May 22, 2013
US officials question if accused leaker helped Al Qaeda
US national security officials are questioning a decision by military prosecutors to allege that Army Private Bradley Manning aided Al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate by leaking documents to the WikiLeaks website.
At a procedural hearing on Thursday at Ft. Meade, Maryland in preparation for Manning's court-martial, a military judge said defence lawyers had asked for particulars of a charge that Manning had aided an enemy.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, read a document from prosecutors which identified the enemy as "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," one of Al Qaeda's most potent affiliates and known in the counter-terrorism world as AQAP.
She added that prosecutors had said Manning indirectly aided this group by providing material to WikiLeaks.
Defence Department spokesmen had no comment on the claims. A spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, whose prosecutors are pursuing the case against Manning, did not respond to messages requesting comment.
On Friday, Colonel Lind denied requests by Manning's lawyers to interview witnesses who could comment on classification issues and the national security damage of Manning's alleged leaks. A trial is expected later this year.
Manning, 24, faces life in prison if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of 22 charges against him. Other charges include wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet and theft of public property.
Numerous US defence and security officials said they did not know what specific aid Manning's alleged leaks to WikiLeaks provided to AQAP.
Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who left his position after criticizing Army brass for the harsh confinement regimen imposed on Manning, described the aiding the enemy charge as "unnecessary and an overreach.
"It's a hard case and an unnecessary case to make. ... It undermines the credibility of the prosecution," Crowley said.
Other US officials, all of whom asked for anonymity, said they were unaware of specific benefits to AQAP which had been afforded by leaks of US government files to WikiLeaks.
Three current and one former US national security official said it was possible that militant groups like Al Qaeda could glean information about US counter-terrorism strategy and tactics by poring through hundreds of thousands of US government documents, including field reports from military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, WikiLeaks made public.
But these officials said they had no information about how specific items acquired by WikiLeaks might have aided AQAP.
"The alleged disclosure of classified information, while deplorable, does not in and of itself constitute an act of terrorism," said one current official, who requested anonymity.