Jeff Bell, a retired commander of the U.S. Naval Reserve, served as a surface warfare officer, and targeting and intelligence officer in the Navy and Naval Reserve.

Viewpoints: Columnist was duped by Army private's actions, WikiLeaks

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 11A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 8:20 pm

There can be no question that our nation needs an independent, critically thinking news media. A media free of political bias (however unlikely that is), providing our nation's citizenry with objective, thoughtful analysis is essential. Often, regardless of political persuasion, we hear that is lacking today.

In his article "Media throw soldier who defied secrecy restrictions to the wolves" (March 20), Edward Wasserman, a nationally noted and accomplished journalist, discusses the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who disgraced himself and his country by sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

Unfortunately, Wasserman, who is no doubt a brighter man than I, displays a stunning lack of understanding regarding the importance of the need for national security, the ramifications for breaches in security, and a misconstrued notion of "values" and "aspirations."

Let me explain. The first portion of Wasserman's article opens with a nostalgic look at the journalistic era of the 1960s and '70s, the Vietnam era and the Pentagon Papers. Wasserman continues with an indictment of his colleagues' press coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, capping the discussion with a charge of "disgraceful abandonment of the boldest news source of his generation," WikiLeaks source Manning.

That is certainly one unlearned way to describe Manning. Another way to describe him is as a very junior soldier who, having been given access to highly sensitive, classified material, and as someone trusted by his fellow soldiers, his chain of command, the Army, indeed his country, to keep those secrets safe, instead willfully chose to violate that trust and disgrace himself, and his nation. The latter is probably a far more accurate portrayal of him.

Wasserman suggests that the government should share what damage was caused by the intelligence Manning released. However, the degree of damage Manning caused will likely not be shared by the government, nor should it be. None of what he leaked was ever supposed to be public in the first place.

Wasserman speaks of "values" and "aspirations" of prior generations in their reporting. Well, the press in generations before his had a collective or common goal during wartime to protect America, and also had "discernment," allowing them to know the potential damage of what they were releasing. They didn't just brainlessly "auto-post" everything to WikiLeaks, out of fear that someone else would post some random document first.

Of course we see none of that in the Wasserman article. We don't see it because he is oblivious to the personal human sacrifices that are made to provide or create the intelligence that Manning so callously fed to WikiLeaks.

There are complete structures of decision-making and a thorough chain of command within the national intelligence community and in the National Command Authority that reviews intelligence and decides how it is to be utilized and who should receive it. These are not the decisions of a private first class in the U.S. Army.

Manning was no more qualified to render command decisions on what he was reading than a newly arriving private on the battlefield is during wartime. The fact is that Manning took it upon himself to release 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and 500,000 Army reports to WikiLeaks, and he must answer for that incredible breach of trust, and for the trail of unabridged damage that has resulted from his actions.

Manning violated the trust of his unit, his service and his country, and he is getting a fair trial under the military justice system designed to review the actions he took, much to the dismay of Wasserman. The military justice system, while no doubt foreign to Wasserman, is fair.

Wasserman thinks of Pfc. Manning as a "source" who was courageous, when in fact he was a private in the Army, and an ideological neophyte with little understanding of what he was reading.

Jeff Bell, a retired commander of the U.S. Naval Reserve, served as a surface warfare officer, and targeting and intelligence officer in the Navy and Naval Reserve.

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