July 29th, 2010
06:54 PM ET

On WikiLeaks scandal, hacker says he didn't want to be a 'coward'

A California hacker said he doesn't regret going to federal officials to show them alleged confessions an Army private made about leaking more than 90,000 documents that reveal secret information about U.S. war strategy.

Adrian Lamo spoke to CNN from the Sacramento Public Library, where he was trying to get away from reporters and a throng of people who, he said, are angry with him. He says he has received death threats in person and on his Facebook page and Twitter messages from people who feel like he betrayed Pfc. Bradley Manning.

"I went to the right authorities, because it seemed incomprehensible that someone could leak that massive amount of data and not have it endanger human life," Lamo said. "If I had acted for my own comfort and convenience and sat on my hands with that information, and I had endangered national security ... I would have been the worst kind of coward."

Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst based near Baghdad, Iraq, had top-secret security clearance to sensitive information about the war, officials have said. The U.S. military is holding Manning in a Kuwait jail, suspected in the leak of a helicopter gunship attack video from Iraq.

Military investigators also suspect he accessed a military classified internet and e-mail system to download tens of thousands of documents, according to a Pentagon official who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing criminal investigation of the soldier. The whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.org posted more than 75,000 secret military documents on Sunday.

Manning has been charged with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code, including allegedly illegally transferring classified data.

The Army is considering whether Manning should face the military equivalent of a trial over the charges. He has not yet entered a plea, since there has not yet been a decision about whether he should face trial, Army Maj. Bryan Woods told CNN. Military lawyers for Manning referred CNN questions about him to Woods.

Lamo said he strongly suspects that Manning did not act alone.

"As far as I know, he conducted the database himself but got technical assistance from another source," Lamo said. "[Manning] was aware of one other person in military engaged in accessing databases without authorization."

Lamo refused to elaborate on why he believed this.

A superstar in the hacking world, Lamo was also convicted in 2004 on one count of computer crimes after breaking into the New York Times, Microsoft and Lexis-Nexis computer systems. Lamo has also reportedly breached Excite@Home's company network and broken into the internal networks of Yahoo! and MCI WorldCom. Wired magazine wrote that after Lamo would crack their security, he would tell the companies about their vulnerabilities, free of charge.

Lamo's boyish, soft mug makes him look a decade younger than his 29 years. A Wired magazine profile this year focused on his struggles with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

Lamo gave the full transcipts of his instant message chats with Manning to Wired magazine. It's unclear whether they have been edited.

Lamo declined to provide CNN with the complete instant message logs, citing three reasons. He said they contain personal information he doesn't want exposed, the messages contain information that could compromise national security, and, simply, he doesn't have them all anymore.

"I gave my hard drive to the Department of Defense," he said.

Lamo said he isn't sure why Manning would have reached out to him on the Web. He theorizes that Manning might have seen the Wired profile and recognized a nerdy, kindred spirit.

According to Wired, the messenger suspected to be Manning introduces himself to Lamo by saying, "I'm an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder.' "

Manning allegedly goes on to say that he feels "isolated." His messages explain in detail his disillusionment with the way the U.S. was waging the Afghan war.

The person alleged to be Manning wrote to Lamo: "i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore... i only a plethora of states acting in self interest... with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless "

According to Wired, on May 22, Manning told Lamo that he had provided WikiLeaks with 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables.

Lamo also told Salon in an interview that he had told Manning he was an ordained minister. He said he could treat Manning's talk as a confession.

In another chat, the person believed to be Manning writes about Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks. The message reads: "im a source, not quite a volunteer ...i mean, im a high profile source... and i've developed a relationship with assange... but i dont know much more than what he tells me, which is very little"

Lamo said he thinks Manning was flattered.

"[He] was made to feel important with his ongoing contact with Assange and special link to WikiLeaks, jumping ahead in the queue of people who were also leaking," Lamo claimed.

According to the a version of the chats published in the Washington Post, the messenger believed to be Manning seems despondent, lonely and frustrated. Manning allegedly wrote: "my family is non-supportive . . . im losing my job . . . losing my career options . . . i dont have much more except for this laptop, some books, and a hell of a story."

Manning also is thought to have written: "i mean, i was never noticed ...regularly ignored... except when i had something essential... then it was back to "bring me coffee, then sweep the floor...i never quite understood that...felt like i was an abused work horse..." Lamo said he felt sympathy for Manning, calling him a "genuine, nice boy." "He struck me as someone who was easily led," Lamo said. "And I think others took advantage of that idealism and naïvete." When Lamo was Manning's age, he was in trouble for hacking, scared of facing years in prison. "I got the same chance to reinvent myself that I hope Bradley Manning gets," Lamo said, adding that he hoped the world would see Manning one day and not immediately think about the WikiLeaks fiasco.

Lamo said he's ready to testify in court if that's necessary.

"I'm not going to run out on this process," he said. "I know what Mr. Manning did, and actions have consequences. Mine do. His do. I've accepted mine, and in time, he will accept his."

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Filed under: Security Brief • WikiLeaks
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Smith in Oregon

    Didn't want to be a coward but turned into a disgusting snake to stifle discussion on year's old information which the American Public and the Government of India have every right to know. You'll go down as a utter disgrace and a pariah to the computing community. The bright side is that you've likely already been offered a hacking job working with the DHS hackers who compose the largest network of computer hackers in the entire world, payed for by the American taxpayer's own money to invade American citizens computers, what a scam!

    July 29, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. john

    He has been a suspect for years; prior to his recent arrest he was facing charges for previous leaks; and immediate upon release of the leaks nearly every news article mentioned him and his role in previous wikleaks articles; perhaps the hacker was snitching him out all along or perhaps he did recently to save himself.

    July 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WinterNox

    Assange is, at best, a moderately-talented technician whose pretentions to journalism are ridiculous. His ego and all-consuming desire for attention betray him as an opportunist without scruples. Say what you will about the inhumanity of defense analysts, military strategists, and members of the armed forces; what Assange did was unconscionable. Any journalist worth his salt would've censored information which would potentially put lives at risk, if declassified by its author state. Assange wants notoriety, at whatever price to the lives of others. Here's hoping that he, his informants, and his facilitators, are held accountable for the lives that these acts have compromised.
    If guilty of treason, then Manning deserves to be put to death for compromising his country's defense during a time of war. No doubt he'll claim a delicate mental condition.
    I don't respect Loma's past acts, but this is laudable, and noteworthy. Anyone who terms whistle-blowers "heroes," while terming someone who blows the whistle on whistle-blowers "a stool pigeon" is ridiculous. Patriot, possibly. Counter-revolutionary, certainly.

    July 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Madelin

    Lamo sounds pretty insightful into Manning's angst especially for someone with Asperger's who have difficulty with empathy and social cues. Lamo certainly has more on the ball than "Smith from Oregon" who doesn't realize that as imperfect as our Government is, it is protecting Americans from another Twin Towers attack and that necessitates Afgan intelligence sources to get Afganistan out of the Jihad-host business. This kind of breach will certainly impact a potential source who doesn't want to die because of the confused ethics of a young soldier. Good for you Mr. Lamo. You did the right thing and as an American citizen, I thank you.

    July 30, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ego

    I'm just curious as to what the soldier means by "i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore... i only a plethora of states acting in self interest... with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless " - w/o trying to read into Manning's words, I'd like to know what he thought before he joined the Military, and his experiences since then that changed his view. Some extra straight-forwardness would be nice so the analogy of good guys / bad guys can't be applied to everything under the sun. But even then, if there are no Good Guys / Bad Guys, only self servers, then what do you call your own actions?

    July 30, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. JC

    Manning is a hero. I don't understand all this pressure to support your country right or wrong. The way the war is being conducted in Afghanistan is criminal and is killing and wounding thousands of innocent civilians. To stay quiet would be immoral. America needs more heros like Manning if we're ever again going to be the kind of country we like to tell ourselves we are.

    July 30, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Ego

      JC, we didn't need his leaks to know that.

      July 30, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • JC

      Ego, you are correct but the leaks are adding a lot of fuel to the conversation. The conversation at this point should be about what these leaks show rather than who they might hurt. Everyone is already aware that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are harming thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people and yet that has caused no uproar. I find it odd now that so much of the diologue is currently focused on the handful that might additionally be vulnerable to harm.

      July 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ego

    I'm not sure i can agree that it would only jeopordize a handfull. Since military strategy does does consist more than just politicians.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ego

      FYI–this was a failure to reply to JC

      July 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rebecca Goehner

    What's wrong with all of you pro-leakers? You don't find it wrong that the Private leaked this information to the enemy, but you find it wrong that a hacker told authorities on him??!!
    Besides your reasoning being faulty in its form, don't you idiots realize that it is your freedom that our military defends? YOU GUYS MUST BE SO COMPLACENT & USED TO FREEDOM that you take it for granted. THAT FREEDOM THAT YOU TAKE FOR GRANTED WAS EARNED WITH THE SWEAT & BLOOD OF OUR MILITARY BODY, AND OUR FREEDOM IS MAINTAINED BY THAT SAME BODY.
    Not only did the jaded private commit a form of treason against his own country, he endangered his fellow soldiers, and turned in the names of secret allies!! But you find the hacker acting in the best interest of our country in the wrong?
    What type of alternate non-reality based delusion are you pro-leakers functioning in? GET REAL!!

    (I think that they should outlaw Freedom of Speech for all Liberal Arts Majors – the curriculum is obviously flawed. (joke) 😉 )

    August 7, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |