The Heroism of PFC Bradley Manning
At the US Army’s Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 2003 and 2004, our first term paper was assigned to be on the military intelligence hero of our choice. The museum there had several dozen to choose from, though I forget now who I wrote about. Aside from the occasional joke (Isn’t M.I. an oxymoron?) I don’t think I got much out of it. So here I am: seven years, one degree, and a hell of a lot of heartache later, re-writing the paper, which I intend to submit in its entirety to the commander of that school.
I am writing today about PFC Bradley Manning, and why he is my new M.I. hero. Mr. Manning has the distinction of being the prominent “wiki-leaker” suspected of the 92,000 document upload featured in the news this last week. I look up to Mr. Manning specifically because he had the guts to do what I didn’t: expose the lie that is war.
My proudest moment as a US Army intelligence analyst came when I was in Iraq. I did a comprehensive study of civilian sectarian violence in and around Baghdad. Roughly a few weeks before the Lancet published a study that estimated more than 550,000 Iraqis had been killed between 2003 and 2006, I had corroborative, classified intelligence to the same effect. After first mapping out a GIS database of all insurgent weapons caches, findings of bodies by US forces, and reports of kidnapping, I made a series of overlays that gave each 50-meter area its own designation: weapon cache site, insurgent checkpoint, body dumping ground, or sectarian-contested area. In this way, using empirical classified data, I correctly predicted a dozen sites where armed militants were manning checkpoints and kidnapping civilians. The cache report also led, simultaneously, to the largest find of illicit explosives to that date in Iraq: nearly a thousand artillery rounds piled in a junkyard north of Baghdad.
After completing this phase of the study, I was surprised to learn that the Rand Corporation was being contracted by the Department of Defense to do a similar GIS study at the cost of several million dollars. Intrigued, I found a copy on the army’s secret computer network, the SIPRNET, and was disgusted with the obviousness of the results. The Rand’s expensive product was very simply a satellite image of the main highway in Iraq, with a few highlighted areas named “IED Hotspots”. This was nothing that a few hours on the ground wouldn’t tell any soldier in the army; but somehow, someone behind a desk in DC was making tons of money off it.
The next phase of the study was kind of an accident. I had the unfortunate experience of being assigned to guard the base for 97 nights on a metal tower behind the burning cesspools of the American occupiers’ filth. Several times, I was shot at on this guard duty, late at night. Once or twice we were mortared as well. After returning to my job as an analyst, I half-jokingly set myself the task of finding these attacks in the database, where they should have been after my reports. Surprise: they were not there. Thus began my next project: determining the actual extent of the databases’ failure.
For two weeks I worked non-stop to get a picture of the accuracy of the data that ultimately determined the narrative that our commanders told themselves and their bosses. My best estimate was that 30-50% of attacks on US forces went unreported at this time. This number was worse for the Iraqi Army, where probably 70% of attacks went unreported, unless casualties were taken.
Another part of my job was to sit in on the nightly classified SIPRNET briefings for the Multi-national Division Baghdad. Major General JD Thurmond, then in charge, would start every night about 6 pm with a hearty Salaam Alaikum, Baghdad! This briefing would often include visiting Senators and other administration officials, as well as Iraqi officials. One night as I was preparing this phase of my study, I was amused to listen for nearly an hour as two of Thurmond’s associates tried to claim credit for a perceived drop in violence in an area recently turned over to the Iraqi Army. One general argued that it was his superior training and logistics that had prevailed against the insurgents. Another claimed it was the cultural similarities of the Iraqi troops that made them adaptable to the territory. Never did it cross any of their minds that perhaps attacks were actually increasing against the Iraqi army at this point, but not making it to their screens in the nightly briefing. Thurmond settled the issue by saying something to the effect that more area should be turned over to the Iraqi unit as soon as possible.
My point in sharing these stories is twofold. First, I would hope to illustrate the principle of a lost narrative. Not only is the information fed to the American media and often inaccurate (even to the point of being propaganda), but the information that the military uses to form its own narrative of conflict is skewed. Second, that sometimes even the privates in the army know better than the generals in charge. This almost certainly is the case for PFC. Bradley Manning, now in jail accused of leaking information to the world.
Mr. Manning, at twenty-two, is something of a hero to me now. We went through the US Army’s Intelligence Analyst School at Fort Huachuca Arizona at different times, but I feel like we are on the same page. My biggest regret about my time in Iraq is that I didn’t leak the information I had access to. One can only hope that these soldiers, in better position to see the situation than anyone else, continue to leak the military’s secrets to the world.
I have to admit, I am not surprised at the reaction of the media to this latest leak. For a bunch of idiots hiding in the green zone, I don’t think there is much to their supposed analysis of the situation beyond what they get spoon-fed by the military’s press liaisons. That anyone could expect the press coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be anything other than utter drivel is pretty ironic. Not as ironic, though, as General Mattis telling a roomful of reporters that Wikileaks “already has blood on their hands.”
If I couldn’t tell the generals a single thing as an intelligence analyst when I was in the Army, maybe I could have told the world. I have to wonder about a country that would send me to war as a twenty-year-old virgin but is shocked and unwilling to hear of the horrible things that happen there on a regular basis. If these 92,000 or so “documents” are what the military is using to assess its own situation, it makes one wonder what doesn’t make it into their database. The questions that the media has failed to ask extend far beyond those posed by the comparatively mundane Wikileaks documents exposed this week.
Perhaps now that the administration has some of the public looking over its shoulder, it will be compelled to tell the truth about Afghanistan. So far, the only challenge to the war propaganda has been the rising number of coalition casualties. Now, it seems, the monumental task of making up reasons for these numbers is going to have to fit in with the half-truth of the Afghanistan database documents.
As far as the courageous PFC Manning goes, he is my new military intelligence hero. Thanks, Brad. And shame on you, media, for being out-reported by a twenty-two year-old kid with a laptop. But most of all, shame on you, US Army, for forcing a kid to be the one to finally expose the truth about your costly and deadly wars.