General: Manning leaks fractured US relationships

The classified information Pfc. Bradley Manning revealed through WikiLeaks fractured U.S. military relationships with foreign governments and Afghan villagers, a former general said Wednesday at the soldier’s sentencing hearing.

It was the first time testimony about the actual damage the leaks may have caused has been allowed at trial.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Carr said the material Manning leaked identified hundreds of friendly Afghan villagers by name, causing some of them to stop helping U.S. forces.

“One of our primary missions is to protect the population over there,” said Carr, who led a Defense Department task force that looked at the risks of the leaks. “We had to get close to the population, had to understand that population and we had to protect them. If the adversary had more clarity, as to which people in the village were collaborating with the U.S. forces, then there is a chance that those folks could be at greater risk.”

The former intelligence analyst was convicted of 20 of 22 charges for sending hundreds of thousands of government and diplomatic secrets to WikiLeaks and faces up to 136 years in prison. He was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, which alone could have meant life in prison without parole.

Manning’s defense is hoping for a much shorter prison sentence and asked the military judge hearing the case to merge two of his espionage convictions and two of his theft convictions. If Army Col. Denise Lind agrees to do so, he would face up to 116 years in prison.

Carr said the Taliban killed an Afghan man who had a relationship with the U.S., and later the Taliban said publicly the man was associated with the Manning leaks. The general, however, couldn’t find the Afghan’s name in the material Manning revealed.

“We went back and searched for his name in the disclosures. The name was not there,” Carr said.

The defense objected and the judge said she would disregard that part of his testimony.

Carr also said the leak of cables hurt relationships with other countries because the U.S. had to negotiate with them in order to bring supplies into war zones.

Some of the cables “were very blunt and sometimes critical of how that particular host nation responded, so that created some fractures between our ability to get in there and communicate.”

Another government witness, John Kirchhofer, deputy chief financial officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who worked under Carr at the task force, described meeting with angry NATO partners in Europe the week that WikiLeaks posted classified material about the war in Iraq.

“There were some unpleasant comments directed at me and some accusations directed at the U.S.,” he said.

From detainee assessments on Guantanamo Bay, Carr said, al-Qaida learned for the first time how individual detainees were captured, interrogated and imprisoned.

“These are pretty dangerous people who have a number of dangerous allies and friends they are working with who are sworn to do us harm,” the retired general said. “Up until the release of this material, the adversary had no idea how much data we had on them.”

A prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, raised another issue, saying that Manning’s leaks “have impacted the entire system” for granting defense analysts access to classified information.

U.S. intelligence agencies grant analysts broad access to classified files in hopes that they will connect pieces of evidence that uncover plots before they are carried out.

“As with any type of computer database and security, the weakest link is the person who’s operating it,” said Scott White, a professor of homeland security management at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

There is a risk in restricting access, he said: “Do you slow the intelligence process down by putting more and more limits on your own people?”

Military prosecutors said they would call as many as 20 witnesses for the sentencing phase. The government said as many as half of the prosecution witnesses would testify about classified matters in closed court. They include experts on counterintelligence, strategic planning and terrorism.

The release of diplomatic cables, war zone logs and videos embarrassed the U.S. and its allies. U.S. officials warned of dire consequences in the days immediately after the first disclosures in July 2010, but a Pentagon review later suggested those fears might have been overblown.

The judge also restricted evidence about Manning’s motives. Manning testified during a pre-trial hearing he leaked the material to expose U.S military “bloodlust” and diplomatic deceitfulness, but did not believe his actions would harm the country. He didn’t testify during the trial, but he could take the stand during the sentencing phase.