On June 6, Wired.com published a piece reporting that a U.S. soldier named Bradley Manning, who purportedly claimed to be passing confidential information—including a video showing U.S. helicopter pilots firing on two Reuters reporters—to WikiLeaks, online secret-sharing site, had been arrested. Ever since then, WikiLeaks and allies have been casting aspersions on Wired’s reporting.
Their latest tactic alleges that Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen and Adrian Lamo, the ex-hacker and occasional journalist who informed law enforcement that Manning had claimed to be a prime WikiLeaks source, had concealed their journalistic aims and worked together—along with the FBI—in order to gain Manning’s trust and mislead him into confessing.
WikiLeaks, via its Twitter account and, on Tuesday, in a fundraising appeal, has referred its supporters and others to an anonymous comment posted on the blog BoingBoing underneath video of Micah Sifry jointly interviewing Daniel Ellsberg and, via video link, WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange, at the Personal Democracy Forum days before Wired’s report.
“[N]ote that there are some questions about the Wired reportage,” said the solicitation letter, before providing the link to BoingBoing. (The comment was also passed on by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and Sifry.)
1) First and foremost, there needs to be more discussion about the potentially enormous ethics violations that seem to have been committed at Wired Magazine. Everyone knows Kevin Poulsen & Adrian Lamo are friends. It is obvious they worked their target, Bradley Manning, for days — in co-operation with the FBI and US Army CID. This hearkens back to COINTELPRO tactics. How likely is it that Lamo worked entirely on his own with no involvement from Poulsen, who only found out about it all after-the-fact, in time to “break the story” for Wired? There is no disclosure provided in the original article and it is written as if Poulsen wasn’t involved at all. Could it really be that, in pursuit of breaking a big story, Wired magazine staff helped set up a situation where the FBI/USACID got to use proxy interrogators, who misled a suspect into believing that he was only answering questions from someone he could trust, instead of federal/military law enforcement, without any Constitutional protections in place? This needs to be more critically examined.
The comment asks other questions about Lamo’s actions (none of those deal so pointedly with Wired’s role) before wrapping up with the following:
Wired Magazine, Kevin Poulsen and Adrian Lamo should be viewed with skepticism, as they are potentially the proud participants in one of the most scandalous breaches of journalist ethics in recent history.
Poulsen sees things differently. He describes Lamo, with whom he has had limited contact over the past eight years, not as a friend but as “a source and a subject.” And the timeline he offers differs significantly from the one offered by WikiLeaks.
According to transcripts posted by Wired, Lamo’s online chats with Manning began on May 21. Poulsen’s initial phone call from Lamo didn’t come until May 24, after Lamo had already contacted federal authorities, and was set to meet with them for the first time the next day.
In that call, Poulsen says Lamo told him only the bare outlines of what the meeting was about: he’d been in contact with someone claiming to be an Army intelligence analyst who said he’d shared classified information, including State Department cables, with a “foreign national.” Primarily, Lamo seemed to be concerned about his own safety. “He was very paranoid,” says Poulsen. “He was going into a meeting with the feds and he wanted to make sure that if it boomeranged on him somehow and he was incommunicado that the story would get out.”
Poulsen says that he asked Lamo to keep him posted. The next day, Lamo let Poulsen know that the meeting had happened and that he remained a free man. More details dribbled out over the next couple of days: Lamo had told him that Manning had claimed credit for leaking a video depicting the death of two Reuters employees at the hands of a U.S. Army helicopter. WikiLeaks came to wide attention after releasing that video on April 5.
“I knew that we were talking about a WikiLeaks source, and I still didn’t know the name,” says Poulsen. “I still didn’t have any way to really check out the story.”
Poulsen asked Lamo for the chat transcripts with Manning several times, only to be denied. Then Lamo told Poulsen that he had a second meeting scheduled with the FBI.
“That’s really when I got a lot more interested in the story, because part of my thinking in the story at this point is that Adrian was just taking very seriously some random person who’d contacted him out of the blue,” says Poulsen. “I still thought there was a good possibility that there was nothing to it, that this was just some person who had made up a story to get Adrian’s attention.”
But the fact that a second meeting was being set up made Poulsen realize that the government was taking Lamo’s allegations seriously. On May 26, he asked for the chat logs again, and Lamo agreed to provide them on two conditions: that he treat them as embargoed until Lamo assented, and that Poulsen would have to drive to the Sacramento area and meet him—Lamo thought them too sensitive to send electronically.
On May 27, before Lamo’s scheduled second meeting with the feds was set to take place that afternoon at 4 pm, Poulsen spent a few hours with Lamo.
“That was when I became aware of the full details of what Manning claimed to have leaked, and that’s when I learned Manning’s name,” says Poulsen. He says he drove away with the chats on a thumb drive around 3 pm.
Lamo told Poulsen on the morning of May 28 that, at the previous day’s meeting, he had been told Manning had been arrested the day before—May 26. Lamo did not lift the embargo until June 1. Zetter says she was brought on to the story on the evening of June 2.
Wired’s original article has this sentence:
“I wouldn’t have done this if lives weren’t in danger,” says Lamo, who discussed the details with Wired.com following Manning’s arrest.
That phrasing (“details”) was used, Poulsen says, to imply that Wired knew something about the story before Manning’s arrest. And while, according to Poulsen’s timeline, it is accurate that their first detailed discussion of the case came after Manning’s arrest, neither Poulsen nor Lamo knew so at the time.
“It’s clear to me WikiLeaks is upset by the news itself, and they’re just lashing out and shooting the messenger,” says Poulsen.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.