End of the year blog posts often fall into two categories: the retrospective 2011 In Review, generally a safe topic in which the author spins known events, or the prospective Predictions for 2012 in which the writer speculates about possible future events.
This homage to Oliver Stone splits the tropes and speculates about possible past events, the possible-yet-untold big story of 2011. Strap in and give this one a try.
The US Government knew exactly where Osama bin Laden was hiding for months prior to his execution. Several staffed locations in the neighborhood were watching the house and receiving the electronic intelligence. Things were going well; it was a gold mine.
In the aftermath of 9/11, mega-buck computer system contracts were given to the military-industrial complex to help tear down the silos and connect the dots in real-time. No more compartments; now the right hand (Panetta's Army) would know what the left hand (Clinton's State Dept) was doing.
Somebody took videos and documents out of these newly integrated uber-systems and sent them outside the fence. Although prosecution witnesses have testified that they cannot prove that the leaked documents came from Manning's computer, the junior enlisted soldier is accused of the greatest American intelligence violation ever.
The accusation that Manning's breach is one of the biggest intelligence failures in American history brings to mind these questions:
- Why don't we see any impact?
- Why is the only person charged a 24-year old E-3?
- What will they do with/to Manning?
- How could this all happen?
... Where's the impact?
When Manning released the documents to WikiLeaks, the people responsible for watching Osama bin Laden were aware that somewhere in the pile of documents was a clue that could unmask their covert surveillance, warn bin Laden, and put their people on the scene in great danger. Maybe a travel voucher, a consultant's bill for equipment repair, a mercenary's invoice for security services; some sort of a reference that was inconsistent with the risks being taken.
Faced with the impending document release, the US decided to bring the ObL surveillance project to a premature and preordained conclusion; they picked a day, attacked the compound, and executed bin Laden. (and I'm good with that)
The Big Story of 2011 is: B. Manning unwittingly provoked Osama bin Laden's execution.
... Why is the only person charged a 24-year old E-3?
Just like in Abu Ghraib, the middle-level NCO's and senior officers will not be charged. If they had to tell the truth to defend themselves, their stories of the military-industrial complex and what we're doing over there would unacceptably rock the Establishment, so they're only charging this one kid.
It's politically impossible for the Administration to criticize Hillary Clinton's State Dept for failing to protect their documents, just as it's politically impossible for the Administration to blame the HS-MIC geeks for the rushed, unwise systems integration ordered by the 9-11 Commission.
... What's going to become of Manning?
Nobody has any idea of what to do with Manning, because all the options have unacceptable political consequences. Manning's gender-identify crisis, which led to dressing as female alter-ego Brianna when off-duty, are both an indication of his tremendous inner turmoil and an impossible discussion for an Establishment that has just repealed DADT.
This blogger's guess: They're hoping that B. Manning commits suicide and solves the Establishment's problem for them. If the brig can't push the buttons fast enough for a suicide, they'll delay any decision about B. Manning's fate until after the 2012 election, and then if necessary they'll park Manning in Gitmo.
... How could this all happen?
The military chain of command completely bungled Manning's development and supervision. At initial intelligence school, before there was any access to SIPRNet, B. Manning was reprimanded for posting YouTube messages revealing sensitive information. After Manning punched a colleague in the face, Manning was demoted and told to expect a discharge. B. Manning was still given full access and kept on duty. A disgruntled insider is a much bigger risk that a malicious outsider.
The military's complete failure to address a obviously troubled person (Manning) is quite similar to their failure to address Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan also has a history of supervisors who knew that something was wrong and took no action. In both situations, political sensitivity and career considerations prevented people from dealing with known, troubled misfits and we have suffered for that.
None of the hypothetical questions below can be discussed, and to the extent that we leave them off-limits we remain vulnerable to their repeated exploitation:
- In the cases of both Manning and Hasan, did political sensitivity trump command responsibility?
- Should we restrict clearances for troubled youngsters, including those who experiment with off-duty alternative gender identification?
- Can the advocates of gays in the military explain the statistically unlikely event that the greatest intelligence failure in American history was perpetrated by a gay transgender soldier?
- Would the pre-9/11 info-stove-pipes have prevented this debacle?
- Can it be that twenty-something Breanna caused the execution of Osama bin Laden? Does she deserve a medal?
- In raising the tranny-twinkie defense, is B. Manning going to set the LGBTQ community back and reintroduce cisgender privilege and transphobia?
If they're only going to charge one grunt for a systemic failure of the homeland security - military industrial complex (HS-MIC), I've got to say: Free Breanna Manning.
But Wait There's More: In case that wasn't enough, our 2012 Big Story dangles this little nugget for reporters hoping for a Pulitzer: Pakistan knew about the bin Laden compound and the surveillance, and they permitted US intelligence to work unilaterally within their country. Both governments were on very thin ice. The US decided not to trust Pakistan with knowledge of the execution within their borders and then we left a wrecked helicopter in their city.
The Pakistan government accommodated us in an unprecedented way and then the US humiliated them publicly with an untenable internal political problem. The current Pakistan-US crisis is another artifact of L'Affaire Manning.