PFC Manning recently testified and described his imprisonment since his arrest. Some, perhaps most, of my fellow left wing liberals in the progressive media are protesting with righteous indignation the imprisonment and treatment of PFC Bradley Manning for his release of over 200,000 classified documents to Wikileaks.
I cannot say that he gets no sympathy from me; he was a young soldier who knew full well that he had sworn a solemn oath to not do what he did, and the training he had received had to include just how vital is the protection of our national secrets. While I feel sorry for Manning, it is necessary, repeat, necessary, that if he is found guilty, he be made an example of to the military intelligence community and receive the full weight of military justice. There will be those who read this who will feel outraged at the notion, but it is necessary.
Why? I’ll try to make it simple. When one reads classified material, the first thing one thinks is “How the heck can this be classified? This is stupid!” That’s certainly what I thought when I first started reading classified traffic about this or that routine purchase of parts, or about routine maintenance on machinery as simple as an electrical generator or a passenger vehicle engine. Why someone would classify something as mundane as that was beyond me, but it was classified and I treated it as such.
But after a while something clicked, when I remembered something I learned in the sixth grade. Back in WWII, the stage for our victory at the Battle of Midway was set by our intentional leak of classified material concerning the repair of a water desalination machine. That’s right: a simple freaking water desalination machine. By leaking that message to the Japanese, we knew they were targeting Midway and we were able to send our carrier fleet there for the single most important naval victory in American history.
Was there anything included in that mass of over 200,000 classified messages, which included not only DOD traffic but diplomatic traffic as well, that was so important? None of us this side of the State Department and the CIA will ever know. That is, none of us, including PFC Bradley Manning. You see, Manning almost certainly could not have had the time to read all those messages, and as a relatively low-level functionary he certainly did not have the wherewithal to be able to determine the importance (or lack thereof) of each message. But you know what? China does have that wherewithal, the time, resources, ability, and political will to determine the worth of those messages. So do Russia, Iran, and every other nation that doesn’t like America, and it is a certainty that every one of those nations eagerly pored over those messages, particularly the diplomatic ones, to identify domestic informants and U.S. spies, and to determine U.S. intelligence capabilities in their own nations.
There are probably some here who don’t realize how important those intelligence capabilities are, but the two greatest factors in our victory in WWII were the epic struggle in the USSR, and Western intelligence. Our intelligence enabled us to call the Soviet Union’s bluff in the Cuban Missile Crisis, allowed Nixon to open China, gave us clear warning several times of Osama bin Laden’s intentions (which Bush flatly ignored), and kept us on the winning side in the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Most recently, Syria just cut off all internet access to their nation. Our intelligence agencies knew that was coming and, in advance, provided communications equipment to the Syrian rebels to keep the information pipeline open.
Sun Tzu is one of the most influential military thinkers in history. He considered intelligence crucial to the function of the state. It was so then, and it is so now. For anyone who doubts the importance of a nation’s intelligence community, read this page on the CIA website. Failures to listen to intelligence led directly to the near-total destruction of the Soviet armies in the opening months of WWII, and to the fall of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. A robust intelligence capability is crucial to the survival of a nation.
It is that intelligence capability which PFC Bradley Manning endangered through his stupidity and ignorance. The only factor which should save him from life in prison is that there was apparently no malice towards America intended on his part. As I said, I feel sorry for the kid; he saw injustice and thought he was doing the right thing, but by his actions he may very well have enabled far greater injustice. He should have honored the oath he took. He willfully violated that oath and is paying, and will continue to pay, the price for his violation.
What most people who want to stand up for Manning don’t realize is that he is not alone in standing up for injustice committed by the military; we very nearly had one such protester as president: John Kerry. But there are ways to go about such protests, and there are lines one must not cross. I very nearly lost my career because I blew the whistle and embarrassed people who didn’t take kindly to my impertinence, so I can understand to an extent what was going through Manning’s mind. The difference lay in that he went far beyond the pale and very likely endangered lives, not only of US agents, but also of informants guilty of nothing more than trying to stand up for injustice within their own nations.
It is for all these reasons that it is necessary that if found guilty, PFC Bradley Manning must pay in full for the crimes he committed; not only for justice for those he endangered, but also as an object lesson to everyone else within the intelligence community. A lesson that teaches that, even when one sees injustice, for the good of all, there are lines one must not cross.