The Snitch Syndrome

The more one looks at the Bradley Manning case, the stranger the whole thing seems. 

SPC Manning, you’ll recall, is the 22-year-old intelligence analyst arrested for … well, there still haven’t been any charges filed, after three weeks, but what we know is this: He is the "leaker" who got his hands on the "Collateral Murder" video that showed US pilots chortling as they shot down Iraqi civilians in cold blood. He also leaked a video showing an apparently much bloodier massacre in Garani, Afghanistan, carried out by US forces. Wikileaks is said to be preparing its release soon. Furthermore, Manning also reportedly gained access to 260,000 US diplomatic cables – the history of US shenanigans abroad for at least the past few years — and handed them over to Wikileaks

This last is what has the Pentagon and the State Department in a panic, and – although the US government denies it – it looks very much like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is the object of a manhunt by the feds, who would like to "discourage" him from releasing the cables.  

This story was broken by Wired, and just how the leading hi tech magazine stumbled on the scoop is suspicious in the extreme. Adrian Lamo, the once-homeless "hacktivist" who broke into Yahoo and the New York Times web sites, claims to have been contacted by Manning – a total stranger — who then immediately confessed ("boasted" or "bragged" is the word used in news accounts) about what he had done. Lamo, who says he’s a "supporter" of Wikileaks, immediately turned him in. Why? Because "lives were in danger," and it was his "patriotic duty," and, well, he was just diagnosed with something called "Asperger’s Syndrome," which supposedly leaves its victims without any empathy for other human beings. A perfect syndrome for a snitch.  

Lamo is said to be a publicity hound, but this piece describing the life of the "infamous" hacker illustrates the principle that not all pr is good pr: 

"On Thursday afternoon, Adrian Lamo sat quietly in the corner of a Starbucks inside the Carmichael Safeway, tapping on a laptop that requires his thumbprint to turn on and answering his cell phone. 

"The first call, he said, came from an FBI agent asking about a death threat Lamo had received. 

"The second was from a Domino’s pizza outlet. One of his many new enemies had left his name and number on a phony order.  

"The third was from Army counterintelligence, he said. 

"In other circumstances, it might be easy to dismiss his claims. 

"He is an unassuming 29-year-old who lives with his parents on a dead-end street in Carmichael [California] and was recently released from a mental ward." 

This is somebody – a "reformed" criminal who’s just been released from the loony bin – whose word we are supposed to accept as good coin, and whose recounting of the "facts" surrounding the Manning case is being repeated in the media as if it were the gospel truth. 

To begin with, Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen and Adrian Lamo are good friends (in spite of Lamo’s unconvincing denial): they share a "hacktivist" (i.e. criminal) background, and Poulsen has acted as his de facto attorney in all this, vouching for his rather fanciful story and giving Lamo the publicity he seems to crave. Although Poulsen never admits to being actually engaged in the operation, except to break the story, the whole affair looks to be a COINTELPRO-type operation, with the two of them working together in drawing out their quarry and then framing the public discourse once Manning is safely held incommunicado in the brig.  

How convenient for the government: no Miranda rights, no constitutional protections for Manning, just a couple of dicey "hacktivists," one masquerading as a "journalist," and the deed was done. 

Which makes one wonder: is the entire staff of Wired magazine afflicted with Snitch Syndrome? Or have they just become an arm of the federal government?  

The weirdness of the Manning affair is exacerbated by the really odd character of the media coverage: the mainstream media has, for the most part, stayed away from the story, except for a perfunctory piece in the New York Times and a number of brief items repeating what is already known. The hi-tech press, however, is all over this, with negative coverage – echoing Lamo’s dubious assertions virtually word for word – predominating. Take, for example, this piece in Zdnet, which is nothing but arbitrary assertions, padded with irrelevant head-scratching: 

"Life is full of little decisions. What to make for dinner. What color T-shirt to wear. Whether it’s time to mock Apple fans again. You know, those little, simple decisions of daily life. But for Adrian Lamo, the decision was whether or not to call the U.S. Government and turn in a U.S. Army intelligence analyst. Adrian made the right decision."

Why was this the right decision? For paragraph upon paragraph, in the course of which we are deluged with Lamo’s fanciful account of how he supposedly caught a "spy," the piece simply states and re-states the author’s moral evaluation of Manning’s actions, without bothering to make an argument. "Manning was wrong. Manning is a traitor. Adrian is not." The entire article is written in this kind of baby talk:

"An Army intelligence analyst leaked secrets, those secrets need to be recovered, and the leaker must be punished. Lamo’s a hero and Assange is a bad guy." 

The author, one David Gewirtz, is as odd as his rhetorical style: president and founder of something called the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, which sounds like a government agency and would certainly like to be a government agency but isn’t – quite yet. Gewirtz has a number of "projects" his Institute is pursuing, including a "National Skills Database," which sounds very much like a proposal for a government contract, and a system through which one can always "Buy American" instead of being  a traitor by buying "foreign" goods. (That also sounds like a candidate for some lucrative government subsidies.) He is the author of numerous articles detailing how we can use online social networks to track down terrorists, and the logo of his Institute tells us all we need to know about his view of how government can use technology to keep an eye on us all. 

As comical as this may seem, there is a dark side to it, as Gewirtz is far from alone in pursuing this line of reportage: check out a more sophisticated version of the same drivel posted on something calling itself "," where, along with stories about how to impress the girls and how Justin Bieber isn’t really dead, we come across a pseudo-psychological profile of Manning, and whistleblowers in general, by one "Elizabeth C." According to this mystery author, Manning is "a naive, isolated and disillusioned idealist who may have had altruistic motives — traits that are common among whistleblowers, according to research on the subject." We are then treated to a dissertation-style compendium of "expert" opinions on the subject of whistleblowers, which types them as oddballs. "Difficult" people who are "rather rigid" and afflicted with "low self-esteem."   

Yeah, sure, tell that to Dan Ellsberg, who I know doesn’t have low self-esteem: and, indeed, this whole concept of the whistleblower as having little sense of self-worth seems crazily counterintuitive. After all, here you are going up against a powerful force – the government – and its sycophants and supporters, who will do exactly what they are doing now: smearing Bradley as a "traitor" and a "spy" – when in fact he was spying on behalf of the American people, on a government that perpetually keeps them in the dark. It seems to me that one would have to have an oversupply of self-esteem in order to pull it off as Bradley is doing, i.e.  virtually alone.  

Ah, but he isn’t alone, now is he? Here’s a web site set up by his friends and supporters, and, while I’m not connected with it and can’t take responsibility for anything posted there, I’m putting it out there anyway because this is such an important issue. If indeed Manning leaked those cables then we are in for a treat: we get to look at the inside story of American foreign policy at a critical juncture, the very point when our old republic morphed into an empire. For that, alone, he will go down in history as a hero: now let’s make sure he’s not a martyred hero. 

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].