FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The U.S. soldier accused of passing classified files to the WikiLeaks website boasted of his ability to crack passwords, one of his Army supervisors said at a court-martial on Wednesday.
The soldier, Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is charged with providing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks, the biggest unauthorized release of classified files in U.S. history. The most serious among the charges is aiding the enemy.
Manning, then an intelligence analyst, boasted of being able to bypass any Internet portal password, former Army Specialist Jihrleah Showman testified under prosecution questioning.
“He said he felt very fluent with computers. He said he spoke their language,” said Showman, who was one of Manning’s supervisors when he worked as an intelligence analyst at a U.S. Army base east of Baghdad in 2010. “He said there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on a computer.”
WikiLeaks began exposing the U.S. government secrets in 2010, stunning diplomats and U.S. officials. They accused Manning of endangering lives and damaging sensitive diplomacy.
Showman said Manning had installed Microsoft’s IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, on her computer even though only a civilian contractor was allowed to do so.
One of Manning’s commanders testified that anti-U.S. insurgents used several online sites to mine for information. In a potential blow to the case against Manning, she did not name WikiLeaks even though the website was listed in a 2008 Army counterintelligence report as a potential source of leaks from inside the military.
“They go to Facebook, Google and Google Maps and types of social media,” intelligence officer Captain Casey Fulton said under questioning by defense attorney David Coombs.
Fulton’s testimony could potentially hurt the prosecution’s charge that Manning was aiding the enemy by providing documents to WikiLeaks, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington.
Fulton said she had seen part of the leaked material, a combat video from a 2007 Apache gunship attack in Baghdad, in December 2009 when it was stored on the hard drive of the Iraq base’s classified computer.
When the video surfaced in April 2010 on WikiLeaks, she told Manning and others that she did not believe it was the same one she had seen. Manning told her he believed it had been edited and then sent her both versions, she said.
Manning, who has been in confinement since he was arrested in May 2010, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted. His lawyers have said he only wanted to show the U.S. public the reality of war in Afghanistan and Iraq by releasing the information.
Among the 21 charges Manning faces is adding unauthorized software to a computer that was part of the classified SIPR Network to download documents at a rate of a 1,000 an hour and bypassing security mechanisms.
Another supervisor, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kyle Balonek, said the base’s SIPR Network hard drive included material that had been downloaded from other computers for safety, as well as music, videos and games that soldiers would use during quiet periods.
Balonek praised Manning’s work in general, saying, “He did put together, I would say, excellent products.” Balonek was reprimanded because of Manning’s alleged leak and testified under immunity.
The judge recessed the trial until Monday, saying the proceedings were moving faster than expected.
Editing by Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Osterman