Manning’s attorney says WikiLeaks disclosures weren’t harmful

by Declan McCullagh November 28, 2011 10:59 PM PST

Bradley Manning’s attorney has suggested that the hundreds of megabytes of U.S. government data his client allegedly handed to WikiLeaks didn’t really harm national security after all.

The SaveBradley Facebook page. (Credit: Screenshot by CNET)

A new document filed in Manning’s criminal case provides an early glimpse at the defense’s legal strategy in advance of a preliminary hearing on December 16.

The filing, which defense attorney David Coombs made public today, requests a copy of a White House “report detailing the rather benign nature of the leaks and the lack of any real damage to national security” caused by WikiLeaks. It also seeks similar documents from the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department.

One military damage assessment “concluded that all of the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already commonly understood and known due to previous public disclosures,” Coombs wrote.

A Reuters report from January, citing officials who had been briefed on the topic, reached a similar conclusion. The article said that the “diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration’s public statements to the contrary.”

Manning, an Army private, was originally charged last July with sending a military video to a person not authorized to receive it and with obtaining “more than 150,000 diplomatic cables” from the State Department. WikiLeaks began to release the department’s internal cables last fall, following its publication of military dispatches from Afghanistan and Iraq a few months earlier.

The U.S. Army added 22 additional charges against Manning earlier this year. One of the new charges is an allegation of aiding the enemy, which carries severe penalties. (Here’s the actual document.)

If Manning did in fact provide classified data to WikiLeaks, steal “a record or thing of value of the United States,” exceed his “authorized access on a Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) computer,” and commit the other unlawful acts that prosecutors allege he engaged in, the extent of damage to U.S. national security won’t save him from being convicted.

But, if he is convicted, that argument could result in a lesser sentence, and it also could make the Army more inclined to offer a plea bargain.

Coombs is also–and this is common in civilian criminal prosecutions as well–attempting to gain access to the Encase forensic images of military computers that were seized during the Army’s investigation. “The defense has previously requested these items,” but has not received them, he said.

Manning is facing an Article 32 hearing this month, which is a preliminary proceeding under the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice. The investigating officer can then choose to refer the case to a general court-martial.




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