What Help Did Chelsea [Bradley] Manning Receive in Cambridge?

What Help Did Chelsea [Bradley] Manning Receive in Cambridge?

Manning visited Cambridge after downloading classified material but before he provided it to Wikileaks.

  • Posted on: 29 August 2013
  • By: stannenb

Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of leaking classified files to Wikileaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison last week, bringing to an apparent close the legal proceedings. Left unsolved is a small Cambridge-based mystery. What happened at the Oxford Spa the morning of January 28, 2010? (Manning, formerly known as Bradley, announced that she would like to be known as Chelsea, referred to with a feminine pronoun, and would seek to undergo hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.)

Manning was no stranger to Cambridge, visiting her then boyfriend, a Brandeis graduate student and spending time at pika, an MIT co-op house in Cambridgeport. Manning seemed to enjoy Cambridge, writing on her Facebook page that Cambridge "is full of crazy (but fun) nutters." But the visit in late January was different. Earlier that month, according to evidence presented at her trial, Manning had downloaded the Iraq and Afghanistan "war logs", the classified database of raw action reports about US military activity. Manning returned to the US from Iraq on leave and, on January 25th, erased her personal computer by reinstalling the operating system. Manning then travelled to Boston, where she attended a January 27th open house for BUILDS, a Boston University maker space, organized by BU undergraduate student David House. What happened after the open house is not known, but it was of intense interest to the government. House, who organized the Bradley Manning Support Network after Manning's arrest in May 2010, was summoned to a Federal grand jury in June 2011. House invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, but took detailed notes of his questioning and subsequently published them:

Department of Justice Counterespionage Section Attorney Deborah Curtis: Mr. House, have you ever been to the Oxford Spa restaurant in Cambridge, MA?
David House: Allow me to consult with my attorney.
[House leaves the grand jury and returns one minute later.]
DH: As to the previous question, I invoke.
DC: You admitted to federal agents in Boston that you had met Bradley Manning in January 2010, is that correct?
DH: I invoke.
DC: Isn’t it true that you spent the night of January 27 2010 with Daniel Clark and Bradley Manning?
DH: Can you repeat the question?
DC: Isn’t it true that you spent the night of January 27 2010 with Daniel Clark and Bradley Manning?
DH: One more time.
DC: Isn’t it true that you spent the night of January 27 2010 with Daniel Clark and Bradley Manning?
DOJ Counterespionage Section Attorney Patrick Murphy: He’s writing it down.
DC: Are you getting this, are you writing it all down?
DH: Was the last question a question to be answered?
DC: Yes.
DH: I invoke.
DC: And the question before?
DH: I also invoke.
DC: Where did Danny Clark have breakfast on the morning of January 28, 2010?

Questioning ended shortly thereafter when it was clear that House would not cooperate.

On January 30th, according to trial testimony, Manning took further steps to cover her tracks, erasing the part of the laptop disk that would not have been touched during the operating system reinstall. Manning is thought to have provided the war logs to Wikileaks on February 3rd.

Army investigators, according the MIT's student newspaper The Tech, also spent time looking into email messages exchanged among Manning and MIT students, about the choice of a padlock for a storage space at the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, located on Mass Ave, next to MIT. Interviewing participants in the email exchange, they apparently concluded that it was just about padlocks.

This was not the first time Cambridge and its milieu was involved in a high profile leak of defense secrets. When Daniel Ellsberg, the former Marine officer turned defense analyst and MIT lecturer, released the classified history of the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers, he hid out in Cambridge and used Harvard Square copy shops to make copies of the approximately 6000 page document. Charges against Ellsberg were dismissed after Nixon administration "plumbers", the covert special investigation unit assigned to plug leaks, were disclosed to have burgled Ellsberg's psychiatrist, looking for embarrassing material.

Manning is serving a 35 year sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. No charges have been filed against House, Clark or others questioned by prosecutors. The Federal criminal investigation into Wikileaks remains open.

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Updated August 31 to correct David House's student status to undergraduate as well as the timing of the publication of House's Grand Jury notes. They were published in July 2012.