The Lookout

Facebook posts show WikiLeaks suspect’s anger over military’s gay ban

The Lookout

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WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning was a passionate gay-rights activist who angrily chafed against the military's ban on openly gay service members, an archive of the jailed U.S. Army private's Facebook page, examined by The Lookout, reveals. In one post, written not long before he was arrested on suspicion of leaking restricted government information, Manning defiantly questioned the need to keep his sexuality under wraps, declaring: "I have nothing to hide."

The Facebook postings were originally obtained by Frontline, in connection with an in-depth report on Manning and WikiLeaks that will air Tuesday night on PBS (see below for a preview), and can be read in full at their site.

In the postings, the army intelligence analyst broadcasts his gay rights activism, joining scores of groups like "LGBT Rights" and "REPEAL THE BAN--End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" and shares thoughts about his boyfriend, in apparent violation of the military's ban on gays serving openly. But the postings, which span nearly three years, also depict a young man who by last year had grown deeply frustrated by the need to hide his sexuality from his colleagues, and was fighting feelings of despair and isolation.

To be sure, there's also evidence that Manning's qualms about the civilian deaths caused by the military, and his broader discomfort with the direction of U.S. foreign policy helped stoke his sense of disillusion and alienation. But taken as a whole, the Facebook archive suggests that anger about Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT)--which was repealed by Congress last December, but remains in place for now--may also have played a role in Manning's alleged act of rebellion. In other words, that Manning may have responded to the strain of being made to keep his own secrets for so long by revealing U.S. government secrets of a far more consequential nature.

The largest intelligence breach in U.S. history left American diplomats red in the face as hundreds of thousands of classified cables were leaked and foreign leaders could read what U.S. ambassadors really thought of them and their countries. Also leaked was a shocking video from 2007 showing a U.S. helicopter gunning down a Reuters journalist and Iraqi civilians by mistake.

No evidence has emerged that Manning, now 23, at any time came under scrutiny from military supervisors over his apparent flouting of DADT's provisions. But in excerpts that Frontline released Monday, in advance of tonight's full report, Manning's father and a friend both told the program that they were concerned about the risks he was running by revealing his sexuality online. "He was kind of asking for trouble," Manning's father, a former Navy intelligence officer, said.

Since launching the page in 2007, Manning appears never to have made much effort to conceal his homosexuality or his involvement in gay-rights causes. Among the groups he "liked" on Facebook: "Repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell," "Equality California," a pro-gay marriage group, and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-rights organization.

Manning's gay-rights activism on Facebook had previously been reported by CNN and others, but the full archive makes clear his intense emotional investment in the cause, and just how closely Manning felt his personal well-being to be bound up with the movement's success. In January 2010, he posted a link to a website that tracked developments in the legal challenge to Proposition 8, a California voter initiative banning gay marriage. "This trial is intellectually, philosophically, and morally enlightening; yet such a personal emotional roller coaster," he wrote. "Regardless of the outcome, I will never forget any of this. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't in tears."

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Sometimes Manning openly mocked Don't Ask Don't Tell. In December 2008, he posted a Los Angeles Times story about a gay couple's response to California's passage of Prop 8. "Touching story. Made me cry. shh… DON'T TELL ANYONE! =P," he wrote.

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But at other times, Manning's reaction betrayed an intense sense of anger and alienation over the ban. In November 2008--a little more than six months after he completed basic training--he posted a link to an article in the Syracuse Post-Standard, about a local gay-rights rally. The story quotes a solider at Fort Drum--the upstate New York army base where Manning was stationed at the time--who declares: "The world is not moving fast enough for us at home, work, or the battlefield." The soldier went on to explain that DADT's enforcement meant that "I've been living a double life. ... I can't make a statement. I can't be caught in an act." The unnamed soldier said the policy was the worst thing about being in the military for him, and that it makes gays "even more of second-rated people in society," in the paper's words.

In his Facebook post, Manning suggested that he was the solider quoted, writing that he "got an anonymous mention" in the story. Manning also posted pictures of himself at the rally, establishing that he was there.

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A few months later, Manning posted in a status update that he was "tired of having to hide personal belongs (sic) like a criminal."

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In October 2009, Manning was transferred to Iraq. He was not happy there, and was demoted from specialist to private after assaulting another soldier. According to reports, Manning had access while in Iraq to SIPRNet, a government network for sending classified information, and it was in the first few months of 2010 that his alleged leaks appear to have occurred.

By late April 2010, Manning seemed to despair further over a split with his boyfriend. He described himself as "utterly lost and confused" over a change in the man's relationship status. After another Facebook user warned him not to post on "such a sensitive topic," Manning responded: "why? so it can continue to foster itself?" adding: "I have nothing to hide. "

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Five days later, Manning declared that he was "beyond frustrated with people and society at large."

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That month, he would be arrested on suspicion of leaking restricted material to WikiLeaks.

Still, it's worth remembering that at other times in his military career, Manning appears to have expressed frustration over his place in the military without obvious reference to his status as a gay man or to his support for gay rights. He told hacker Adrian Lamo, who turned Manning in to the authorities after Manning bragged about the security breach, that he was "never noticed," "regularly ignored," and "abused" in the Army. Manning had also recently been demoted for assault, the Washington Post reported, though he was not facing discharge. Manning also told friends he was disturbed when he found the now-infamous video released to Wikileaks showing a U.S. military crew killing civilians and a Reuters journalist by mistake. He agonized over whether to release the documents, his friends told Wired.

Until recently, Manning was detained at a Quantico confinement facility in near solitary confinement. After an outcry from civil liberties groups and WikiLeaks supporters, he was transferred last month to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was recently declared mentally fit to stand trial.

Here's a preview of tonight's Frontline report on Manning and WikiLeaks:

(AP Photo, File)

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