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Witnesses in WikiLeaks case describe lax security

In a hearing for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of passing on U.S. secrets, witnesses say intelligence analysts listened to music and played games on their classified computers.

December 21, 2011|By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
  • Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted out of a courtroom in Ft. Meade, Md.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted out of a courtroom in Ft.… (Patrick Semansky, Associated…)

Reporting from Ft. Meade, Md. —  

Two witnesses for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst accused of passing a trove of national security secrets to WikiLeaks, testified Wednesday that analysts listened to music CDs, watched videos and played games on their classified computers in Iraq.

Army Capt. Barclay Keay, who spent several weeks in charge of the intelligence unit where Manning worked, said he was surprised to see compact discs and other media items inside the supposedly secure facility at Forward Operating Base Hammer, near Baghdad, where the analysts handled highly classified materials.

"I thought it was kind of odd," Keay said. But he didn't raise the issue with his superiors because "things were different" in a combat zone, he said.

Army Sgt. Daniel Padgett, who supervised Manning on the night shift, said there were few restrictions and no clear chain of command in the unit. "There could have been more oversight," he said.

Prosecutors say Manning used rewritable compact discs marked "Lady Gaga," as well as a variety of digital devices, to illegally copy hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic files from government servers. Many later were transferred to WikiLeaks and posted on its website, prosecutors say.

Manning, who was arrested 19 months ago, has spent the last six days in an evidentiary hearing at Ft. Meade that will determine whether he will face a military court-martial. He is charged with 22 criminal counts, including aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act.

Manning's lawyers have emphasized the lax security and poor supervision in Manning's unit, as well as what witnesses called his volatile and erratic mental state.

Defense lawyers may be establishing a record to help negotiate a plea bargain or petition for a lighter sentence if he is convicted, said Philip Cave, a retired Navy judge advocate who works in military courts as a civilian lawyer.

Lax security is a "mitigating factor, not a defense," Cave said. The alleged theft of classified material was not "the government's fault," he added.

In computer chat logs, Manning allegedly wrote that he "listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga's Telephone while exfiltratrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history."

Manning purportedly added that the leak was "facilitated by numerous factors ... weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis … a perfect storm."

After the defense finished calling its last witness Wednesday, the presiding military officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, asked Manning whether he wanted to make a statement. "No, sir, I'm good," Manning replied.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Thursday, and Almanza said he was required to make his recommendation by Jan. 16 on whether sufficient evidence existed to convene a court-martial.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

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