The trial of U.S. Army private Bradley Manning doesn’t begin until September. But since the former intelligence analyst was placed under military detention over 800 days ago, accused of prying thousands of secret diplomatic cables and one notorious video from military servers and feeding them to WikiLeaks, Manning’s case has been mired in a swamp of controversy and secrecy.
In March of 2011, Hilary Clinton’s spokesperson called the government’s treatment of Manning “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid,” echoing the concerns of the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, before he was forced to step down. And the case has been cloaked in a kind of secrecy that’s been compared by some observers to that around the trial of Lt. William Calley for his role in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Except for scant leaks from the trial itself, all motions, briefs and transcripts of the proceedings have been kept under tight lock and key, even as the government has released transcripts from the hearing of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Manning’s not alone. The slew of constitutional crusaders, activists and hackers who have come publicly to Manning’s defense and questioned his treatment have also found themselves in the government’s crosshairs. And one of them is trying to fight back by hacking away at the proceedings’ unusual cloak of silence.
In early 2011, after the CEO of security firm HBGary Federal bragged that he had identified some of the leaders of Anonymous, its hacker wing shot back. Soon 40,000 of HBGary Federal’s emails were online, along with a PowerPoint presentation titled “The WikiLeaks Threat”. The confidential report, intended to take aim at WikiLeaks intellectual foundation, contained photographs of and information on a slew of activists, journalists and other Manning supporters whom, it said, should be targeted and discredited.
One of the people who appears in those photos is David House, a 25-year-old computer scientist, graduate of Boston University and co-founder of the non profit Bradley Manning Support Network. In November of 2010, during what at first seemed a routine security search at O’Hare International Airport, agents from Homeland Security detained House for 90 minutes, questioned him about his relationship with Manning, and confiscated his computer, camera and a thumb drive without a warrant. House did not cede his encryption keys; a month later, the items were shipped to him. (Another vocal Manning supporter, Nadim Kobeissi, says he has been detained and questioned numerous times at the border about his work on CryptoCat, an encrypted web chat client that cannot easily be surveilled.)