It's been speculated that alleged Army leaker, PFC Bradley Manning, is transgendered. We've found evidence that strongly suggests Manning has some sort of LGBT identity, and that the man who snitched on him exploited this to win his trust.
Twenty-two year-old army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning was arrested May 26th for allegedly leaking the notorious Iraq Apache attack helicopter video and more than a quarter million classified State Department documents to secret-sharing website Wikileaks. He was turned in by his confidant, ex-hacker Adrian Lamo. Lamo then gave logs of his chats with Manning to Wired's Kevin Poulsen, who broke the story of Manning's arrest.
There are many unanswered questions about this story—the largest of which is: Why would Manning trust an ex-hacker he had never met enough to confess, almost immediately, via instant message, his terrible Wikileaks secret—something he knew could put him in prison for a long time? Lamo told Salon that Manning found him by doing a Twitter search for "Wikileaks," and that he doesn't know what motivated his confession. Yeah fucking right.
Wired suggested Manning sensed a "kindred-spirit in the ex-hacker" Lamo. But Manning and Lamo also apparently share something stronger than a fondness for breaking into computer systems: An LGBT identity. Lamo is an out bisexual, while an increasing number of clues suggest that Manning is, if not transgendered, deeply uncertain about his sexuality and/or gender. Interviews with Lamo's acquaintances and a close reading of the chat logs suggest Lamo traded on this identity to exploit Manning at his most vulnerable, as questions about his sexuality were unbearably pressing on his personal and professional lives.
Manning and Lamo's chats before the arrest suggest Manning, using the handle bradass87, was struggling with his gender identity, according to logs published by Boing Boing. He worries, about "how on earth im going to transition" and writes:
(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
The logs are open to interpretation. But on February 21st, 2009, Manning contacted well-known trans videoblogger ZJ via AOL Instant Messenger. At the time, ZJ was hardly known; she had about 300 subscribers. "He just said he enjoyed my videos," ZJ said. "He told me that me and him were on the same page." From February to August 2009, Manning and ZJ had about 12 instant message conversations. During that time, ZJ never suspected that Manning was trans or gay. "He introduced himself as 'Brad' and male. I thought he was just a regular guy." Maybe Manning was attracted by the topics ZJ discussed—aethism, gay rights, computer science/programming—but it seems likely his identification with ZJ ran deeper than that. "He told me he enjoyed my more personal material that I did," ZJ said. Manning never indicated he was planning a leak, and ZJ lost touch with him when she changed instant messenger handles.
A screencapture of Manning's Facebook profile shows the pages he liked were almost exclusively LGBT-related, including LGBT America, Gay Marriage, Equality Maryland, Dan Savage, Human Rights Campaign, etc. (click to enlarge):
Did Lamo—who was once appointed to San Francisco's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, Queer and Questioning Youth Task Force—trade on Manning's gender or sexual struggles to win over his trust, and his confession? We don't know, as Wired refuses to release the full chat transcripts, citing personal and national security reasons.
But it appears that Manning confided in him significantly about personal problems impacting his military career. Since Manning's arrest, Lamo has been very vague about these "personal issues that got him in trouble with his superiors and left him social isolated." The Washingtonian asked Lamo outright if Manning was in some sort of Don't ask Don't Tell trouble. Lamo said, "In general terms, he was not a supporter of the [DADT] policy..." Lamo told the Times that ""It's a personal matter for him, and I do not think it was one his family would want aired in the national media."
It's not surprising that Manning would confide in Lamo. Among acquaintances, he's as well-known for his social engineering skills as for his hacking prowess. Lamo's former friend Nadim Kobeissi, a network system administrator and philosophy student living in Beirut, said Lamo "has a habit of attracting such people" as the young intelligence analyst: "He's a confidant for people like Manning." Another friend, Ilva Letjoa, wrote via email that
[Lamo] has claimed… that he tries to be accessible to young hackers because it's something he didn't have when he was a young hacker himself. This is, I think, partially altruistic but also a manifestation of his megalomania. He really goes out of his way to make himself visible.
On his formspring.me account, Lamo says he's so outgoing because of a "genuine joy in meeting new minds and mindsets." Kobeissi and Lejoa say his social promiscuity is more about meeting new people to manipulate. "He can earn your trust very easily," said Kobeissi. "That's his most potent and his most useful skill. He's attempted to use it to gain access to my own project on the Internet" (an Open source linux shell provider—whatever that is—called Anapnea).
Lamo has admitted that he portrayed himself to Manning as both an ordained minister who could keep his secret for religious reasons, and as a journalist who could protect them under California's journalism shield law. It's not hard to believe that he would stoop so low as to pass himself off as sort of a LGBT guidance counselor for a young, confused soldier in order to pump him for information. Wired could then conveniently redact these parts of the chat logs, citing concern for Manning's privacy. (Wired Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen and Lamo have a long history of working together as an informal journalist-hacker unit.)
Thanks to this censorship, no one knows how Lamo convinced Manning to turn over a secret that has landed him in a Kuwaiti prison awaiting charges, and that gave Lamo the media attention friends say he almost pathologically craves. But there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that at least part of that trust was built on Manning's crisis of identity. Isolated and confused in Iraq, Manning may have been searching for someone—anyone—who he could spill all his secrets to.
"I strongly believe that Manning contacted him because Adrian is 1) gay and 2) invites kids to talk to him," Letjoa said. "Which they do."
Wired: Publish the full chat logs.
(When asked for comment, Lamo responded via email:)
I'll be issuing a press release late this week or early next week
responsive to some of the current issues. While I regret that this doesn't
match your schedule, the interests of both truth and justice are
best-served by this timeline.