When there's a news report about secret government documents being leaked, most people's first thought is spies - and that immediately brings to mind James Bond or Jason Bourne. While the guy (allegedly) responsible for the biggest leak of secrets ever is neither Bond nor Bourne, he does take the prize for sheer scale of operation. Bradley Manning (again allegedly) leaked 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables - these are confidential text messages between embassies around the world and the United States government. On top of that there were half a million army reports and restricted videos leaked including the Baghdad helicopter air-strike known as Collateral Murder.
So who is the 22 year old Private First Class accused of communicating national defence information to an unauthorized source and aiding the enemy? (A capital offence by the way, but prosecutors say they won't seek the death penalty.)
Bradley Manning was born in Crescent, Oklahoma, a small town forty miles north of Oklahoma City. His dad served five years with the US Navy as an intelligence analyst. Later he worked in IT and taught Bradley C++, a computer programming language. Bradley seemed to have a natural flair for working with computers. When he was ten he created his first website. He taught himself to use PowerPoint and went on to win local science fairs. By thirteen he was changing the appearance of characters in his video games by re-writing the code.
However, all was not well on the home front. Bradley's father travelled a lot with his work. His mother, originally from Wales, found it difficult to adjust to life in Oklahoma and developed a drinking problem. When Bradley was thirteen his parents divorced. A year later, his mother returned to Wales and took Bradley with her. Although he continued his computer interests he was bullied for being an American. An article in The Sunday Times quotes a schoolmate describing Bradley as "unique, extremely unique. Very quirky, very opinionated, very political, very clever, very articulate."
At seventeen, Bradley returned to the States to live with his father in Oklahoma City. By now Bradley was living openly as a gay man. He got a job with a software company but it didn't last. There was tension between Bradley and his father's second wife, so he left home once more. He lived in Tulsa and Chicago for a while before settling in Potomac, Maryland. According to journalist, Denver Nicks, the fifteen months Bradley spent in Potomac were the most stable of his life. He had a boyfriend, worked at Starbucks for a while, then Abercrombie & Fitch and he was going to college.
In October 2007 Bradley enlisted in the Army. His plan was to get a PhD in physics. Two years later he was in Baghdad. He was arrested and charged in May 2010 and has been incarcerated ever since.
On November 9, Manning offered to plead guilty to lesser offences than those with which he is charged. The judge is set to consider the plea at a hearing on 10 December. Even if the court allows Manning to take the action - known as "pleading guilty by exceptions and substitutions" - the government could still press ahead with the original charges. His trial is set to begin in February, 2013.
Bradley Manning was one of 241 candidates nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 2011.
The Bradley Manning Support Network has received over $600,000 in donations.
In one of those quirks of fate, when Bradley Manning was traveling from Wales to the United States he happened to be in King's Cross underground station on July 7 2005 the day of the London bombings. He heard the sirens and the screaming.
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