- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

The weeklong preliminary hearing for the Army analyst accused of leaking thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks ended Thursday, with a defense lawyer urging military authorities to reduce the charges against his client.

“The government overcharged in this case,” David E. Coombs, attorney for Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, told military court officials at Fort Meade, Md.

The prosecution asked the court to move to a court-martial for Pfc. Manning on 22 charges in the WikiLeaks case.

The Army intelligence analyst, 24, would face life imprisonment if convicted on the most serious of the charges - aiding the enemy.

The hearing’s presiding officer has until Jan. 16 to decide whether to recommend the case for court-martial.

Army Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington, will make the final decision on a court-martial, and he has no deadline to do so.

Pfc. Manning allegedly downloaded three databases of secret documents from his computer in Iraq onto CDs and passed them to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Rather than arguing his client’s innocence, Mr. Coombs sought to show during the hearing that Pfc. Manning should not have had access to secret data because of mental and emotional problems, stemming in part from the fact that his homosexuality had become known to colleagues during the military’s ban on openly serving gays.

One officer testified he would have canceled Pfc. Manning’s security clearance if he had known about a pre-leak outburst in which the analyst turned over a table.

Under Mr. Coombs‘ questioning, defense and prosecution witnesses painted a picture of lax information security at Army facilities in Iraq like the one where Pfc. Manning was working.

Soldiers routinely uploaded movies, games and music bought in local Iraqi markets to the classified computer network, SIPRNet, that Pfc. Manning is accused of misusing, and brought recordable media like CDs and thumb drives in and out of the facilities.

Regan Smith, a retired Army counterintelligence specialist, told The Washington Times the revelations at the hearing had “horrified” her and other counterintelligence specialists she had spoken with.

Yet Ms. Smith said such lax security was common, especially in war zones like Iraq.

“We have always had heartburn,” she said of counterintelligence officers. “There were always commanders who didn’t want to be bothered with any of ‘this security crap’ because ‘it gets in the way of the mission.’ Very few junior [information security] officers will stand up to that.”

But another retired Army counterintelligence officer, who asked not to be named, said that was “overblown.”

“Millions of government and military people deal with classified information every single day across the globe. Once in a great while, someone decides to do something bad with that information,” he said, adding that does not mean the whole system was broken.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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