Soldier Held In Leaked Video Case Charged

This week, Army Spc. Bradley Manning was charged with several violations of federal law, including transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party and unauthorized computer access. He is accused of leaking a classified video of a military operation in Iraq and several classified diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks. Robert Siegel talks to Wired Magazine's Kim Zetter, who has covered the story.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This week, the U.S. Army charged Private First Class Bradley Manning with several violations of federal law: Transmitting classified information to an unauthorized third party, unauthorized computer access.

Manning is the soldier who's accused of leaking a classified video of a military operation in Iraq to the website Wikileaks. The charges against him also involve his alleged abuse of a classified government computer network to access 150,000 State Department documents - among them, some 50 classified State Department cables.

Kim Zetter is a reporter for Wired magazine. She's covered this story.

And, Kim Zetter, first, this concerns the video of the 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq. He's charged under military law?

Ms. KIM ZETTER (Reporter, Wired Magazine): He's charged under military law, but the military law allows them to charge him under civilian criminal law. So these are - and he's charged under the Espionage Act and other things. And so these are criminal charges, but they will be handled by a military court.

SIEGEL: And what kind of penalty might Bradley Manning face if convicted of these charges?

Ms. ZETTER: If he's tried and convicted of all the charges, he faces a possible maximum of 52 years.

SIEGEL: Now, in the case of the Iraq video, the Pentagon investigated the events on the ground that were depicted in that video. What do we know about that investigation? What came of it?

Ms. ZETTER: Well, they determined that there is no wrongdoing by the soldiers; that they had acted according to the Rules of Engagement. There were two Reuter's employees who were killed in the engagement, but they were with a group of men who were found to have been carrying weapons. And they were near an area where a firefight had been taking place.

SIEGEL: Now, PFC Manning has said that he also leaked a military video from an attack in Afghanistan from May 2009 to Wikileaks. What do you know about that, and why hasn't Wikileaks published it?

Ms. ZETTER: This is a video that was 2009 in Afghanistan where the local authorities say about a hundred civilians were killed. Manning says that he gave Wikileaks the video. Wikileaks has said that it received the video encrypted, and then it's been spending the last few months trying to decrypt that.

I think it recently said in media reports that it had finally decrypted the video and that it plans to release it soon, along with some accompanying documents.

SIEGEL: Has Manning given any idea of what the contents of some of these cables might be? There's a lot of content but has he characterized them at all?

Ms. ZETTER: He talked about in general terms that the documents exposed how the First World exploits the Third World. There were a couple of other things that he disclosed, but we've opted not to discuss them because presumably, they discuss classified information.

SIEGEL: How do you understand the role of Wikileaks here, which bills itself as a journalistic outlet for whistleblowers? Do they corroborate information they receive? Do they evaluate what its release might entail, or is it simply a matter of decoding it and translating it?

Ms. ZETTER: It's a little unclear because Wikileaks is not really transparent about how it operates. In the case of the Iraq video, they did engage some journalists from Europe to go to Iraq on the ground, and try and find the family of some children who were injured in the attack, and to get some other information on the ground prior to publishing that video.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, says that, you know, things are vetted, but it's not really clear by who or to what degree.

SIEGEL: What is it exactly that Wikileaks did here that Private First Class Manning could not have done on his own? What did it bring to the leak that somebody who knows his way around computers couldn't just do on the Internet?

Ms. ZETTER: That's a valid point. Someone who does know their way about how to set up an anonymous hosting site and to upload documents could do this on their own. The majority of people who leak information to Wikileaks, though, probably aren't in that position to do that on their own. And so what Wikileaks provides is - ordinary conditions, it does provide an ability to submit documents anonymously. Although that ability has been down since about February.

SIEGEL: Do we know why that's the case?

Ms. ZETTER: Julian Assange has indicated that they're in the process of tweaking the infrastructure. So I suppose expanding it for increased load of the missions and media attention.

SIEGEL: But six months seems long for tweaking. It's obviously a vague word. But do we anticipate some huge new release of documents by Wikileaks, for example?

Ms. ZETTER: Well, we know that the Garani video from 2009 is in the works.

SIEGEL: The Garani video is the video from Afghanistan in May of last year?

Ms. ZETTER: Yes. So what we see in the works possibly is release of the Garani video, supporting documents and possibly the release of 50 classified State Department cables.

SIEGEL: Well, Kim Zetter, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Ms. ZETTER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Kim Zetter, reporter for Wired magazine. She spoke to us from San Francisco.

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