Release of Full Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Shows Logs Raise Questions on Admissibility in Court

6:49 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


For over a year, the technology magazine Wired has had some command over what the public knows about Pfc. Bradley Manning, alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks. The magazine since June possessed the full “chat logs,” as they were when given to Wired editor Kevin Poulsen by Adrian Lamo just after Manning was arrested. Yesterday, the magazine chose to relent and give up editorial control over the material by releasing what they claim are the full chat logs.

The chat logs have been a bedrock for a press that has been working to build an understanding of why Manning was motivated to do what he is alleged to have done. In documentaries, like the PBS FRONTLINE documentary WikiSecrets, the chat logs are what compel narrator Martin Smith to go on a crusade in search for a connection between Assange and Manning. They are responsible for giving the press greater interest in having interviews with Lamo, an individual The Sunday Times of London describes as “an unsettling character,” someone who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital when he lost his antidepressant medication last year.

The release of the logs should now remove some of the control Lamo & Wired have had over the story. Journalists should now be able to practice scientific journalism and look at the logs themselves to glean information (assuming the chat logs are legitimate and valid) and draw their own conclusions without having to talk to an often-medicated government informant.

I’ve already published one post after taking a first glance. However, before I get into new revelations I gleaned for this second post, a user in a “NetSecurity” group on Reddit (a group likely composed primarily of hackers) has this post, which may turn out to be quite damning for the case against Manning, which has relied on these chat logs.

In the alleged logs, I noticed the following:

(12:24:15 PM) bradass87 has not been authenticated yet. You should authenticate this buddy.

(12:24:15 PM) Unverified conversation with bradass87 started.

(12:24:58 PM) bradass87: hello again

Those of you familiar with Off-the-Record Messaging (OTR) will recognize those two lines. Manning used OTR to chat with Lamo!

I strongly suspected this from the beginning but obviously had no proof. So, what’s the significance? Well, OTR providesdeniability. From the OTR website:

The messages you send do not have digital signatures that are checkable by a third party. Anyone can forge messages after a conversation to make them look like they came from you. However, during a conversation, your correspondent is assured the messages he sees are authentic and unmodified.

Bottom line: these “logs” are useless. They are inadmissible in court.

But, James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School affiliated with the Institute for Information Law and Policy, disputes the Reddit user’s conclusion saying, “OTR logs are no less admissible than chat/IM logs or emails.” He cites Federal Rules of Evidence 901 and also highlights U.S. v. Tank, 200 F.3d 627, 630-31 (9th Cir. 2000), which dealt with admitting logs of a participant.

He argues that authentication probably satisfied with testimony of Lamo as to handling of evidence, plus statements in chat. And, he says “hearsay” is okay to admit against interest under Federal Rules of Evidence 801 (b)(3) (which is a lot of “legalese” but important to whether what the Reddit user says is valid or not).

So, the logs would likely be admitted into court for Manning’s case, even if the logs were likely tampered with or forged. Let’s proceed with these thoughts in mind (and, note, the merged Manning-Lamo chat logs produced by Firedoglake may provide some insight into what exactly was forged).

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Looking at the newly released portions of the chat logs, one finds Lamo suggested to Manning he could be considered, for this conversation, a journalist and a minister and that, if Lamo gained Manning’s trust, he violated Manning and burned his source. It becomes evident that Manning believed he had “political ties” in the White House that he could speak to on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “the disaster [that] kept going on with that.” For example, as Firedoglake editor-in-chief Jane Hamsher noted, Shin Inouye, who “worked as a communications coordinator for Obama” on his 2008 presidential campaign.

One can see Manning knew the implications of his actions and, as he was about to be discharged from the military, was gathering documents on his career for his defense. One document he told Lamo about was an award recommendation never completed that celebrated “Manning’s persistence,” which “led to the disruption of ‘Former Special Groups’ in the New Baghdad area” and “identification of previously unknown enemy support zones.”

Manning comes off as a person very “infosec” savvy (savvy on information security). He talks about NSA, SIGINT, FISA, etc. In one great message, he asks Lamo if he knew “it took NSA 6 months, and 50 people to figure out how to tap the iPhone.” He claims the NSA didn’t know what was going on because of the “sudden format switch” AT&T made in its contract.

As an intelligence analyst, it seems Manning has access to details on a massive botnet China has for infiltrating and penetrating Google and various government and military websites. He tells Lamo, “China can knock out any network in the world with a DDoS” (a distributed denial of service attack).

One section, worth excerpting fully, gives reason to doubt those opposed to Manning’s alleged whistleblowing, who claim he just dumped a quarter of a million State Department cables and didn’t read or consider the contents of them at all.

(05:48:59 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: Do you know of any ops in Colombia other than anti-narco ones?

(05:50:11 PM) bradass87: not really… i know of state department initiatives to improve relations with columbians… mostly because of our poor history there… and because we’re still tracking FARC

(05:50:30 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: Venezuela?

(05:50:45 PM) bradass87: borders watched closely

(05:51:12 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: But nothing specific?

(05:51:24 PM) bradass87: smuggling, trafficking… for some reason a lot of DC politicos don’t like Chavez

(05:51:41 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: Imagine that.

(05:51:53 PM) bradass87: i dont give specifics unless i have them in front of me, sorry

(05:52:09 PM) info@adrianlamo.com: why?

(05:52:24 PM) bradass87: because my memory sucks sometimes

Manning appears to be able to carry a conversation about the cables and answer questions about what he has come across. This definitely is helpful to any defense of Manning and may force those opposed to Manning to recalibrate their arguments against him.

Manning also understands that Assange and WikiLeaks has guidelines for working with sources. He understands he is a source and not working for WikiLeaks. He tells Lamo Assange “knows little about me,” “he takes source-protections uber-seriously,” and Assange won’t work with you if you reveal too much about yourself.”

Finally, there’s the personal information, details on his home life that were not in the portion originally release as well as points which further reinforce the idea that Manning was seeking to become a woman after being discharged from the military. The portion previously released showed a soldier who felt isolated and distressed. Newly released portions add to what has been known, as he talks about being uncertain about his uncertainty over his gender identity and how he’s in the desert “with a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks as neighbors…and the only safe place” he had was a “satellite internet connection.”

It is Manning’s discussion of his issues with gender identity that Wired editor Poulsen alleges kept the magazine from releasing the (almost) full logs. This may be a rather dubious excuse because BoingBoing and Washingtonian’s Shane Harris caught on to some of the conversation and asked if Manning was transgender in June of last year. BoingBoing was “congratulated” by commenters for “outing” Manning after people read lines like, “waiting to deploy to the US be discharged…and figure out how on earth I’m going to transition” and “the CPU is not made for this motherboard.”

Additionally, the chat logs might lead one to ask if Manning was discharged under DADT before being arrested. If that is the case, Wired magazine was concealing an important element of the story, as military repression of homosexuals is definitely something that has politicized individuals (i.e. Lieutenant Dan Choi).

As to claims, which Wired senior reporter Kim Zetter made in WikiSecrets on Assange being alarmed about the contents of the logs because of what was in them, there is really nothing in the previously unreleased portion to incriminate Assange. It really makes Zetter look disingenuous, if she had seen the full chat logs.

BoingBoing reported in December 2010 that Poulsen and Evan Hansen “confirmed key details concerning unpublished chat logs between whistleblower Bradley Manning and informant Adrian Lamo. Responding to questions on Twitter, Poulsen wrote that the unpublished portion of the chats contain no further reference to ‘private’ upload servers for Manning, while Hansen indicated that they contain no further reference to the relationship between Manning and Wikileaks chief Julian Assange.” Yet, Zetter appeared in the documentary as a source on the logs the magazine still refused to publish and she suggested Assange was worried about something in the chat logs.

There has not been much media coverage of the new portions released yet, but Alan Wang for the local ABC News affiliate in San Francisco has a post up. He claims that for the first time “we’re getting a glimpse of a possible motive behind the top secret leaks.” This is blatantly false. Only if you were just joining this week’s regularly scheduled programming would you look at the newly released portions and conclude, “A-ha! He did it because he was transgender!”

Wang should know this isn’t the Eureka moment he thinks it is, as he notes that the New York Magazine published information on his gender identity issues last week. Still, he pursues this line and then he suggests a connection between Manning and Assange has been revealed. But, Poulsen already said back in December that there wasn’t any more on Assange and Manning being connected plus, if you read between the lines, it is entirely possible for someone to be acting as Assange when talking with sources. It’s possible Manning equated WikiLeaks with Assange and, when talking to someone in WikiLeaks about the information he allegedly transferred, he believed he was forming a working relationship with Assange.

Greenwald, who challenged Poulsen and Hansen in December when they were still concealing the chat logs, has posted his response to the release. He acknowledges some of what the magazine withheld was personal information that had “no newsworthy relevance” but that “substantial portions of what they withheld do not even arguably fall within those categories.” Noting that Lamo suggested Manning could enjoy a “modicum of legal protection,” Greenwald concludes:

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.

James Ball of The Guardian, who used to work for WikiLeaks, engaged Poulsen in a conversation after the release. Poulsen told Ball, “We’ll get flack for not publishing sooner, for publishing at all, and, Orwellianly, for “concealing” everything we’ve revealed.”

Shouldn’t the Wired editors be held responsible for what the public in the US and the entire world has not understood about Manning, Lamo and the entire WikiLeaks story up to this point and are now able to understand because of the portions released? Why is it so dismaying that people suggest Wired was “concealing” the logs when they were not released in full for over a year?

Much happened in the timeline of Bradley Manning’s story since they acquired the logs. It is not necessarily true, as Greenwald emphasizes, that personal details or sensitive government information was what was being withheld. Details in Manning’s decision to open up and share his heart and soul with Lamo were in the unpublished portion. Moreover, his detention at Quantico, how he was treated and the way that the press has been able to dissect his personal and military life from all angles should have been enough for Wired to realize they needed to publish much earlier, as the chat logs are the only way the public can get a sense of why Manning did what he did because he is not allowed to speak on his case from prison.

Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago, who now serves on the Bradley Manning Support Network advisory board, says the treatment Manning was subjected to was “very reminiscent of the sexual humiliation that was tinged with homophobia [which] we saw the US conduct against prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other prisons” in Iraq. He doesn’t think the sexual humiliation he was subjected to was an accident.

The chat logs, if the military and government officials had seen them, would have created the possibility that Manning’s gender identity struggle could be used against him to gain possible information from Manning on Assange and WikiLeaks. Certainly, in retrospect, if we know about Manning’s gender issues, the movement in support of Manning to get him moved from Quantico is different. It may have even been more intense and accelerated because of how vulnerable LGBT people are in the hyper-masculine US military that is rife with homophobia.