FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The court-martial of the U.S. soldier accused of the biggest ever leak of U.S. secrets focused on Tuesday on his motives for giving classified data to the WikiLeaks website and prosecutors sought to show how he discussed his acts with others.
Military prosecutors called a convicted computer hacker who befriended Private First Class Bradley Manning and then turned him in to U.S. Army investigators. Adrian Lamo testified that Manning contacted him in May 2010 via encrypted online chats from his base in Iraq seeking guidance.
Testifying on the second day of the court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, Lamo described himself as a computer threat analyst and “gray-hat hacker” - someone who breaches computer systems, but not for malicious purposes. He said he considered Manning a kindred idealist.
“Based on your conversation, you saw a 22-year-old with good intentions, just like you had been?” defence attorney David Coombs asked Lamo.
“That was not lost on me,” replied Lamo, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to breaking into the computer systems of the New York Times, Microsoft and Lexis Nexis.
When Manning’s trial opened on Monday, prosecutors told the judge the accused had been driven by arrogance to leak more than 700,000 documents, combat videos and other data to the anti-secrecy website, WikiLeaks.
The website began exposing the U.S. government secrets in 2010, stunning diplomats and U.S. officials, who accused Manning of endangering lives and damaging sensitive diplomacy. Manning has been in detention since his arrest in May 2010.
Lawyers for the 25-year-old former intelligence analyst have described him as naive but well-intentioned in wanting to show the American public the reality of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Manning, a slight figure in a dress uniform, spoke occasionally with his lawyers during testimony. For the rest of the day, this cantered on handling of evidence, and Manning’s training as an intelligence analyst at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
A civilian instructor, Troy Moul, said Manning interacted little with other students in the class, but became the butt of jokes because he asked so many questions.
While in training, Manning created a YouTube video in which he talked about his classes and learning top secret information. No classified material was released, but his instructors ordered him to make a presentation on operational security as corrective training.
Asked by a prosecutor if the same thing had ever happened again, former instructor Brian Madrid said: “ I believe it did, ma’am, that’s why we’re here.”
Manning, who is supported by civil liberties groups campaigning for more transparency in military affairs, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted. He faces 21 charges, including the most serious one of aiding the enemy, and prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917.
The judge, Colonel Denise Lind, said last month she would close parts of the trial to the public to protect classified material. The trial is due to run until at least late August.
Lind said the trial would recess after Wednesday’s hearing and resume on Monday.
Lamo said Manning revealed in their online chats that he felt intense emotional strain from his job with access to a trove of classified material.
Manning, who is gay, was also grappling with his sexual identity and felt a kinship with Lamo, a former member of a San Francisco task force on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, Lamo said.
“At any time did he say he had no loyalty to America?” defence attorney Coombs asked.
“Not in those words, no,” Lamo said.
Lamo has previously said he turned in Manning because the leaks put lives at risk and the material released was too vast to be vetted to prevent harm from taking place.
Under questioning by prosecutor Captain Joe Morrow, Lamo said he had chatted online with Manning from his home in Sacramento, California, and from Starbucks coffee shops nearby.
WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange, an Australian, denies the allegations.
Ecuadorean officials said on Monday they planned to meet their British counterparts to seek a solution to Assange’s year-long standoff.
Assange and Manning are the subject of a documentary, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” which opened in U.S. theatres last month.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Grant McCool and David Brunnstrom