Last week, the U.S. government released the transcripts of chats between Pfc. Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the days before Assange published the site’s most infamous leak: a video of a U.S. Apache helicopter unknowingly gunning down civilians and wounding children in war torn Iraq.
The video, known as Collateral Murder, was leaked by Manning and raised international awareness about the brutality of conditions in the U.S.’s wars in the Middle East. Manning went on to leak a massive trove of Army documents, including thousands that detailed casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was eventually arrested, convicted of espionage, and sentenced to serve the next decade in prison. However, on charges related to the Apache helicopter video, the private was found not guilty of any wrongdoing for handing the video over to WikiLeaks.
The transcript, unearthed by Wired’s Kevin Poulsen, provides insight into the relationship between Manning and Assange, as well as the way WikiLeaks processed, vetted, and acquired leaks from sources. It is a first-hand record of one of the opening salvos in the ongoing battle against state secrets by radical transparency advocates such as Assange. At certain times the conversation is mundane (“upload is at about 36 percent”); at others, philosophical (“humans are getting more and more integrated into this information society”). The full 13-page transcript is well worth the read, but here are some highlights:
Here, Assange with some difficulty attempts to determine what he can and cannot publish from Manning:
Julian Assange: and are all these releasable?
Chelsea Manning: so much going on … ahhhh
JA: what about the english translation?
CM: everything is notes
CM: minus the photos
CM: the photos are releasable
JA: ok, what about the incident report
CM: can’t release the original, but the information can be scraped from it
CM: ie sources indicate this happened at this place at this time
CM: translation is super not releasable
JA: ok. be sure to tell me these things as soon as possible
JA: and better yet in the submission itself
CM: yes, sorry
JA: I’m not the only one to process this stuff and also will forget details if publication is delayed a long time due to the flood of other things
Later on, Assange informs Manning that Wikileaks has finished transcribing the Apache video:
JA: full transcripts for video is now complete
JA: evil work
CM: yes, the transcripts say a lot about attitudes
They continue discussing production aspects of the Collateral Murder video. (Wikileaks’ editing of the video would later be accused of being misleading for portraying the helicopter pilots in an unfair light.)
JA: vid has been enhanced and rendered now, subtitles done for english
JA: it looks good. the stills are very moving
JA: After the contrast enhancement, something about the lack of resolution / smoke gives a film -noir quality
As Assange kept Manning updated on progress on the Apache video in the days before its release, the two began discussing future leaks:
CM: anyway, im throwing everything I got on JTF GTMO at you now...should take awhile to get up though
CM: summary / history / health conditions / reasons for retaining or transfer of nearly every detainee (about 95 %)
JA: ok, great!
Later, Manning suggests she’s out of material for him, but Assange pushes back:
CM: after this upload, that all i really have got left
JA: curious eyes never run dry in my experience
CM: i sat on it for a bit, and figured, eh, why not
CM: i’ve already exposed quite a bit, just no-one knows yet
CM: i’ll step into darkness for a few years, let the heat die down
JA: won’t take a few years at the present rate of change
JA: almost feels like the singularity is coming there’s such acceleration
The two appeared to have a more a friendship than a journalistic relationship (at one point Assange joked “nixon tapes got nothing on us’):
M: anything useful in there?
JA: no time but have someone on it
JA: surely there will be
JA: and these sorts of things are always motivation to other sources too
M: from an economic standpoint
JA: I was thinking more inspirational
M: I know =)
Later, Assange became concerned for Manning’s safety
JA: but don’t disappear without saying why for an extended period of I’ll get worried ;)
M: i wont
M: you’ll know if something’s wrong
JA: you can just tell me “all the ships came in”
Toward the end of the conversations, shortly before the video was published, Manning’s tone turned philosophical:
CM: now that humans are getting more and more integrated into this information society...a level of transparency never imagined or even truly desired is coming into play
CM: it makes us more human if anything
CM: we've created states, governments, religious institutions, corporations .. all these organizations to hide behind…
CM: but at the end of the day, we’re just guys and girls.
JA: WikiLeaks is looking for donations, but what its founders should do, is call upon script writers to make a, perhaps reality based, dramatized, thriller move of one of the wikileaks cases, with corruption, infiltration, espionage, hitmen, sabotage, etc. and call the movie “WikiLeaks”. I see great potential for such a movie, and massive money and advertising it would generate would establish them firmly. I’d then support by seeing the movie. Hollywood would likely support.
In 2013, a movie about WikiLeaks was made. Assange did not support it.
Photo by Abode of Chaos/Flickr