FORT MEADE —Interested in the biggest leak of U.S. secrets in the nation’s history, but don’t know a firewall log from a server file?
Then you would have been up jargon creek without a clue during the first five days of testimony at a military installation outside of Washington, where Pfc. Bradley Manning is fighting efforts to have him court-martialed.
The 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst is a computer whiz who worked as a civilian software developer. He was his unit’s go-to guy for plotting data points and creating Excel spreadsheets in Baghdad, an intelligence officer testified.
But he may have met his match: a former hacker who turned him in, and in two info-tech gumshoes who bored deep into several computer hard drives in search of incriminating evidence.
Army Special Agent David Shaver and civilian contractor Mark Johnson are products of military or intelligence agencies with extensive government-funded training in their fields.
They said they found evidence Manning downloaded and emailed nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and a video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”
Adrian Lamo, a onetime hacker convicted in 2004 of computer fraud, said his Internet chats with Manning in May 2010 produced “an admission of acts so egregious” that he felt compelled to alert authorities. The “depth of the unsurpassed leakage” made Lamo also concerned that he could get in trouble for remaining quiet.
“I’m a journalist and a minister,” Lamo wrote to Manning in one chat, egging him on to elaborate on his confession. “You can pick either, and treat this as a confession or an interview (never to be published) & enjoy a modicum of legal protection.”
The government, which rested its case against Manning on Tuesday afternoon, wants Manning court-martialed for aiding the enemy and 21 other charges.
‘It may look like gibberish’
But Manning’s lawyers argue that others had access to the Oklahoma native’s workplace computers. They maintain he was a troubled young man who shouldn’t have had access to classified material; that military computer security was lax; and that the material WikiLeaks published did little or no harm to national security.
The digital forensic examiners littered their testimonies with the terms of their trade. Text files. Zip files. Hash values. Allocated and unallocated disk space.
They frequently mentioned Wget — pronounced “double-you-get” — a computer program for finding and downloading large amounts of data. They talked about Base64, a program that compresses digital documents for speedy transmission by removing all the spaces and punctuation marks.
“It may look like gibberish,” Shaver conceded.
One defense lawyer, Capt. Paul Bouchard, sometimes seemed baffled by the technical terms. On Monday, Shaver politely corrected him after Bouchard repeatedly referred to server files as logs during a cross-examination. Lead defense attorney David Coombs looked displeased.
An exchange between Bouchard and Johnson drew chuckles from the gallery. The defense lawyer, seeking indications that supervisors ignored signs of emotional distress, asked Johnson if his forensic probe of files and electronic data had turned up any evidence of Manning’s odd behavior.
“Odd behavior?” Johnson replied matter-of-factly. “No sir, it’s a computer drive.”
WikiLeaks, Amnesty International in court
Throughout the hearing, Manning has sat quietly at the defense table, waiting to learn his fate while presumably understanding the high-tech lingo. Closing arguments in the hearing could come as early as Wednesday. Then, a military officer will weigh whether to recommend that the young private be court-martialed, which could result in life in prison.
The technical testimony followed proceedings rife with the arcane acronyms of military life, all before courtroom spectators spanning the social strata.
A half-dozen, buttoned-down young men and women favoring charcoal gray suits have come and gone behind the prosecutor’s table — apparently representatives of the Justice Department, CIA or other governments agencies.
Across the room are Manning’s supporters, including a long-haired young man representing Occupy Wall Street and a pony-tailed, military veteran wearing a “Free Bradley Manning” T-shirt.
Attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange observed, as well as a representative of Amnesty International. A half-dozen journalists were present, alongside people in camouflage uniforms. They included the presiding officer, all three prosecutors, two of the defense lawyers and military police stationed along the back and side walls.