The Wikileaks 'source': Former army analyst facing 52 years in prison

As governments around the world assessed the damage done by Wikileaks's Afghanistan war logs, thoughts also turned to a lonely US Army private, who goes by the screen-name bradass87, currently behind bars in Kuwait.

Bradley Manning, 22, was serving as an army intelligence analyst in Baghdad when he was taken into custody by military police in May this year and transferred to Kuwait. Charges against him were filed this month and, if they stick, he could face 52 years in prison.

That Manning and Wikileaks are acquainted has been well established. Manning is charged with providing Wikileaks with a US military video of a raid in Iraq in July 2007 showing the gunning down of civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The charges currently filed against him stem from him disseminating that video.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, said he was ready to help fund a civilian defence Manning might launch to fight those charges. As to whether he was the source for the new trove of documents, Assange noted: "There's no allegation, as far as we can determine, that this material is connected to Mr Manning."

If Manning was the source, he might have got away with it had he not struck up a cyber-relationship with Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker in California, who reported their contact to the Pentagon.

If Lamo thought he was doing the nation a service by exposing Manning, there was apparently little he could do about Wikileaks. It "has acted in a tremendously irresponsible fashion", Lamo said yesterday. "They took advantage of systems that were put into place for the purpose of intelligence sharing, for the purpose of making sure that all elements of national security both at home and abroad had access to the information they needed in order to do their job."

Lamo contended Manning could not have done it all alone. But Manning, we learn, had sufficient guile to see that while the military had banned all personnel from using zip drives and other storage devices that might be used to download sensitive material, they had not included CD-Roms. So, he would slip in discs that he pretended were Lady Gaga albums and even reportedly lipsynched her songs as he downloaded the secret material.

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