What was going through the mind of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who allegedly leaked classified documents to secrets-sharing website Wikileaks? Could it be a plan to transition from living as a man to living as a woman?
It may be that Manning was worrying about change—not just from military to civilian life, but from public life as a man, to public life as a woman. Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin examined the chat logs between Manning and Lamo, the hacker/"journalist" who turned Manning over to the government and gave the story to Wired.com writer Kevin Poulsen, and found a series of not-particularly-veiled references to "transition" and gender:
(1:11:54 PM) bradass87: and... its important that it gets out... i feel, for some bizarre reason
(1:12:02 PM) bradass87: it might actually change something
(1:13:10 PM) bradass87: i just... dont wish to be a part of it... at least not now... im not ready... i wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me... plastered all over the world press... as boy...
(1:14:11 PM) bradass87: i've totally lost my mind... i make no sense... the CPU is not made for this motherboard...
(1:14:42 PM) bradass87: s/as boy/as a boy
(1:30:32 PM) bradass87: >sigh<
(1:31:40 PM) bradass87: i just wanted enough time to figure myself out... to be myself... and be running around all the time, trying to meet someone else's expectations
(1:32:01 PM) bradass87: *and not be
(1:33:03 PM) bradass87: im just kind of drifting now...
(1:34:11 PM) bradass87: waiting to redeploy to the US, be discharged... and figure out how on earth im going to transition
(1:34:45 PM) bradass87: all while witnessing the world freak out as its most intimate secrets are revealed
(1:35:06 PM) bradass87: its such an awkward place to be in, emotionally and psychologically
Manning/bradass87's statements, in and of themselves, aren't conclusive. But Jardin quotes "a source with deep ties to the LGBT community" (no clue why the source is anonymous, but maybe it's Orrin Hatch), who says, "that portion of the exchange is pretty tightly packed with trans code words and lingo and analogies," and flags the phrase "the CPU is not made for this motherboard" as a "telling line."
So why does this even matter? Obviously, on the most basic level, it doesn't: Manning's alleged crime should and will be tried on the merits, without regard to gender identity, and Adrian Lamo's decision to dime on Manning is ethically dubious no matter how Manning identifies him or herself.
But, assuming the speculation is well-founded, Manning's pre-transition transgender identity does provide us with some sense of his mind state at the time. As Jardin's source says, "all of it suggests the profile of a person who is clearly at a crossroads in life. And they've unfortunately taken a very troubling path." Not to mention the gap it may fill in our knowledge of the whole situation—if, say, Manning contacted Lamo because Lamo is visibly active in the LGBT community.
More broadly, though, if Manning does, in fact, identify as transgender, the case may become a political football of a different kind—one that has to do with the ongoing push to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. It's admittedly unlikely, at this point, that the story of a troubled transgender person would have any major effect on the in-process repeal of the military policy, but the Washingtonian's Shane Harris speculates that Manning may have been discharged under DADT. And as long as the Army makes it a policy to discharge soldiers simply on the basis of their identity, it's running the risk of creating disgruntled, angry ex-soldiers. Not a great idea, is it?
Update: Via our own Adrian Chen in the comments, here's an expansion of the idea of the knowledge gap being filled by this information—apologies for not going into more detail in the original post:
Wired redacted large parts of Lamo and Manning's conversation, citing sensitive government and "personal" information. This would explain at least some of Wired's censorship.
A huge unanswered question about this whole thing, which Glenn Greenwald talked about in his Salon article, is: Why would Manning trust a random guy with his terrible Wikileaks secret? Lamo says Manning found him by searching "wikileaks" on Twitter and then IMing him. (Yeah, right.) I speculated earlier that Lamo might have mislead him by saying he was a journalist. If it was in fact some sort of LGBT kinship instead, it certainly colors Lamo's involvement—especially considering his acting as a defacto stringer for Poulsen, for whom he's created then fed stories to for years.
Instead of randomly being contacted, Lamo might have been trading on a shared identity and exploiting this guy at his most vulnerable. His (self-interested) betrayal of Manning looks about 100 times worse. And Wired's scoop is tainted too.