National Post (Latest Edition)
‘Information that I felt the public should know’
U.S. whistleblower Chelsea Manning said her explosive leak of military and diplomatic secrets that led to a prison term in her homeland and now a ban from entering Canada was not about being anti-american, but to let the public know what Western forces were really doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the war on terrorism.
The distinction is important to her bid to be allowed to cross into Canada because her court-martial conviction in 2013 in the United States did not allow her to make a public-interest defence — that her leak of classified information was beneficial and important — which is an avenue for protection against similar convictions in Canada.
Manning said she wants to come to Canada to visit friends in Montreal and Vancouver, speak at public events, and attend computer trade shows for her consulting business. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) seeks to have her ruled inadmissible to Canada because of her convictions.
Testifying Thursday at an immigration hearing, Manning described her extraordinary experience of becoming one of the bestknown American whistleblowers.
As a military analyst with the U.S. army deployed to Iraq, Manning was responsible for leaking an enormous trove of ground-breaking military and diplomatic secrets to Wikileaks in 2010.
In her job, she had access to information revealing “a very significant difference” between the on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan and Iraq and what was being reported and discussed in public, she told the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing.
Trying to have her concerns addressed internally was not an option, she said.
“These are systemic issues and systemic problems; these are not issues you bring up with your captain,” she said. “I came to the decision in 2010 to finally disclose information that I felt the public should know.”
Manning began bringing discs to her office that looked like music CDS, but would burn data from military computer servers onto them. She then took them to her barracks after her shift and copied the data to her personal computer.
When she was on leave back in the United States, she looked for a way to bring the information to wide public attention.
“I was desperate to provide information,” she said. “I had information and needed somebody to get it out.”
She said she tried to contact her Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, but did not get any response.
She considered “much more reckless” methods, such as releasing it herself on a website.
She tried to give her information to The Washington Post but found it hard to communicate with the reporter who didn’t know how to use encrypted communications and didn’t understand the need for it, she said.
She then tried The New York Times, but her leave was ending before anything came of that.
Then she remembered Wikileaks, a whistleblowing website she learned of during military training when instructors warned to steer clear of it.
“I visited the website after an instructor in 2008 basically said ‘don’t go to this web page,’” she said. “Instructor tells you not to do something, of course you’re going to go and do it.”
So she returned to the Wikileaks website in 2010 to share her documents.
“I decided to upload to them from a Starbucks attached to a Barnes & Noble nearby to my home.”
She said she knew she would be in trouble.
“It would be very difficult,” she said when asked if she covered her tracks. “No matter what, there was always going to be a forensic trail that points to me.”
The military did come for her, arresting her outside Baghdad in Iraq in 2010, when she was 22 years old. She was kept in a “tiger cage,” she said.
She had suicidal thoughts and one attempt, she said. “It was a dark time.” Then known by her birth name Bradley Manning, said she had told a few close friends she was transgender but was “still in the closet.”
Manning was convicted under the U.S. Espionage Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and sentenced to 35 years in prison, the longest sentence ever issued in the United States for leaking. In 2017, after seven years in prison, Manning’s sentence was commuted by U.S. president Barack Obama.
“I spent most of my adult life in prison,” she said.
The IRB heard about the importance of the material she leaked, including an explosive video that was shown at the hearing, despite objections from government lawyers.
The video shows 39 minutes of gun-sight footage from onboard a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq in 2007. Shooting from the helicopter, soldiers killed 11 civilians on the ground, including two Reuters journalists. Soldiers can be heard laughing during the incident.
After the first helicopter attack, a van came to help the wounded. It too was shot up by a helicopter, killing two children. Someone aboard the helicopter says: “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into the battle.”
The helicopter video contradicted official statements from the time. The military said the helicopter opened fire in response to an active firefight.
Heidi Matthews, an assistant professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, testified that Manning’s disclosures revealed “serious evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law,” and helped change the public’s view on the war on terror.
The documents revealed about 15,000 previously unaccounted civilian casualties and “strong evidence” that U.S. coalition forces, including Canada, were not truthful and transparent.
“The reality was far more brutal, far more destructive and far more problematic,” than was previously understood, Matthews said.
Manning’s status with Canada Border Services Agency has been in dispute for four years.
The hearing is scheduled to continue Friday before IRB adjudicator Marisa Musto.