August 25, 2012

Julian Assange, PFC Bradley Manning and the Middle East

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Embassy of Ecuador in  London

Legal cases are not my usual subjects for commentary, but these cases do involve American interests - diplomatic activities and military operations in the Middle East. The allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange are well known, as is his source of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and State Department classified messages and cables - U.S. Army Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning. There seems to be no question of the circumstances of the illegal release of sensitive American military and diplomatic information at the hands of PFC Bradley and Assange - that is not my point.

Ecuador - for whatever reason - has granted Assange political asylum, and the Australian national is now holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Since the British government has agreed to extradite Assange to Sweden to face sexual assault charges, the changes of his actually making it to Quito anytime soon are pretty slim.

Assange claims that if he is extradited to Sweden, the Swedes may then extradite him to the United States because of his role in publishing the classified diplomatic cables and military message traffic. I think his fears are misplaced. The United States government has filed no criminal charges against Assange, nor has it indicated any plans to seek his extradition to the United States.

So why is Assange concerned about possible extradition to the United States, and attempting use this in his defense on totally unrelated charges in Sweden? I think he is desperately grasping at straws because the Swedes may just have enough evidence to convict him of the charges.

That said, let's take a quick look at the legal aspects of this case. Although I am not a lawyer, one of my additional duties while assigned to an intelligence unit was as the special security officer. This required me to receive additional training on the handling of the most sensitive types of information, thankfully none of which I saw in the released documents. I got a pretty thorough education on the laws and regulations on handling all types of classified information.

As far as I can tell, Julian Assange (who I have no use for) has violated no U.S. laws. If he had, I believe there would have been an indictment and a request for him to be brought to the United States to be tried. Unlike in many, maybe even most countries, possessing or publishing classified information is not a crime in the United States. What is a crime is to have access to classified information, take an oath to protect that information and then violate that oath and RELEASE the information to an unauthorized party.

PFC Bradley Manning

Enter U.S. Army Private First Class (PFC) Bradley Manning. PFC Manning was an intelligence analyst with a security clearance that authorized him access to the diplomatic and military information that he subsequently - and I guess I need to say "allegedly" (although we all know he did it) - illegally removed from a secure American intelligence facility and provided them to Julian Assange's Wikileaks organization.

Manning broke the law; Assange did not.

Did Manning's and Assange's actions place lives, American and those of our allies, at risk? I believe so. While the diplomatic cables contained some embarrassing information for the United States, it generally showed American diplomats doing what they are supposed to do - representing the United States abroad and providing analysis of events in the countries to which they were posted.

It was the military traffic, the raw situation reports that included sensitive tactical and technical information that has caused operational security concerns, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Analysis of this information may have given al-Qa'idah and the Taliban insights into military procedures that could be used to counter our effectiveness. In some cases, it identified persons cooperating with our military forces. This treachery will likely be the crux of the case against PFC Manning.

Would I like to see Julian Assange in an orange jumpsuit living in a concrete box for the rest of his life? Unless he breaks the law, I really don't. If it comes out in the Bradley court-martial that Assange conspired with Manning to illegally release the documents, then put him away.

Manning? To me, it is pretty straightforward, although I am sure some lawyer will try to paint is as whistle-blowing, act-of-conscience, lapse in judgment - whatever. I don't care. He took an oath, then violated that oath. He did the crime, now he can do the time.

After he is found guilty, I fully expect him to be sentenced to spend the rest of his life at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.