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Yesterday — more than a full year after it first released selected portions of purported chat logs between Bradley Manning and government informant Adrian Lamo (representing roughly 25% of the logs) — Wired finally published the full logs (with a few redactions). From the start, Wired had the full chat logs and was under no constraints from its source (Lamo) about what it could publish; it was free to publish all of it but chose on its own to withhold most of what it received.
Last June — roughly a week after Wired‘s publication of the handpicked portions — I reviewed the long and complex history between Lamo and Wired Editor Kevin Poulsen, documented the multiple, serious inconsistencies in Lamo’s public claims (including ones in a lengthy interview with me), and argued that Wired should “either publish all of the chat logs, or be far more diligent about withholding only those parts which truly pertain only to Manning’s private and personal matters and/or which would reveal national security secrets.” Six months later, in December, I documented that numerous media reports about Manning and WikiLeaks were based on Lamo’s claims about what Manning told him in these chats — claims that could not be verified or disputed because Wired continued to conceal the relevant parts of the chat logs — and again called for “as much pressure as possible be applied to Wired to release those chat logs or, at the very least, to release the portions about which Lamo is making public claims or, in the alternative, confirm that they do not exist.”
Now that Wired has released the full chats, I just want to highlight a few passages that they concealed, and dispassionately lay out several key facts, so that everyone can decide for themselves if Wired told the truth about their conduct and assess the journalistic propriety of it. Before I first wrote about Manning’s arrest and the conduct of Wired‘s reporting of it, I interviewed Poulsen by email and published the full exchange. Just look at what he told me about the material Wired was withholding:
GG: Last question: you published what were clearly excerpts of the chats between Lamo and Manning – did he provide you with the whole unedited version and if, so, do you intend to publish it? Or is what you published everything he gave you?
KP: He did, but I don’t think we’ll be publishing more any time soon. The remainder is either Manning discussing personal matters that aren’t clearly related to his arrest, or apparently sensitive government information that I’m not throwing up without vetting first.
So Poulsen claimed that the concealed portions were either (1) personal matters or (2) sensitive government information that needed vetting (Wired made a similar claim when releasing the log excerpts, claiming that what was withheld was either “portions of the chats that discuss deeply personal information about Manning or that reveal apparently sensitive military information”). As it turns out, while some of what Wired withheld was certainly personal information about Manning of no newsworthy relevance (and nobody, including me, ever objected to that material being withheld), substantial portions of what they withheld do not even arguably fall within those categories, but instead provide vital context and information about what actually happened here. To say that Poulsen’s claims about what Wired withheld were factually false is to put it generously.
Just consider some of what Wired concealed. First we have this, from very early on in the first Manning-Lamo conversation (emphasis added):
MANNING: uhm, trying to keep a low profile for now though, just a warning
LAMO: I’m a journalist and a minister. You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.
In a subsequent conversation, Lamo again promised him: “i told you, none of this is for print.”
So Lamo lied to and manipulated Manning by promising him the legal protections of a journalist-source and priest-penitent relationship, and independently assured him that their discussions were “never to be published” and were not “for print.” Knowing this, Wired hid from the public this part of their exchange, published the chat in violation of Lamo’s clear not-for-publication pledges, allowed Lamo to be quoted repeatedly in the media over the next year as some sort of credible and trustworthy source driving reporting on the Manning case, all while publicly (and falsely) insisting that the only chat log portions it was withholding were — to use Poulsen’s words — “either Manning discussing personal matters . . . or apparently sensitive government information.” As BoingBoing’s Rob Beschizza put it in rejecting Wired‘s claims: this passage “reads like a deliberated attempt to manipulate or even entrap Manning, on Lamo’s part, and seems quite important to understanding what Manning thought he was doing by talking to him.” There are multiple passages for which that’s true.
While concealing information that would cast Lamo in a negative light, Wired also concealed portions that cast doubt on the DOJ’s efforts to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange:
LAMO: in all seriousness, would you shoot if MP’s showed up? ;>
MANNING: why would i need to?
LAMO: suicide by MP. . . .
MANNING: do i seem unhinged?
LAMO: i mean, showed up — for you — if Julian were to slip up.
MANNING: he knows very little about me
MANNING: he takes source protection uber-seriously
MANNING: “lie to me” he says
LAMO: Really. Interesting.
MANNING: he wont work with you if you reveal too much about yourself
So here’s Manning making clear that Assange has virtually no idea who Manning even is, that Assange purposely goes out of his way not to know the identity of WikiLeaks sources, and — to use Manning’s words — Assange “takes source protection uber-seriously.” Does anyone need to explain how relevant that is to public discussions of WikiLeaks generally or the specific suggestions that Assange could or should be prosecuted as Manning’s co-conspirator? Independently, that Assange is fanatical about source protection is crucial to know.
Whatever else is true, in light of these fascinating, relevant passages, can anyone argue that Poulsen told the truth when claiming that the only material that Wired withheld was either Manning’s personal information or national security secrets? Isn’t it clear that Poulsen and Wired were hand-picking which passages to release and conceal in order to shield Lamo’s conduct and claims from scrutiny and make WikiLeaks look as bad as possible: the concern that those of us had in the first place in allowing Poulsen of all people to arbitrate what gets released and what gets disclosed?
Then there are the lies that Lamo was permitted to tell for a full year — lies that Wired‘s concealment of the logs enabled. To explain how Manning was able to send huge volumes of material to WikiLeaks, Lamo told The New York Times last December that Manning “did an actual physical drop-off when he was back in the United States in January of this year” — something we now know Manning never even alluded to, let alone told Lamo. Lamo’s claim in his interview with me about one of the great mysteries here — namely, how and why Manning chose him of all people to contact and confess to (Manning “was searching for ‘Wikileaks’ on Twitter”) — is also not in the chat logs, certainly not with that specificity. Nor is Lamo’s contradictory claims to both CNET and The Washingtonian – that Manning found Lamo as a result of reading Poulsen’s account in Wired of Lamo’s involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital — referenced in these logs either. The full chat logs also prove Lamo lied to Yahoo! News when he told them “that [Lamo] spelled out very clearly in his chats with Manning that he wasn’t affiliated with WikiLeaks or acting as a journalist,” nor is there any mention in the logs of this story Lamo told to the BBC:
I did tell [Manning] that I worked as a journalist. I would have been happy to write about him myself, but we just decided that it would be too unethical.”
And Lamo’s statement in my interview with him — that Manning’s “intention was to cripple the United States’ foreign relations for the foreseeable future” — also appears to be a complete fabrication; Manning talked endlessly about his desire to trigger worldwide reforms, not to cripple American foreign relations.
In sum, the full chat logs — in particular the parts Wired concealed for over a year — prove that Adrian Lamo is a serial liar whose claims are inherently unreliable. But Wired‘s selective editing prevented this from being proven — served to shield from critical scrutiny the person the BBC accurately described as Poulsen’s “long-time associate” — and thus enabled Lamo to run around for a full year masquerading as a reliable source, making claims that were fabrications and driving much of the reporting about the Manning and WikiLeaks investigations. Enabling false claims to be disseminated to the public on a vital news story — by withholding plainly relevant information that proves those claims false — is the opposite of the purpose of journalism, as is needlessly withholding key context to the events one is purporting to describe; yet that’s exactly what Wired did here, and continued to do despite growing calls for the release of this information.
Then there’s the fact that Manning — far from being some anonymous, low-level, invisible grunt — had, or at least claimed to have, some very high-level connections; as Jane Hamsher details, that includes Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman and long-time Obama aide, whom Manning claimed to Lamo was one of his “sources,” along with numerous other politically connected figures whose names Wired redacted. Manning’s claimed repeated contacts with a White House aide and other key political officials constitutes neither personal information nor national security secrets — it certainly seems to be in the public interest to know — yet was actively concealed by Wired.
Then we arrive at Wired‘s explanation yesterday for why they suddenly decided to release the full logs. To justify the decision to disclose the full logs, Wired.com Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen writes that “by all evidence, Manning is a figure of historic importance.” Is that something that just dawned on Hansen? That was the crux of my argument more than a year ago: that Wired should release the relevant chat excerpts it was concealing or at least confirm or deny public claims Lamo made about those chats “in light of the magnitude of this story on several levels.” This has always been the heart and soul of the criticism of Wired: that they were not withholding relevant material in some ancillary, insignificant case, but rather one of the most important political events of the last decade. It’s nice that Hansen finally realized this, albeit a year late.
Then there’s the national security secrets Poulsen claimed to be valiantly safeguarding until he could “vet” them. What happened to those? Did Wired vet them (such as Manning’s statement, concealed by Wired until yesterday, that “approximately 85-90% of global transmissions are sifted through by NSA” or that ” 85% of [U.S. aid to Pakistan] is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis”)? As it turns out, there are very few passages in these logs that could arguably qualify as national security secrets. And amazingly, Hansen admits: ”We have been satisfied for some time that there is nothing of military importance in the unpublished logs.” Then what justified Wired‘s refusal to release those parts until now?
Ironically, I find Hansen’s explanation about why Wired now published the portions of the chat logs dealing with deeply personal matters — such as Manning’s gender identity struggles and desire to transition to female — to be less than persuasive. He argues, not unreasonably, that New York Magazine’s recent discussion of Manning’s personal issues dilutes the privacy concerns. That’s true, though I’m not sure it’s necessary for people to read about Manning’s detailed discussions of his gender struggles. But that’s a close call about which I don’t have any strong opinion.
The key point is that — contrary to Hansen’s blatant strawman back in December when he addressed my criticism — nobody, and certainly not me, ever called for the indiscriminate publication of the portions of the chat logs dealing exclusively with Manning’s personal, non-relevant matters. To the contrary — as the quotes above demonstrate — I repeatedly argued that such purely personal material was properly withheld. Rather, the controversy was over Wired‘s obvious concealment of matters outside of the scope of Manning’s personal issues, ones that were plainly relevant to newsworthy matters and, in particular, to Lamo’s claims about what Manning told him. The concern was that Wired was concealing material to glorify and shield its source, Poulsen’s long-time associate Adrian Lamo, in a way that distorted the truth and, independently, denied the public important context for what happened here. Wired‘s release of the full chat logs leaves no doubt that those concerns were justified, and that Wired was less than honest about what it was concealing.
UPDATE: Last December, in the wake of the controversy created by my re-raising of this issue and Wired‘s response, BoingBoing noted that Hansen, Wired.com’s Editor-in-Chief (as well as Poulsen), finally began responding to some inquiries about what the concealed portions contain and do not contain (which is what I had been requesting all along). Among other things, Hansen said this:
BoingBoing understood that claim the way I did, the only way it reasonably could have been: as Hansen’s confirmation that “no further discussion about the relationship between Manning and Assange“ is contained in the concealed portions — a vital matter in light of the DOJ’s efforts to tie Assange to Manning as his co-conspirator. But how can Hansen’s claim possibly be reconciled with the significant passage — previously withheld and now quoted above — in which Manning explains that Assange purposely remained ignorant of his identity? Isn’t that rather obviously a “discussion about the relationship between Manning and Assange” which, contrary to Hansen’s assurances, Wired was indeed concealing? And again, whatever one’s views are on the significance of that passage — and I think it’s highly significant — it squarely contradicts Poulsen’s claims about the two categories of information Wired withheld (personal information and sensitive government secrets).