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On WikiLeaks scandal, hacker says he didn't want to be a 'coward'

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
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Hacker exposed WikiLeaks suspect
  • Hacker Adrian Lamo says he's gotten death threats for his role in the WikiLeaks scandal
  • Federal official: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is suspected of leaking classified information
  • Bradley Manning has not entered a plea; he is being held in Kuwait

(CNN) -- A California hacker said he doesn't regret going to federal officials to show them alleged confessions an Army private made about leaking more than 90,000 documents that reveal secret information about U.S. war strategy.

Adrian Lamo spoke to CNN from the Sacramento Public Library, where he was trying to get away from reporters and a throng of people who, he said, are angry with him. He says he has received death threats in person and on his Facebook page and Twitter messages from people who feel like he betrayed Pfc. Bradley Manning.

"I went to the right authorities, because it seemed incomprehensible that someone could leak that massive amount of data and not have it endanger human life," Lamo said. "If I had acted for my own comfort and convenience and sat on my hands with that information, and I had endangered national security ... I would have been the worst kind of coward."

Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst based near Baghdad, Iraq, had top-secret security clearance to sensitive information about the war, officials have said. The U.S. military is holding Manning in a Kuwait jail, suspected in the leak of a helicopter gunship attack video from Iraq.

Military investigators also suspect he accessed a military classified internet and e-mail system to download tens of thousands of documents, according to a Pentagon official who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing criminal investigation of the soldier. The whistle-blower website posted more than 75,000 secret military documents on Sunday.

Manning has been charged with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code, including allegedly illegally transferring classified data.

If I had acted for my own comfort ... I would have been the worst kind of coward.
--Adrian Lamo

The Army is considering whether Manning should face the military equivalent of a trial over the charges. He has not yet entered a plea, since there has not been a decision about whether he should face trial, Army Maj. Bryan Woods told CNN. Military lawyers for Manning referred CNN questions about him to Woods.

Lamo said he strongly suspects that Manning did not act alone.

"As far as I know, he conducted the database himself but got technical assistance from another source," Lamo said. "[Manning] was aware of one other person in military engaged in accessing databases without authorization."

Lamo refused to elaborate on why he believed this.

Video: Pentagon has 'main suspect' in leak
Video: What is WikiLeaks?

A superstar in the hacking world, Lamo was convicted in 2004 on one count of computer crimes after breaking into the New York Times, Microsoft and Lexis-Nexis computer systems. Lamo has also reportedly breached Excite@Home's company network and broken into the internal networks of Yahoo! and MCI WorldCom. Wired magazine wrote that after Lamo would crack their security, he would tell the companies about their vulnerabilities, free of charge.

Lamo's boyish, soft mug makes him look a decade younger than his 29 years. A Wired magazine profile this year focused on his struggles with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

Lamo gave the full transcipts of his purported instant message chats with Manning to Wired magazine. It's unclear whether they have been edited.

Lamo declined to provide CNN with the complete instant message logs, citing three reasons. He said they contain personal information he doesn't want exposed, the messages contain information that could compromise national security, and, simply, he doesn't have them all anymore.

"I gave my hard drive to the Department of Defense," he said.

Lamo said he isn't sure why Manning would have reached out to him on the Web. He theorizes that Manning might have seen the Wired profile and recognized a nerdy, kindred spirit.

According to Wired, the messenger suspected to be Manning introduces himself to Lamo by saying, "I'm an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern baghdad, pending discharge for 'adjustment disorder.' "

Manning allegedly goes on to say that he feels "isolated." His messages explain in detail his disillusionment with the way the U.S. was waging the Afghan war.

The person alleged to be Manning wrote to Lamo: "i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore... i only a plethora of states acting in self interest... with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless "

According to Wired, on May 22, Manning told Lamo that he had provided WikiLeaks with 260,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables.

Lamo also told Salon in an interview that he had told Manning he was an ordained minister. He said he could treat Manning's talk as a confession.

In another chat, the person believed to be Manning writes about Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks.

The message reads: "im a source, not quite a volunteer ...i mean, im a high profile source... and i've developed a relationship with assange... but i dont know much more than what he tells me, which is very little"

Lamo said he thinks Manning was flattered.

"[He] was made to feel important with his ongoing contact with Assange and special link to WikiLeaks, jumping ahead in the queue of people who were also leaking," Lamo claimed.

According to the a version of the chats published in the Washington Post, the messenger believed to be Manning seems despondent, lonely and frustrated. Manning allegedly wrote: "my family is non-supportive . . . im losing my job . . . losing my career options . . . i dont have much more except for this laptop, some books, and a hell of a story."

Manning also is thought to have written: "i mean, i was never noticed ...regularly ignored... except when i had something essential... then it was back to "bring me coffee, then sweep the floor...i never quite understood that...felt like i was an abused work horse..."

Lamo said he felt sympathy for Manning, calling him a "genuine, nice boy."

"He struck me as someone who was easily led," Lamo said. "And I think others took advantage of that idealism and naïvete."

When Lamo was Manning's age, he was in trouble for hacking, scared of facing years in prison.

"I got the same chance to reinvent myself that I hope Bradley Manning gets," Lamo said, adding that he hoped the world would see Manning one day and not immediately think about the WikiLeaks fiasco.

Lamo said he's ready to testify in court if that's necessary.

"I'm not going to run out on this process," he said. "I know what Mr. Manning did, and actions have consequences. Mine do. His do. I've accepted mine, and in time, he will accept his."