeant major,' " he wrote.
"cables trip you up everywhere, papers
stacked everywhere …" Usually, there was
a large central TV screen where an analyst
could watch the war play in endless loop.
You could zoom in on the raw footage
from helicopters or even helmet cams. At
times it felt like watching nonstop snuff
films. "It's groundhog day," Manning
wrote: every day the same. Later, his
super visors said he displayed dissociative
behavior, his mind in one place and his
body in another–but that was the nature
of the job. An intel analyst sat at his work
station and targeted the enemy, reducing
a human being to a few salient points.
Then he made a quick decision based on
imperfect information: kill, capture, exploit,
source. Any illusions Manning had
about saving lives quickly vanished. At
one point, he went to a superior with what
he believed to be a mistake. The Iraqi
Federal Police had rounded up innocent
people, he said. Get back to work, he was
told. "I was never noticed," he later said.
Meanwhile, Manning's concerns about
his sexual identity were intensifying. In
November 2009, he made contact on the
web with a gender counselor back in the
States. When I met the counselor, he was
easygoing and upbeat for someone who'd
spent hours talking to servicemen who believed
they were inhabiting the wrong
body. He knew what he was talking about,
though. In person, his gender was difficult
to discern–he'd begun his transition as a
teenager. "Bradley felt he was female," the
counselor told me. "He was very solid on
that." Quickly, their conversation shifted to
the practicalities: How does someone transition
from male to female? "He really
wanted to do surgery," the counselor recalled.
"He was mostly afraid of being
alone, being ostracized or somehow weird."
To the counselor, it was clear Manning was
in crisis. "I feel like a monster," he'd typed
on his computer several times. The statement
referred partly to his gender struggles
but more to his job. He'd taken an oath not
to divulge this type of information. But
then it spilled out. He told the counselor
about a targeting mission gone bad in Basra.
"Two groups of locals were converging
in this one area. Manning was trying to figure
out why they were meeting," the counselor
told me. On Manning's information,
the Army moved swiftly, dispatching a unit
to hunt them down. Manning had thought
all went well, until a superior explained the
outcome. "Ultimately, some guy loosely
connected to the group got killed," the
counselor said. To the counselor, it was
clear: Manning felt that there was blood on
his hands. "He was very, very distressed."
One of the figures in Fishman's story is ZJ Antolak, aka Zinnia Jones, a genderqueer YouTuber in whom "Bradass87" confided over IM from Iraq. New York Magazine provided an extra snippet of chat logs between Manning and ZJ to Boing Boing which were not published in the magazine piece. That log excerpt, which provides a little additional color about their relationship, and what was on Manning's mind, follows below.
(9:02:45 PM) ZJ: when I get a new computer I might install linux on this one
(9:03:07 PM) bradass87: military is all f'd up… contracts with closed source developers with incompatible software… drives me NUTS
(9:03:29 PM) ZJ: that is ridiculous, it's hard to ensure security when the source is unavailable
(9:03:53 PM) bradass87: yes, even worse its often lowest bidder…
(9:05:03 PM) bradass87: used to be the cream of the crop… now its outdated non-backward compatible suites of buggy software that were originally used for civilian purposes, then modified for military but not exactly thoroughly tested
(9:05:36 PM) bradass87: then they get contractors who dont know anything about computers to teach it…
(9:06:42 PM) bradass87: and its all OKAY, because we cant exactly complain out in the open because the software which bugs out is often times on machines which are stamped with big red SECRET stickers
(9:06:57 PM) ZJ: that's pretty lame
(9:07:12 PM) bradass87: it is, it is
(Photo: Courtesy of the Bradley Manning Support Network, via nymag.com)
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