Professionalism/Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks

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Bradley Manning US Army.jpg

Chelsea Manning was a U.S. Army soldier deployed to Iraq in 2009. She leaked over 700,000 classified documents, including military records and diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks in 2010. She was arrested in May of that year and charged with over 20 crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. She was convicted by a military tribunal for most of these, including espionage and computer fraud on July 30, 2014. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was imprisoned for 7 years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barrack sat Fort Leavenworth Kansas. She was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, after the prosecution could not prove that the leaks had aided Al-Quaeda [1]. Manning's sentence was commuted by President Barrack Obama on January 17, 2017 [2], and she was released from prison on May 17, 2017 [3]. As of May 2018, she is running for US Senate in her home state of Maryland [4].

Why She Did It[edit]

Contents of the Leaks[edit]

Manning said she gave WikiLeaks the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike video (so-called "Collateral Murder") in early 2010. Unedited version and edited version[5]

To contextualize Manning's decision to leak classified documents, it is important to have some familiarity with the contents of those leaks. This can help to understand her motivation, and to consider the potential consequences of her actions.

A video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun sight, showing the killing of multiple noncombatants in Baghdad during an airstrike on July 12, 2007. The casualties included two Reuters journalists. The soldiers in the video can be heard mistaking the reporters' camera equipment for AK-47s.

Over 91,000 reports of "significant actions" during the US war in Afghanistan. The reports include lethal actions, names of informants, reports of meetings, and some information that could be considered embarrassing to the United States, such as that it paid 100,000 Afghani to the families of slain civilians, an amount roughly equivalent to $1,400. Initially only 75,000 documents were released as "part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source," according to Wikileaks.

391,832 military logs, each detailing a "significant action" during the Iraq War. The reports record 109,032 deaths, of which 66,081 were civilians. Many were previously unreported to the public. The leak brought the Iraq Body Count Project to over 150,000, of which 80% were civilians.

251,287 diplomatic cables, at the time "the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain," according to Wikileaks. Wikileaks made them available in advance to five newspapers: The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, and El Pais. These documents were partially redacted by the journalists ahead of the coordinated release. In September of 2011 the full, un-redacted collection was released by Wikileaks after a decryption key for the documents was accidentally revealed. Wikileaks justified the release by reasoning that the accident had allowed governments to access the full set of files, while ordinary people still could not. By releasing the full set, they claimed, the sources named therein could protect themselves [6].

759 files recording nearly all inmates at the facility. The files revealed that over 150 of the detainees were held for years without charge, including a 14-year-old kidnap victim who was detained due to "his possible knowledge of Taliban... local leaders."

Proponent Perspectives on the Leak[edit]

Though the leak may cause severe consequences, she received tremendous support from social groups such as Bradley Manning Support Network. They believe Manning's motives were for the well-being of the country and that whistle-blowers play a vital role in democracy by holding governments accountable[7].

Professional Qualities[edit]

To justify Manning's motives, it is essential to evaluate her professional qualities. Before exposed, she had a series of online chatting session with Adrian Lamo. Within the chat log, Lamo assured Manning's protection and privacy. Manning confessed her motives truthfully in the chats. This shows that Manning's professional loyalty lies with the public.

Prudence and Judgement[edit]

Analyzing situations with expertise and being vigilant is an important professional quality.

hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?

—Bradley Manning [8]

From the quote, Manning showed her exercise of prudence and the stress she was experiencing. Though she believed the viewed content should be made public, Manning contemplated for months before she acted upon the judgement that she would not regret. Many groups believe that because she exercised prudence, not a single person has been harmed despite the sensitivity of the information leaked[9].

Professional Integrity[edit]

As an Intelligence Analyst for the military, Manning was to follow orders as given. However, as a professional, Manning believed that her loyalty does not simply lie with the government and the military. According to the chat log, Manning felt that she was actively involved in things she was completely against[8]. She disagreed with the military's actions due to the conflict between her personal and professional standings, putting her loyalty to question.

God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

—Chelsea Manning [8]

Manning realized that her loyalty lies with the public instead of the military, thus aligning herself as a professional rather than just an intelligence analyst. Advocates for Manning believe that she should be given the medal of honor for her service[9]. Many also believed the leaked information does belong to the people and wishes for Manning's freedom[10]. By leaking the classified information to the public, Manning exercised her ethical beliefs and retained her professional integrity.

i just… dont wish to be a part of it… at least not now… im not ready… i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much,…

—Bradley Manning [8]

Manning exercised prudence and understood the consequences of her actions. Instead of standing silent, she accepted responsibility to expose government misconducts. People relate her to other professionals [11] and whistle-blowers such as Edward Murrow, the broadcast journalist who put himself on the line when confronting Senator Joseph McCarthy [12]. She would not sacrifice her professional integrity for anything, even her own life.

Defiance to Authority[edit]

After she identified her loyalty and professional duty, Manning found the courage to pass the classified information to Julian Assange, defying the military protocols while knowing the consequences.

Opponent Perspectives on the Leak[edit]

Despite the overwhelming support from the general public, some do not see Manning as a definition four professional.

History of Issues[edit]

Manning’s defiance began early in her military career according to Jay Huwieler. Huwieler tells the story of Manning as she attempted to complete tasks in basic training. During one drill Manning refused to participate, turning to face the direction opposite her unit.

The problem was, she quit. As the rest of the platoon faced one way, gritting their teeth and baring it, whispering words of encouragement to each other, she stood at an about-face the opposite direction, and said she simply could not pick up her own bag.

—Jay Huwieler [27]

Manning continued this defiant behavior during a daily routine used to promote communication. Every day the unit received a “uniform of the day” which was distributed to few of the recruits. The exercise promoted communication and trust as well as uniformity. During this exercise Manning intentionally misled her peers in an apparent attempt at self-promotion.  

Manning called out the uniform of the day, waited until her squad was dressed and had moved out to the morning formation, when she then put on the real, correct uniform of the day and ran to catch up.

—Jay Huwieler [27]

Incidents followed Manning after her completion of Boot Camp including the assault of a superior officer. Captain Casey Fulton witnessed the aftermath of the incident noting the damage to the victim’s face. It should be noted this incident came at a time of anguish for Manning who found herself struggling to fit into the military model.

[Showman] said he had struck her and she had a big red welt on her face

—Captain Casey Fulton [28]

Disloyal to U.S.[edit]

Manning did not fulfill her responsibility as an employee of the U.S military. When Manning received the Top-Secret clearance that was needed for her job, Manning agreed to protect classified information. However, Manning violated her promise. Manning did not uphold loyalty to her country. She was charged with aiding the enemy.[13] The prosecution claimed that the diplomatic cables leak harms U.S diplomatic ties with other nations, which can result in severe diplomatic crisis. In addition, the war logs leak can give a strategic edge to U.S. enemy in warfare and aid their terrorist activities worldwide.[14] In the eyes of the U.S. government, Manning compromised U.S. national defense and she is regarded as a traitor. [15]

Redefine the classification system[edit]

Manning testified that she selectively released less sensitive information.

Of the document released, the [diplomatic] cables were the only one I was not absolutely certain couldn't harm the U.S. ... all the cables [I released] have a SIPDIS caption. I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the U.S."

—Chelsea Manning [16]

Manning was not certain about the risk of leaking those cables, however she used her personal judgement to determine what to leak. Some argued that Manning alone has no expertise to redefine the existing military classification system. Regarding to Manning's case, President Obama said "We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate...He broke the law."[17]

Skipped legal reporting channels[edit]

Manning did not take the proper channels to report the inhumane incident discovered, she directly gave away classified information to the public. There were multiple legal avenues available: Manning's chain of command, the Army Inspector General, the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Congress.

Speculation on Manning's motives[edit]

Some speculated that exposing humanitarian issue is not Manning's only motive. One possible motive is to perform revenge to the military. Manning was emotionally unstable prior to the leak. Manning's miserable early life contributed to this. Manning was neglected by both her parents, whom later divorced. Manning was also being bullied both in school and the military. Manning said that she was “Regularly ignored[by superiors in the military] ... except when I had something essential, then it was back to ‘Bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.’”[18] She also suffered from the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars her from openly discussing that she is gay in the military. Psychiatrist Capt. Edan Critchfield diagnosed that Manning has “Occupational problem and adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct.” [19] Manning's friends suggested that her desperation for social acceptance contributed to the leak. By releasing evidences of military's inhumane actions directly to the public, she can become a national hero that some people admired.

His desperation for acceptance — or delusions of grandeur — may have led him to disclose the largest trove of government secrets".

—Manning's friend [18]

Related Cases and Concepts[edit]

Pentagon Papers[edit]

Whistleblowing on classified information had been condemned by the government. It takes courage and commitment to stand up against the legal pressure and threats of mental and physical harm from the government.

The Pentagon Papers, containing classified information on government deceptions during Vietnam War and the Johnson Administration, were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times in 1971.

The Nixon administration filed civil suit in 1971 against Ellsberg, with felony charges under the Espionage Act. Nixon administration conducted covert operations to discredit Ellsberg using CIA agents such as breaking into his psychiatrist's office to steal medical records, wiretapping against him,[20] and planning to drug him during a rally.[21] The administration attempted to bribe chief justice of the case by offering him directorship at FBI. [22] Ultimately, the court dismissed all charges in 1973 due to gross misconduct of the government and illegal evidence gathering.

Nazi Regime and the Holocaust[edit]

Whistleblowers expose the government misconducts and lies that it attempts to hide under the guise of confidentiality and national security. Left unchecked, the humanitarian and political issues, such as those exposed in the Manning Case and Pentagon Papers, could degenerate into more horrific cases, such as the Holocaust.

The Nazi regime expended considerable efforts to hide the details of the Holocaust from the German public. The lie told to the public had been that Jews were "deported to work in the east." [23] Propaganda material in 1941 reported that deported Jews had respectable work and lived in good conditions. One of the infamous examples is Theresienstadt, ghetto for elderly and prominent Jews for whom applying the "deported to work" propaganda would be implausible. Nazi authorities painted Theresienstadt as a peaceful retirement community when it is a transit camp to killings centers in Poland and Baltic region.[24] The film, Theresienstadt, was made about the fine conditions of Jewish settlements.

Adolf Eichmann and Milgram Experiment[edit]

Blind obedience to authority figures and surrender of responsibility often lead normal people to do unethical things.

The humanitarian issues of the U.S. military exposed by the Manning Leak demonstrated the dangers of such blind obedience. As Ethan McCord, a soldier involved in the Baghdad Airstrike incident, explained the situation in Iraq, "we were told that if we were to fire our weapons at people, that we were being investigated, the officers would take care of you."[25] This draws striking similarities with the statement by Adolf Eichmann during the Holocaust trials, "I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors."[26] The Milgram studied this effect and identified that "the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument to carrying out another person's wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions." [27]

Shakil Afridi[edit]

Whistleblowing and leaking of confidential information has to be done prudently as the consequences could be grave.

Following the raid on Osama bin Laden, classified information about the informant, Pakistani physician Shakil Afridi, who aided CIA in identifying the hideout location was leaked. The Pakistani commission investigating the raid recommended that he be charged with conspiracy and high treason. [28]. Pakistani authorities seized Afridi's assets[29] and denied him of future employment.[30] Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason due to his connection with the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, according to the Pakistani government [31] despite denial from commander of the group.[32]

Professional Implications[edit]

A professional would be confronted with ethical dilemmas throughout the course of his career. The professional should identify where his loyalty lies and evaluate the situation prudently to come to a judgment in line with his integrity. The professional should also have the courage to defy the authorities if necessary.


  1. Tate, J. 2013. Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in WikiLeaks case Washington Post.
  2. Savage, C. 2017. Chelsea Manning to Be Released Early as Obama Commutes Sentence New York Times.
  3. Grinberg, E. 2017. Out of prison, Chelsea Manning looks forward to exploring life as a woman CNN.
  4. Chelsea Manning for US Senate. 2018. Chelsea Manning for Senate site.
  5. "Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy," The New York Times.
  6. September 2, 2011. Greenwald, G. Facts and Myths in the Wikileaks/Guardian saga. Salon.
  7. Bloomfield, A. 2013. Bradley Manning Prison: 1,000th Day Behind Bars Approaches Retrieved from
  8. a b c d Hansen, E. (2011). Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Revealed. Retrieved from
  9. a b 2013.About Bradley.Retrieved from
  10. 2012.Thankful for Bradley Manning, Wikileaks & Courage To Tell The Truth.Retrieved from
  11. 2013. Courage To Resist. Retrieved from
  12. Carey, R. 2008. EDWARD R. MURROW VS. MCCARTHYISM. Retrieved from
  13. Charge Sheet
  14. US red-faced as 'cablegate' sparks global diplomatic crisis, courtesy of WikiLeaks
  15. Small victory for Manning's Defense?
  16. Bradley Manning On Why He Released State Dept. Cables
  17. Obama responses to Manning case
  18. a b Early Struggles of Soldier Charged in Leak Case
  19. Bradley Manning is at the center of the WikiLeaks controversy. But who is he?
  20. The Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) Trial: A Chronology, University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
  21. Liddy, G. Gordon (1980). Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 170–71. ISBN 0-312-88014-6. 
  22. Judge William Byrne; Ended Trial Over Pentagon Papers, Washington Post
  23. Responsibility for the Holocaust
  24. Deceiving the Public, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Encyclopedia
  25. WikiLeaks' Collateral Murder: U.S. Soldier Ethan McCord
  26. Adolf Eichmann (April 11, 1961), Eichmann trial proceedings
  27. Milgram, Stanley (1974). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-422-74580-4. 
  28. Pakistan: Doctor Who Aided C.I.A. Should Face Charges, Panel Says, New York Times
  29. Shakeel Afridi’s assets siezed, Dawn News
  30. KP govt disqualifies Dr Shakil Afridi for job, Daily Times
  31. Dr Shakil Afridi jailed for ‘militant links’, International Herald Tribune
  32. Militants deny link with Dr Shakil Afridi, Geo News