Chelsea Manning Comments Publicly On The Late Hacker Adrian Lamo Chelsea Manning breaks her silence on Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned her in to authorities after she revealed she leaked documents to WikiLeaks. Lamo died under mysterious circumstances last year.
NPR logo

Chelsea Manning Comments Publicly On The Late Hacker Adrian Lamo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/759296492/759296493" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Chelsea Manning Comments Publicly On The Late Hacker Adrian Lamo

Chelsea Manning Comments Publicly On The Late Hacker Adrian Lamo

Chelsea Manning Comments Publicly On The Late Hacker Adrian Lamo

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/759296492/759296493" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Chelsea Manning breaks her silence on Adrian Lamo, the hacker who turned her in to authorities after she revealed she leaked documents to WikiLeaks. Lamo died under mysterious circumstances last year.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

When Chelsea Manning leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, she also reached out to someone else - Adrian Lamo, who was once revered in the hacker community. Lamo turned Manning into authorities when she revealed herself as the leaker in 2010, and then last year, Lamo died under strange circumstances. As part of an NPR special series, Dina Temple-Raston looks into that mysterious death.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: If you were to trace the U.S. government's case against Julian Assange, you probably would have to start with this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Have individuals with weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Four radio.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yep, he's got a weapon, too.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's from a classified military video former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning gave to WikiLeaks nine years ago. You may remember it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I got a black vehicle under target. It's arriving right to the north of the mosque.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah, I would like that. Over.

TEMPLE-RASTON: These are the actual conversations between two Apache helicopter pilots.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hotel 26, this is Crazy Horse 18.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: All right, We got a guy with an RPG.

TEMPLE-RASTON: We know now that the video captured a tragic mistake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm going to fire.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're clear.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right, firing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Light them all up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Come on, fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Keep shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The American pilots killed a group of 12 civilians on a Baghdad street. When the video was leaked, it raised new questions about civilian casualties and rules of engagement in Iraq. It also marked the beginning of something else - the weaponization of the Internet.

A few months after the release, Chelsea Manning started an online chat with a hacker named Adrian Lamo, and she revealed that she not only leaked the video but hundreds of thousands of other classified documents as well. She said she had been talking to a, quote, "crazy, white-haired Aussie who can't stay in one country very long," unquote. She meant Julian Assange. Lamo couldn't keep this information to himself.

GLENN MORROW: Once it became clear that it was such a serious thing that had happened, I don't think he could stand by and live with the implications of just sitting on it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Adrian Lamo's cousin, Glenn Morrow.

MORROW: I don't think he anticipated, when he started, the gravity of what Manning was actually saying.

TEMPLE-RASTON: According to official case documents obtained by NPR, investigators testified that Lamo placed two phone calls shortly after chatting with Manning. One call went to a friend of his, a former Army intelligence officer named Tim Webster. And according to the documents, Webster called the FBI shortly after hanging up with Lamo. Despite repeated attempts to contact him, Webster declined to comment for this story. Lamo's friends told NPR that it's unlikely Webster called the authorities without asking Lamo first. So that's the first phone call.

Lamo, according to documents, then placed a second call, this time to a business partner. A short time later, the business partner left a message on the Army's Criminal Investigative Division tip line. That was on May 23, 2010. By the end of that week, Manning was in custody in Iraq, accused of one of the largest leaks of classified records in American history. Many supported Manning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Free.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Manning.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Free.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Manning.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Free.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Manning.

TEMPLE-RASTON: But many also blamed Lamo for turning her in.

ANDREW BLAKE: People hated him. He couldn't log on to any sort of Internet platform under his actual name without instantly getting some sort of hate directed toward him.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Andrew Blake was a friend of Adrian Lamo's. And before he met Manning, Lamo was a famous hacker. After Manning was arrested, Lamo was labeled a snitch and found himself on the receiving end of death threats.

BLAKE: Even when Adrian would do something with the absolute best of intentions, as soon as anyone realized that it was Adrian Lamo who did it, they didn't want anything to do with it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Then Lamo turned up dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: 911 Wichita.

TEMPLE-RASTON: They found his body March 14, 2018. He'd been dead for days. In the state of Kansas, medical examiners have five categories for determining a cause of death - natural, accident, suicide, homicide or, in Lamo's case, the most unsatisfying, undetermined.

SCOTT KIPPER: It's certainly possible to have a known cause of death but still have an undetermined manner of death.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's the local deputy medical examiner, Scott Kipper. He did Lamo's autopsy.

KIPPER: So example - if we find a body at the base of a tall building and it looks like he fell off the building, I can bring the body in. I can document the injuries. What I can't tell you is how he ended up on the sidewalk.

TEMPLE-RASTON: It wasn't just Lamo's celebrity that made this a mystery; he was living in Kansas, a place to which he had no previous connection. He was found dead in a senior living facility, but he was only 37 years old. There were rumors of his working for the government, only fueled by a mysterious sticker the medical examiner found on his thigh. It read, Project Vigilant and had a Washington, D.C., address.

As we retraced Lamo's steps during the last two years of his life, we found simple explanations for everything. He came to Kansas to live with a friend's parents. He was in a senior living facility because he qualified for low-income housing, and there were apartments available there. And Project Vigilant, it was a business he had started with that partner who called the authorities about Manning so many years ago. But the business never really went anywhere. In the end, our reporting found there were no assassins lying in wait, no government officials eager for a briefing. Adrian Lamo was profoundly alone.

Andrew Blake again.

BLAKE: I think just people tended to associate Adrian with the Adrian who snitched on Manning, not the Adrian who did a whole bunch of cool other stuff.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Blake said Adrian wasn't so much forgotten as unforgiven, which is ironic because a couple of months ago, we reached out to Chelsea Manning. We wondered, after all these years, how she felt about Lamo. She'd never commented about him on the record - until now. Quote, "I've never had any ill will toward Adrian at any time," unquote, she wrote NPR in a note from jail. And then she added, quote, "I'm more mad at the government for using him." Julian Assange's extradition hearing is set for February 25, 2020. Chelsea Manning remains in a Virginia jail for refusing to testify against him.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "REEL LIFE (EVOLUTION II)")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.