Court documents in the case of an Army intelligence analyst accused of giving classified files to WikiLeaks show a catalog of problems in the Army’s handling of classified materials in war zones, especially the use of supposedly secure computer networks.
A preliminary hearing Friday for Pfc. Bradley E. Manning likely will expose many of those problems, as defense and prosecution attorneys question witnesses before a military judge decides whether the analyst will be court-martialed.
Pfc. Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. government documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks last year, when he was based in Iraq. He faces several charges, including aiding the enemy and could be imprisoned for life if convicted.
His pretrial hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, will be held in the Military District of Washington.
According to court documents, intelligence analysts in the brigade headquarters where Pfc. Manning worked routinely loaded music, movies and games bought in Iraqi street markets onto the military’s secret computer network SIPRNet, exposing it to infection by viruses and other malicious programs.
“That is shocking, if it’s true,” said Steven Aftergood, head of the government secrecy program at the Federation of American Scientists. “The picture painted is a scandalous absence of any kind of information security.”
But court documents filed by the defense, including witness lists, provide clues to some of the evidence that Mr. Coombs will attempt to present.
The heavily redacted documents list 48 witnesses Mr. Coombs wants to question, but the prosecution has proposed allowing 10 of them to testify, he wrote on his blog.
A statement from prosecutors said the ultimate decision on which witnesses are “reasonably available” is in the hands of the investigating officer, who will preside over the hearing.
“Military witnesses will testify, subject to the authority of their immediate commanders,” says the statement from the Military District of Washington. “Civilian witnesses will be invited to testify at government expense, but may not be compelled to attend a pretrial hearing.”
Among the civilian witnesses the defense wants to call is Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who has said that Pfc. Manning confessed to him in an online chat and who subsequently turned the soldier in to the FBI.
Another potential witness - described in court documents as the second-in-command of the brigade’s information technology and communications team - is expected to testify that soldiers routinely loaded pirated games, music and other media on their computers.
An officer from the headquarters staff is expected to testify that such lax procedures were common throughout Iraq, and that he is unaware of anyone ever being disciplined for uploading unauthorized material to SIPRNet.
“He believed that the Army had become too comfortable working on SIPRNet while deployed. It is his opinion that this may have bred some complacency,” the court document states of his testimony.
A third officer is expected to testify that when analysts in Pfc. Manning’s unit first saw the classified video of a helicopter strike that killed two journalists, they gathered around a monitor to watch it, and afterward debated the ethics of the strike.
Classified material such as the video is supposed to be available to cleared personnel only on a need-to-know basis.
“The way the defense presents it, there was a total lack of adult supervision,” Mr. Aftergood said. “But we’re only hearing one side of the story here.”
He said lax security might be a mitigating factor in the punishment phase, but he wasn’t sure how it could affect a finding of guilt.
“They don’t seem to be arguing that the wrong person was arrested,” he said.
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