Alleged leaker case more tech than military

By Pauline Jelinek

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 2011 12:36 p.m. MST

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted from a security vehicle to a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, for a military hearing that will determine if he should face court-martial for his alleged role in the WikiLeaks classified leaks case.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. — 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'd be up jargon creek without a clue after 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 the go-to guy for plotting data points and creating Excel spreadsheets in Baghdad, an intelligence officer testified.

But he may have met his match 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 e-mailed nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and video of a deadly 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed "Collateral Murder."

The government, which neared completion of its case against Manning on Tuesday afternoon, wants him court-martialed for aiding the enemy and 21 other charges.

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; 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. And much, much more.

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."

Throughout the hearing, Manning has sat quietly at the defense table, waiting to learn his fate while presumably understanding all of the lingo. Closing arguments in the hearing could come Tuesday or Wednesday. Then, a military officer will weigh whether to recommend that the young private be court-martialed, which could land him up to 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 sit two rows behind the prosecutor's table — apparently representatives of the Justice Department, CIA or other governments agencies.

Across the room are Manning's supporters, from a long-haired young man representing Occupy Wall Street to a pony-tailed, military veteran wearing a "Free Bradley Manning" T-shirt.

Australia, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was born, sent observers as did Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights. A half-dozen journalists were present, alongside plenty of people in camouflage uniforms. They include the presiding officer, all three prosecutors, two of the defense lawyers and military police stationed along the back and side walls.

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