RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Another soldier sits in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. He's accused of letting people know about military attacks on civilians, among other things. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning faces numerous serious charges, including aiding the enemy, stemming from the leaking of hundreds of thousands of pieces of classified material to WikiLeaks.
Journalist Martin Smith has been investigating the Bradley Manning case for the PBS series "Frontline." He got an exclusive interview with Manning's father and uncovered some audio that offers insight into Manning's past.
MARTIN SMITH: Bradley Manning has become something of a legend, and people are taking sides about whether he's a hero or a villain.
We wanted to do no more than simply look at what the facts were about who this young man was. We found that he grows up in a small town north of Oklahoma City, he's a very smart kid, he doesn't have many friends. You know, he was just very dedicated to the computer. At the age of 10 he set up his own website.
And when Bradley turns 13, around that time, his father and mother separate. And around that same time Bradley came out to his friends and told them he was gay.
His mother took him and they moved back to Wales, where she was from. So he goes to high school there and he's sort of seen as geeky and he starts talking politics. He opposed the war in Iraq, and talked about that with friends. After graduation from high school, he decides he wants to come back to the States. And he decides he's going to move back - at least temporarily - and live with his father and his new stepmother.
MONTAGNE: I gather from what you found, that those were rather turbulent times. You at one point find a 911 call that was made by Bradley Manning's stepmother.
(Soundbite of 911 recording)
Unidentified Man: Oklahoma City 911.
Unidentified Woman: Yes, I need an officer here at my house, please. My husband's 18-year-old son is out of control and just threatened me with a knife. And his father has just had surgery and he is down on the floor. Get away from him!
Unidentified Man: Why is he on the floor?
Unidentified Woman: Because he tried to protect me and so he fell. Get away from him! Get out of here!
Unidentified Man: Ma'am...
MONTAGNE: Now, as strong as that sounds, you can also make out in this call -Bradley speaking to his father, saying, Dad, are you OK? So you're never clear on what a call like this exactly means. But what do you take it to mean?
SMITH: Well, when we spoke to the father, he told us about this 911 call and it didn't quite make sense. He said, well, there was a little trouble and then my wife decided to call 911. And I said, well, why would she call 911? Was he threatening? And he said, no, but you're never sure, you never know.
The story that has been reported is that Bradley had attended a gay rights rally some years later and told a reporter there that his father had kicked him out of the house because he was gay. The father maintains that that wasn't the case and he hinted about the existence of this, what he calls an altercation.
The police came and separated Bradley from the home. There was no talk that this had anything to do with him being gay. And he did not return home ever again. This was the breach in the relationship between him and the father.
MONTAGNE: Although his father, Brian Manning, says that he talked his son Bradley into joining the Army. And when Brian Manning, the father, talked to you, you ask him if he had any idea what would prompt his son, if indeed he had done it, to leak classified information. Let's listen to a little of that exchange.
Mr. BRIAN MANNING: I don't know why he would do that. I really don't.
SMITH: Was he patriotic?
Mr. MANNING: I don't think he followed any regime of any kind. I imagine he was just as much as you and I.
SMITH: Well, you knew - he's your son. You knew him. Was he patriotic?
Mr. MANNING: It never came up. I mean, he never said anything anti-American.
SMITH: He joined the Army.
Mr. MANNING: At my twisting his arm, yeah.
SMITH: He didn't want to join the Army?
Mr. MANNING: No, he did not. And he had expressed that.
SMITH: Why did you twist his arm to join the Army?
Mr. MANNING: Because he needed structure in his life. He was aimless.
MONTAGNE: But then joining the Army did not solve Bradley Manning's problems.
SMITH: No, and I think once he joined the military, there were more incidents. He hit a fellow soldier, he threw chairs, he yelled at superiors. So this was a pattern that might have raised some concern. But I think that given Bradley's behavior at home, his trouble at a number of jobs, that it bears some reporting into, you know, just what hurdles you need to get over in order to get a top security clearance.
MONTAGNE: Bradley Manning has been charged with multiple counts related to leaking classified documents. And again, he's alleged to have done this. Given that, and from what you know of him, is there anything you think might have motivated him to do something like that?
SMITH: Now, let me be careful how I phrase this. A fellow going by the moniker BradAss87 - '87 is the year of Bradley Manning's birth, and BradAss87, according to his friends, was the name that he used on chats - BradAss87 engages in a chat with a computer hacker named Adrian Lamo just after the first leak that takes place. And BradAss87 says that he had been outraged by seeing horrible things in the documents that he was privy too - and in the video in particular - and intimates that it was him that got in touch with a certain Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and leaked this material.
So what's evident from that conversation, if you want to assume that BradAss87 is Bradley Manning, that he did it because he was outraged, he did it out of a sense that people should know what's going on and that the government shouldn't be able to hide some of this information from the public.
MONTAGNE: "Frontline" correspondent Martin Smith speaking to us from New York. His profile of Bradley Manning airs this evening on PBS. And you can find out more at our website, NPR.org.
Thank you very much for joining us.
SMITH: Renee, thank you very much.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.