Springing a leak

Jam of the week: “Like A Friend” by Pulp

While the world still waits for NSA leaker Edward Snowden to find a new home from his current residence in an airport in Moscow, news of another prominent intelligence leaker came in Tuesday.

Bradley Manning, who copied thousands of classified documents onto discs disguised as Lady Gaga CDs and gave the materials to WikiLeaks, was found not guilty of a charge of aiding the enemy. This was the most serious charge levied against Manning, which equates to treason.

However, Manning was found guilty of numerous other charges. NPR reports Manning was found guilty of 19 of the 21 charges he was facing, including multiple charges of theft and espionage. Even though he was found not guilty of his aiding the enemy charge, which would have carried a lifelong prison sentence, the slew of other charges will likely still put Manning in prison for the rest of his life with prison sentence estimates at well above 100 years. Sentencing for the hearing is scheduled for today.

At the trial, judge Col. Denise Lind, rejected the argument that the intelligence officer assumed the leaked documents would reach terrorists. The reaction from Manning’s advocates were positive, but obviously bittersweet as his sentencing approaches. The three-year court battle may continue up to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The implications of the trial could be far-reaching, but are uncertain at this time. While the judge concluded that Manning could not have assumed that al-Qaida would end up with the information, she also rejected the defense’s argument that Manning was a whistle-blower with the intent to use the information to kindle public discourse on the war in Afghanistan.

Whether or not the case will set some sort of precedent remains to be seen. If Snowden was brought in for trial, he could also be, theoretically, charged with aiding the enemy. Of course, we won’t know that until some time after he finishes up watching what I only assume is great Russian television around the Moscow Airport.

Still, the ease of dissemination of digital documents is not something that is going to go away. Both Manning and Snowden show that anyone with access to this information can leak it. While they both face very different futures, Manning’s is likely behind bars, Snowden’s is much more uncertain, both were able to get people talking. Even though it failed, a House bill to end the authority of the NSA’s phone surveillance network was only brought to the floor after Snowden’s leak.

Whether or not a legal precedent is set, the actions of these men has shown that leaking can be effective. Even though the consequences, spending the rest of your life in prison, or becoming the subject of a government and media manhunt, are dire, the leaks will still come.