FORT MEADE, MD (Reuters) - Bradley Manning, the suspected source of the largest leak of classified U.S. documents in history, displayed warning signs of emotional instability before his alleged wrongdoing and struggled with his gender identity, his attorney said on Saturday.
Manning was a U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq when he is alleged to have illegally downloaded massive data files from the military’s classified network and became a source for anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
On the second-day of pre-trial hearings that coincided with Manning’s 24th birthday, his defense team appeared to suggest the troubled young man shouldn’t have had access to classified documents, given his emotional state, as it cross-examined prosecution witnesses.
Details emerged in the courtroom about incidents including one occasion when Manning “got furious and upset, flipped a table during the outburst” and sent a computer crashing to the ground, according to Manning’s attorney, David Coombs. He had to be restrained over fears he was headed for a weapon.
Another time, Manning was found curled up in a ball.
Still, Coombs pointed out that access to the military’s classified network was granted widely throughout America’s armed forces and Manning’s access was never revoked.
“If you were told this behavior, would you consider it a minor incident?” Coombs asked Army Captain Steven Lim, who oversaw the work of the team of analysts Manning belonged to.
“Probably not,” Lim answered. He later added that the outburst, if pursued further, could have resulted in the immediate removal of Manning’s access to sensitive files.
U.S. officials say WikiLeaks’ successive data dumps last year, including diplomatic cables, endangered national security and Manning faces charges including aiding the enemy which could send him to prison for life.
Manning, wearing military fatigues and dark-rimmed glasses, was led into the courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland, uncuffed. He listened intently as prosecutors attempted to show they had enough evidence to go to trial under a general court marshall.
That evidence included chat logs in which Manning appears to disclose his activities to former hacker Adrian Lamo, who turned the intelligence analyst in to authorities, triggering the U.S. military investigation in May, 2010.
In Internet chats with Lamo, Manning said he would bring in CDs and load them with downloaded data from the military’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, known as SIPRNet, Lamo told Reuters in a previous interview.
Even as prosecution witnesses laid out the case against Manning, the defense apppeared to sidestep the question of whether he was to blame for the leaks. It appeared focused instead on Manning’s mental state.
Beyond emotional instability, Coombs also flagged Manning’s concerns - which he said were communicated to a superior officer - that his gender identity was seriously affecting his life, work and ability to think.
Manning, it was disclosed during the proceedings, created a female alter-ego online, Breanna Manning.
At the time the files were leaked, being openly gay was prohibited in the U.S. military under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a ban which was scrapped earlier this year.
Special Agent Toni Graham, with the Army Criminal Investigation Division of the Military Police, told the court she had found a folder with printed materials related to gender identity, but disregarded them as irrelevant to the leak investigation.
“We already knew that Pfc Manning was a homosexual. ... We knew he was interested in those topics,” she said, adding that he also had a “very limited” number of friends.
Manning was quiet during Saturday’s proceedings, occasionally taking notes or twirling a pen in his hands. He sometimes turned to speak softly to his attorneys but did not address the court.
In his Web chats with Lamo, Manning appeared to acknowledge giving materials to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
He wrote to Lamo: “I‘m a high profile source ... and I’ve developed a relationship with Assange,” according to details of the chats confirmed by Lamo to Reuters.
The Justice Department is investigating Assange and one of his attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, was in the courtroom Saturday.
Assange is in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden over accusations of rape and sexual assault made by two female former WikiLeaks volunteers in August 2010. Britain’s Supreme Court said on Friday it had granted permission for Assange to appeal his case.
Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by