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One of the most famous whistleblowers of the United States has one of the most harrowing trajectories in life. Here we talk about Chelsea Manning, who she was, what she did, and why she is called a civilian’s hero.

About Chelsea

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, originally hails from Oklahoma. She has had a tumultuous familial and personal history. From being the child of a broken marriage to moving outside of the United States only to return at the age of 17, she had seen her fair share of ups and downs during the early years.

During her late teens/the early twenties, Manning started to work as a developer at a software company who eventually let her go because of the unproductive behavior she was exhibiting. Soon, she would hop from one low-paying job to another with no success or satisfaction.  

Not only her professional life but her personal life was suffering too. Apparently, Manning was also undergoing severe gender dysphoria because she was raised as a boy and was moulded to identify as a man. (We would later come to know that Manning identifies as a woman.)

Manning then identified as an openly gay man due to which she faced slack from people in her immediate surrounding. In late 2007, she decided to join the Army and started her training.  In 2008, she was posted to Fort Drum in Jefferson. Some speculate that she joined a masculine workforce such as the army to resolve her gender identity disorder.

Manning was also in a long distance relationship with a man in Boston during her time in the army and frequently visited him. This same boyfriend had introduced her to the hacker community there. Manning’s penchant for IT, computers, and hacking which she had since her school days grew in this community of hackers.

WikiLeaks

From 2009 to 2010 is when Manning served in Iraq. She was given the post of an Intelligence Analyst in the United States Army and thus, she received top security clearance.

As a result of this, Chelsea Manning had access to classified databases. These were not just any databases; these were pieces of information that proved that the United States was a part of incriminating activities with respect to the wars and bombings it was conducting.

In January 2010, she downloaded 91,000 documents from the Afghanistan database of the US Army, which were later found to be a part of the Afghan War logs. Similarly, she had also downloaded databases on the Iraq war with the intent of making the information public.

Manning tried contacting The Washington Post and the New York Times to leak the information but no consequential response was received from their ends. It didn’t take her long and she proceeded to leak the info to WikiLeaks through a Tor connection. No confirmation was received from their end that they had gotten the information.

In early 2010, things started to change. Manning got in touch with WikiLeaks from the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavík, Iceland, through a diplomatic cable confirming that they had received her logs. As soon as the confirmation was done, the information was published within a few hours. This first diplomatic cable opened the floodgates for a lot more classified data to be leaked.

Between March 28 and April 9, she downloaded 250,000 diplomatic cables and on April 10, she uploaded them to a WikiLeaks dropbox. A plethora of information went from Manning to WikiLeaks including the April 2010 release of a video that showed a U.S. helicopter crew firing on a group of people that included two Reuters employees. This whole time, she was kept as an anonymous source.

“This is one of the most significant documents of our time removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetric warfare. Have a good day.” – Manning, January 9, 2010

But, things changed the moment Manning let her guard slip. She confided in Adrian Lamo, a former hacker and one of Manning’s friendly online correspondents, about leaking the database. He immediately outed her as the WikiLeaks source to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

US vs Manning

Chelsea Manning got arrested in May 2010. She was charged with 22 specified offenses including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source, violations of the Espionage Act, stealing U.S. government property, charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and charges related to the failure to obey lawful general orders under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

However the most serious of all these charges was “aiding the enemy”.
Manning had no option and she pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 offenses she was slammed with. The other 12 contested charges underwent a trial in 2013.

Fortunately, she was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. However, she was found guilty of 6 espionage counts, 5 theft specifications, 2 computer frauds, and many military infractions.

In August of 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years of prison and her sentence also included discontinuation of government allowances and a dishonorable discharge from the army. The day after the sentence was announced, Manning said publicly in a statement that “I am a female” and asked to refer to her as ‘Chelsea’ and not ‘Bradley Manning’.

Looking Up

In whatever radical ways it may be but Manning’s leaks were simply done to make the government answerable to its citizens. In January 2017, President Obama recognized this and commuted her sentence from 35 years to 7 years of confinement. So, she was to be released in one-fifth of the time.

Chelsea Manning was finally released from prison in May 2017. She still remains an aggressive activist and spokesperson for trans rights and anti-war activities. She now aims to actively engage in policy and politics and has announced in January 2018 that she will be seeking a Democratic nomination in the US Senate of Maryland.

Image Credit: Twitter.com

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