Spies, WikiLeaks, and hackers, oh my!

A U.S. intelligence analyst has been arrested for spilling secrets to WikiLeaks, and now the whistle-blowers are on the run

It's like a Hollywood thriller. A military spy is arrested, betrayed by someone he thought to be a comrade in arms -- a brilliant yet mentally disabled hacker. A journalist is on the run, hunted by the authorities who want to know what he knows. All it needs is a love interest and Matt Damon, and I think we can get this greenlit. (When I get through with this blog post I'm going to have my agent call Spielberg and set up a lunch.)

But first, the backstory.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Read up on Cringely's long-standing coverage of Wikileaks' travails, from its economic struggles to its fights with Swiss banks, the Church of Scientology, and, now, the U.S. military | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Last April whistle-blower site WikiLeaks published a disturbing video of a 2007 U.S. military attack in Baghdad in which a dozen civilians were killed. It also published a confidential Department of Defense report that enumerated several ways U.S. intelligence agents could put WikiLeaks out of business, which I wrote about here last March. That report discussed the possibility of the WikiLeaks source being an employee of the U.S. military. It turns out the report was right.

Those documents, as well as some potentially far more serious ones, appear to have come from that very source the report alluded to: U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who was arrested earlier this month for espionage and is being held right now in a Kuwait prison.

We know this thanks to Wired News' Kim Zetter and Kevin Poulson, who reported on Manning's identity last week. Thanks to Wired we also know who turned Manning in: legendary hacker Adrian Lamo.

Lamo became famous for breaking into the New York Times' network back in 2002; he also broke into Yahoo News and posted fake stories there. He got caught for the former offense and copped a plea with the feds to avoid doing time. Last month, Wired revealed that Lamo has Asperger's Syndrome, which would account for his extraordinary hacking abilities and apparent lack of social skills. It may have also played a role in how he acted in this incident.

Needing someone to talk to (or maybe just wanting to brag), Manning approached Lamo a few weeks ago, thinking he had found a kindred spirit. After Manning told Lamo he'd stolen 260,000 confidential State Department cables and sent them to WikiLeaks, Lamo contacted the authorities. He then spent more time chatting with Manning online, trying to draw information out of him at the request of the feds.

Now Lamo is receiving death threats -- and a lot of media attention -- for revealing a source, even though he's not a reporter. His reason? He felt Manning posed a serious threat to U.S. security.

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