An Army private charged with leaking classified material to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks had civilian help, a key figure in the case said Saturday.
The development, first reported in the New York Times, suggests an expansion of the government's investigation into leaks including more than 76,900 secret Afghanistan war records posted on WikiLeaks in the past week.
Army officials didn't immediately return calls and e-mails from The Associated Press asking if they are looking at possible civilian accomplices of Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, who's charged under military law with leaking classified material. FBI officials declined to comment and referred inquiries to the Pentagon.
A military official, who was not identified, acknowledged to the Times on Friday that Army investigators were looking into whether Manning physically handed compact discs containing classified information to someone in the U.S. Manning, an intelligence analyst who was deployed over the past year in Iraq with the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division at a remote base east of Baghdad, visited friends in Boston during a home leave in January, the Times reported.
Adrian Lamo, the Sacramento, Calif.-based computer hacker who turned in Bradley to military authorities in May, claimed in a telephone interview Saturday he had firsthand knowledge that someone helped Manning set up encryption software to send classified information to WikiLeaks.
Lamo, who's cooperating with investigators, wouldn't name the person but said the man was among a group of people in the Boston area who work with WikiLeaks. He said the man told him "he actually helped Private Manning set up the encryption software he used."
Lamo said the software enabled Manning to send classified data in small bits so that it would seem innocuous.
"It wouldn't look too much different from your average guy doing his banking on line," Lamo said.
He said Manning sent the data to get the attention of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange didn't immediately respond to an e-mailed query from AP about Lamo's claim.
Also on Saturday, a New York Times reporter who has been the newspaper's liaison with Assange, dismissed Assange's claim that WikiLeaks had offered to let U.S. government officials go through leaked documents to ensure that no innocent people were identified. Assange told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview that aired Thursday that the New York Times had acted as an intermediary and that the White House hadn't responded to the offer.
Times reporter Eric Schmitt told the AP that on the night of July 23, at White House spokesman's Robert Gibbs' request, he relayed to Assange a White House request that WikiLeaks not publish information that could lead to people being physically harmed.
The next evening, Schmitt said, Assange replied in an e-mail that WikiLeaks was withholding 15,000 documents for review. Schmitt said Assange wrote that WikiLeaks would consider recommendations made by the International Security Assistance Force "on the identification of innocents for this material if it is willing to provide reviewers."
Schmitt said he forwarded the e-mail to White House officials and Times editors.
"I certainly didn't consider this a serious and realistic offer to the White House to vet any of the documents before they were to be posted, and I think it's ridiculous that Assange is portraying it that way now," Schmitt wrote to the AP.
On Friday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said it was "absolutely, unequivocally not true" that WikiLeaks had offered to let U.S. government officials go through the documents to make sure no innocent people were identified.
Manning is being held at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in northern Virginia, awaiting possible trial on 12 offenses. He is said to be on suicide watch.
Manning is accused of leaking a helicopter cockpit video from Iraq that WikiLeaks posted in April, and a classified cable from the U.S. embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland, dated Jan. 13, that also has appeared on WikiLeaks.
Manning is also charged with illegally obtaining more than 150,000 classified State Department cables and leaking more than 50 of them. It's not clear from the charges, though, whether the allegedly diverted documents were those published on the WikiLeaks site.
Rage on Facebook
A U.K. newspaper reported Saturday that Manning raged against his Army employers and "society at large" on his Facebook page in the days before he allegedly downloaded thousands of secret memos.
Manning, who is half British and went to school in Wales, appeared to sink into depression after a relationship breakup, the Daily Telegraph said. It quoted Manning as posting he didn't "have anything left" and was "beyond frustrated."
In an apparent swipe at the Army, Manning also wrote: "Bradley Manning is not a piece of equipment," and quoted a joke about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron, the Telegraph said.
Manning began his gloomy postings on Jan. 12, saying: "Bradley Manning didn't want this fight. Too much to lose, too fast," the Telegraph said.
At the beginning of May, when he was serving at a military base near Baghdad, the Telegraph said, he changed his status to: "Bradley Manning is now left with the sinking feeling that he doesn't have anything left."
Five days later he said he was "livid" after being "lectured by ex-boyfriend", then later the same day said he was "not a piece of equipment" and was "beyond frustrated with people and society at large," the paper said.
The Telegraph said Manning's personal page tagline reads: "Take me for who I am, or face the consequences!"
His uncle, Kevin Fox, told the Telegraph that the soldier’s arrest and imprisonment in a military jail had taken its toll on his mother, Susan, who lives in Haverfordwest.
“She hasn’t been well,” Fox told the paper, adding that if Manning had leaked the documents: “I think the boy did the right thing.”
Another close relative, who the paper said asked not to be named, said: “His mum didn't know anything about what he was doing and it's come as a big shock. She's very upset.”
Susan Manning, 56, moved to the U.S. in 1979 after marrying Bradley’s American father, Brian Manning, a former serviceman based at the Cawdor Barracks in Brawdy, near Haverfordwest. Bradley Manning was born in Oklahoma but the couple divorced in 2001, the Telegraph said. Susan and Bradley Manning then moved back to Wales.
Former schoolmates told the Telegraph they recalled Bradley Manning as a bit hot-headed and a computer nerd who didn't get along well with his father.
Jenna Morris, a 23-year-old sales manager who went on holiday to Disney World in Florida with Bradley and his cousins, told the paper Manning “was a quiet lad" who had "a tough upbringing."
“His parents had an acrimonious divorce. He didn’t get on well with his dad; they had quite a volatile relationship. His dad was very strict and shouted at him a lot," she told the paper. “He had a tough time when he came back here with his mum because moving to another country after a break-up was hard. He was quite a loner and he didn’t really have a lot of friends. He had quite a bit of trouble at school and was picked on, but he didn’t care.”