Importance of the newly released Zinnia Jones-Bradley Manning chat logs

Gavin Newsom and Bradley Manning, February 2009 autographed photo. Credit: bradleymanning.org

July 8, 2011. Emma Cape, Courage to Resist

Back in February of 2009, accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning contacted a gay activist, Zachary Antolak aka Zinnia Jones over AIM, after watching and identifying with Zinnia’s political video blogs on YouTube. Bradley formed an online friendship with Zinnia. This week, Zinnia released the chat logs documenting their personal conversations to New York Magazine and the UK Guardian. They are published in full here.

The chat logs do not mention WikiLeaks or the possible release of classified documents. They do, however, reveal some new details about Bradley’s life that are somewhat interesting to those following his case: his relationships, his hopes and aspirations, his fears, his life in the army, and his politics. Most of Bradley’s friends and family have been hesitant to make public statements (understandably so) which means that the press has eagerly covered personal communications such as these when made available.

Below are excerpts from the logs released by Zinnia, followed by my explanation as to why I found them noteworthy. In these logs, Bradley uses the handle “bradass87.”

From 2/21/09:
(7:49:32 PM) bradass87: uhhm… im politically active, even more so after enlisting… living under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will certainly do that

(8:38:09 PM) bradass87: im attending two major events… a gavin newsom gubernatorial fundraiser, then a stonewall democrats capitol champions thingie
(8:38:33 PM) ZJ: sweet
(8:39:11 PM) bradass87: ive got a photo scheduled will gavin newsom, and ill be hobnobbing with congressional folk at the other event
(8:39:16 PM) bradass87: *with
(8:39:54 PM) bradass87: ill be sure to bring up issues regarding religion and homophobias
(8:40:07 PM) bradass87: *phobia

Bradley’s father, Brian Manning, has told reporters that Bradley was never politically interested as far as he knew, so would most likely not have been motivated to act for political reasons. That perspective has been repeated in the mainstream press. However, the quotes above portray someone who was certainly actively thinking about government and politics.

(8:07:20 PM) bradass87: same thing with me, im reading a lot more, delving deeper into philosophy, art, physics, biology, politics then i ever did in school… whats even better with my current position is that i can apply what i learn to provide more information to my officers and commanders, and hopefully save lives… i figure that justifies my sudden choice to this [to join the army]

(8:48:12 PM) ZJ: stay safe in afghanistan, dude :
(8:55:58 PM) bradass87: oh i will try
(8:57:06 PM) bradass87: im more concerned about making sure that everyone, soldiers, marines, contractor, even the local nationals, get home to their families

(8:57:26 PM) ZJ: yeah
(8:58:52 PM) bradass87: i feel a great responsibility and duty to people… its strange, i know

In these excerpts above Bradley expresses his desire to keep as few people from getting hurt as possible. He expresses a greater concern with ensuring the well-being of his fellow soldiers and others serving abroad than with whether he himself gets home safely.

Bradley’s drive to read independently about philosophy, art, physics, biology and politics indicates someone who is a deep thinker, curious, and self-driven. Interest in Bradley’s personal character has been a main theme of recent mainstream news pieces about Bradley by PBS Frontline, the UK Guardian, the Washington Post, and now New York Magazine. A grade school teacher of Bradley’s as well as Bradley’s father have been quoted as saying that he is very intelligent. However, these anecdotes have, to varying degrees, been overshadowed by a mainstream news fascination with more troubled aspects of Bradley’s personal life and speculation as to how those, as opposed to reason, could have influenced his alleged actions.

(10:24:04 PM) bradass87: i want to be like my idols: richard feynman, carl sagan, harvey milk, etc
(10:24:24 PM) ZJ: that would be nice
(10:25:55 PM) bradass87: its not the strongest of people who survive, its the ones most responsive to change

In the Lamo-Manning chat logs that the FBI is trying to use to link Bradley to WikiLeaks, when asked what he hoped to achieve Bradley allegedly says: hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms – if not, than [sic] we’re doomed – as a species – i will officially give up on the society we have if nothing happens – the reaction to the [Collateral Murder] video gave me immense hope; CNN’s iReport was overwhelmed; Twitter exploded – people who saw, knew there was something wrong . . .

These quotes show an appreciation for the timeless human ability to adapt and overcome problems. They display a faith that individuals who are willing to examine current situations critically and use that truth to change individual and group behavior as needed will succeed, whereas those leaders who try and ignore or fight against larger forces of change will fail. Whether current leaders will embrace change is a question many people are now asking themselves while examining some of the troubling content of the Wikileaked documents and pondering the larger issue of increased government transparency enabled by sites such as WikiLeaks. The dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, although once very powerful in their individual countries, were overthrown during the Arab Spring because they failed to adapt. They both failed to meet the needs of their countries’ populations and failed to recognize that with new internet information-sharing technologies, their citizens were better prepared than ever to take matters into their own hands if need be.

From the content of these newly-released Manning-Jones logs it appears that problem-solving is intrinsic to Bradley’s personality. Zinnia Jones was a computer programmer, so Bradley spent a significant amount of time discussing technical details of his job with her. In particular, Bradley expresses frustration that the U.S. Military uses old software, and contracts with the lowest bidder even when the contractor uses incompatible software, thereby risking the security of the military’s system.

Trying to improve the security of classified systems was outside of Bradley’s job description, and something that apparently many other intelligence analysts and superior officers were not prioritizing. What did Bradley do? He says he knew a Lt. Colonel from the DIA from back when he was a civilian working at Starbucks, so “i notice the problems, call him and say, hey, find someone who can fix this.”

(8:30:52 PM) bradass87: worringly, “terrorists” are a form of political activist, however, they recruit young people with troubled lives (a sick family member, extremely poor upbringing, etc) offer them a monetary solution, take them into a camp, give them psychoactive drugs, psyhologically drug them for many months, give them an explosive jacket or rigged vehicle, give them heavy doses of uppers and send them on their way to try and kill themselves… if they go through with it (which is what the uppers are supposed to do)
(8:32:22 PM) bradass87: most of the time though, they just get a poor person, and pay them money to place roadside bombs
(8:32:54 PM) bradass87: its socio-economic, rather than religous

(8:33:27 PM) ZJ: yeah
(8:33:30 PM) ZJ: it’s a tragedy

(8:35:53 PM) bradass87: we try our best to keep it from being a tragedy, thats what all the infrastructure, schools, elections, and military training out there is for

Bradley currently faces life in prison or the death penalty because of the charge of “Aiding the enemy through indirect means.” Some people who don’t support his alleged actions have gone so far as to call Bradley anti-American, or a terrorist. The above excerpt clearly shows that not only does he find terrorists despicable, but he believes that the U.S. can do some good in preventing terrorism by assisting poor countries with infrastructure, social programs, and training.

Bradley’s demonstrated ability to look at complex foreign policy issues in a nuanced way is not just limited to terrorism. At one point he also brings up the issue of Gitmo, which is noteworthy since Bradley is alleged to have later leaked its prisoner case files.

(10:28:59 PM) bradass87: question: guantanamo bay, the closure is good, but what do we do about the detainees =
(10:29:43 PM) ZJ: what I want to know is, are these people literally so dangerous that they must be kept in a location outside the country
(10:30:03 PM) ZJ: alternately, are our own prisons in this country so insecure that they can’t be relied on to keep prisoners imprisoned

(10:33:01 PM) bradass87: well, some of them are actually pretty dangerous indeed… some of them weren’t dangerous before, but are now in fact dangerous because we imprisoned them for so long (don’t quote me on that, for the love of my career), and others might, with a little more than an apology would easily fit back into society… who’s who… worryingly, you cant really tell
(10:33:38 PM) ZJ: well, one thing’s for sure, you can’t keep people imprisoned forever without some kind of trial or charges
(10:35:45 PM) bradass87: the reason thats difficult: the things we have tried them on are classified information, connected with other pieces of classified information… so if a trial is done, it might have to be done in some kind of modified trial, where pieces of evidence which are classified are presented only in a classified environment
(10:36:11 PM) bradass87: its all very weird and complicated

(10:36:41 PM) ZJ: and a conviction on the basis of evidence that nobody can know about holds practically no credibility
(10:36:58 PM) bradass87: mhmm
(10:37:10 PM) bradass87: its a bizarre situation
(10:38:59 PM) bradass87: some of them are indeed dangerous, and those that have left have, and i as a liberal and someone against gitmo will tell you… yes, many of those previously released, even though innocent before, are quickly recruited as leading figures for new wings of extremist groups

(10:39:18 PM) ZJ: yeah there are no easy answers to this one
(10:40:49 PM) bradass87: sometimes i wish it were all black and white like the media and politicians present it… him, he’s the bad guy, oh and he, he’s the good guy… its all shades of blurry grey

Although he is critical of the Guantanamo Prison, Bradley recognizes there are valid reasons government officials have not chosen to immediately close it. Bradley comes across as someone who thinks about things in a nuanced way -not someone who would act blindly on the basis of simplistic dogma, but rather someone who would make an important decision only after carefully thinking through potential consequences.

(9:41:48 PM) bradass87: im surprised you havent asked the usual question: why is a gay, libertarian, atheist, computer nerd in the army

There have been news stories which raise questions similar to this one, including one by the UK Guardian in May entitled “WikiLeaks accused Bradley Manning ‘should never have been sent to Iraq.’” Bradley’s father, Brian Manning, has tried to answer this question previously. In a PBS interview he said he twisted Bradley’s arm to join the army “Because he needed structure in his life. He was aimless. And I was going on my own experience. When I was growing up, that’s the only thing that, you know, put the structure in my life was by joining the Navy. And everything’s been fine since then.”

In addition to Bradley’s stated hope that he would be helping to save lives, the newly-released chat logs reveal another reason for Bradley to join:

(8:10:25 PM) bradass87: community college sucks, i spent a semester at montgomery college in maryland… shuffling 2 and 1/2 jobs and covering old topics, and still not being able to afford it… it didnt pay off

(10:16:55 PM) bradass87: you should get into college and give it your best shot… just think about the fact that someone like me is spending 4 years in the military just to get the opportunity =P

(8:11:09 PM) bradass87: i hope i can SOMEHOW get into a nice university and study physics for a bachelors or masters (doctorate if im smart enough?)

Some news pieces have suggested Bradley dropped out of Montgomery College because he was aimless, as his father put it. Yet I have to wonder how many successful college students manage to work 2 and a ½ jobs at the same time? These statements do not appear to be from someone who is lazy or aimless.

(10:02:03 PM) bradass87: being around my platoon for 24 hours a day… it took them awhile, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me, heating up with one or two physical attacks… which i fended off just fine, but it was scary

(10:10:15 PM) bradass87: i actually believe what the army tries to make itself out to be: a diverse place full of people defending the country… male, female, black, white, gay, straight, christian, jewish, asian, old or young, it doesnt matter to me; we all wear the same green uniform… but its still a male-dominated, christian-right, oppressive organization, with a few hidden jems of diversity

He reiterates his respect for fellow soldiers in uniform. But at the same time, as a gay man who has experienced harassment, he expresses a desire for the army to be a more welcoming place for all types of minorities. Bradley believes that people who are “male, female, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, jewish, asian, old or young” are equally suited to serve the country. Sadly, it seems some of the soldiers serving with him didn’t agree. For many people such as Bradley, being a minority involves a first-hand understanding of oppression, and with that understanding comes an appreciation for the struggle to uphold universal human rights.

These chats reveal a Bradley Manning that is pro-America; he is also pro-adapting in the face of problems. Those two things are not contradictions. If they were, the United States would not be in the relatively successful position it is today. Bradley joined the army so that he, like many others before him, could help America become the best she can be.

Consistent with the friendly, personal tone of most of the logs, Bradley at one point mentions to ZJ his Myers-Briggs personality type:

(1:56:22 AM) bradass87: <– ENTJ

In the face of allegations which could mark Bradley the boldest whistle-blower since Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago, perhaps it is no coincidence that psychologists describe ENTJ types as often being leaders, problem-solvers, and those who hold both themselves and others to high standards.

.  .  .

If you’re interested in seeing all of the quotes in context, I recommend that you read the logs in full here. Please feel free to share your reactions with us in the comments section.

If you wish to learn more about the content of the WikiLeaks revelations themselves and why someone might desire “discussion, debates, and reform” after reading them, here are a few recommended sources:

  • “The Guantanamo Files,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/guantanamo-files/.
  • Rania Khalek, “5 WikiLeaks Hits of 2011 That Are Turning the World on Its Head — And That the Media Are Ignoring,” Alternet, June 7, 2011. Link.
  • Rania Khalek, “5 WikiLeaks Revelations Exposing the Rapidly Growing Corporatism Dominating American Diplomacy Abroad,” Alternet, June 21, 2011. Link.
  • “Iraq War Logs,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, http://iraqwarlogs.com/.
  • “Collateral Murder,: http://www.collateralmurder.com/

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