Manning explained to Lamo that he had targeted innocent men, as if that justified a seemingly endless leak of government secrets.
“i was a part of it … and completely helpless.”
“sometimes we’re all helpless,” responded Lamo cheerlessly.
With Lamo, Manning seemed to boast sometimes, but at other points he seemed on the verge of tears: “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.”
Lamo couldn’t muster any sympathy. A little later, Manning wrote, “im not sure whether i’d be considered a type of ‘hacker’, ‘cracker’, ‘hacktivist’, ‘leaker’ or what.”
Lamo offered another possibility: “or a spy :),” adding a smile.
On May 26, five days after Manning contacted Lamo, the Army moved. Manning was arrested in Iraq. Almost two weeks later, Lamo, who couldn’t ever resist the spotlight, leaked the story to a journalist and ex-hacker at Wired.com. And once again, he was famous.
At the Coliseum, the overhead light was dim. Cigarette smoke hovered near the ceiling, lending our conversation a conspiratorial air. “I’m a defector,” Lamo said with loopy pride. He meant to his fellow hackers, and indeed, Adrian Lamo is their Benedict Arnold. “Every single day, ten people are telling him he’s a shit,” said one friend who’s sympathetic. “Nobody respects him anymore.”
For Lamo, though, defection came with benefits. He lost one community but gained another. Lamo’s celebrity as a hacker had been waning for years. Now, once again, he felt like a force to be reckoned with. He was summoned to Washington. “At one meeting, you had the Department of State, Department of Defense, the Army Cointel, the FBI, National Security Section, NSA, and like two or three other guys,” Lamo told me, as his delicate hands twitched in his lap.
It was difficult to imagine Lamo nabbing a spy. “I can’t imagine you holding a real job,” I told him at one point.
He smiled, revealing a missing tooth. “You’re not wrong in that,” he said. “I haven’t held a real job in a long time.”
I told him I didn’t understand why the government even needed him. They have the chat logs. Lamo seemed hurt. He’d come to view himself as part of the country’s counterespionage effort. “Think of it. You’re the government. All of a sudden, out of the blue, you acquire one Adrian Lamo with no strings attached. You don’t just throw him away when you’re done with him,” he said grandly.
I checked the time. It was past eleven and raining outside. I had a train to catch. On my way out, Lamo stopped me. He had a question. “I’m in the market for a place to stay,” he said. He wondered if I knew a couch he could crash on.
Manning was first taken to a jail in Kuwait, then transported to the brig in Quantico, Virginia. There, he was held in harsh conditions, kept in his cell 23 hours a day, and, for a time, made to sleep naked. And yet, while sitting in prison, he became much more powerful than ever before. He became a symbol. Conservative Mike Huckabee called for the leaker’s head—literally: He favored execution of traitors. Glenn Greenwald, the liberal columnist for Salon, argued that Manning was courageous, a latter-day Ellsberg, the ex-Marine who’d leaked a history of government deception during the Vietnam War, though perhaps even more important. “These leaks showed us the true face of American conduct in the world,” he wrote.
Assange didn’t admit that Manning was a source, but he couldn’t quite abandon him. Assange generally cared more for principle than people, whom he considered either useful or not. “I’m not so big on the nurture,” he admitted in a different context. But Manning was special. Before Manning, Assange had been a gadfly, his accomplishments laudable but unheralded. After Manning, he was a hero to some on the left, “the most important person to ever live,” as one of his circle maintained. So important that the military drew up a plan to undermine him (which was leaked to WikiLeaks). The U.S. convened a grand jury to investigate WikiLeaks under the 1917 espionage act. (Separately, Assange is under house arrest in England, awaiting a hearing on extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning for sexual misconduct.) And the pressure has taken a toll on WikiLeaks. A top lieutenant, fed up with what he saw as Assange’s dictatorial ways, defected to launch his own site—OpenLeaks. Perhaps more important, WikiLeaks’ technology architect departed with him. And so, for the past year, WikiLeaks has been unable to receive leaked documents online.