A secret government report obtained by BuzzFeed News uncovered that the thousands of classified documents Chelsea Manning passed to WikiLeaks didn't pose as great a threat to national security as US authorities previously claimed.
The more than 700,000 documents Manning shared contained information on widespread civilian casualties, Iraqi military officers' alleged torture of detainees, and footage of a US airstrike outside Baghdad that killed two journalists, among a trove of other intelligence. In 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to leaking the documents and was sentenced to 35 years in a maximum-security prison—the harshest penalty ever handed to a whistleblower.
Publicly, the feds slammed Manning for handing over the documents to WikiLeaks, arguing during her 2013 trial that the leaked intelligence posed a serious threat to national security. Privately, however, officials from 20 federal agencies—including the FBI, NSA, CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security—apparently believed the opposite, the 2011 report obtained by BuzzFeed reveals.
The report found "with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former US leadership in Iraq." Though the report found that the leaks regarding the US war in Afghanistan could pose a threat to "cooperative Afghans, Iraqis, and other foreign interlocutors," it concluded that Manning's leaks wouldn't have a "significant impact" on US operations there.
The report did say, however, that the leaks "could be used by the press or our adversaries to negatively impact support for our current operations in the region."
That intelligence might have factored in to former president Barack Obama's decision to commute Manning's sentence just before he left office. Her stint at Fort Leavenworth military prison—in which she struggled as a transgender woman in a male facility, attempted suicide twice, and spent long stretches in solitary—came to a close on May 17, 2017.
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