WASHINGTON — The Army has detained a 22-year-old soldier in Baghdad in connection with the leak of a military video that shows Apache helicopters gunning down unarmed men in Iraq, including two journalists, defense officials said Monday.
Army Spc. Bradley Manning of Potomac, Md., now being held in Kuwait pending the results of an investigation, was the third suspected leaker known to have been apprehended under the Obama administration.
"This is a startling pattern for anyone who's been watching the field for a while," said Steven Aftergood, a director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
"It certainly shows that this administration is aggressively pursuing leakers" and that "there is essentially zero tolerance for public disclosure of classified information," he said.
Meanwhile, a convicted computer hacker from California claimed he alerted authorities about Manning after meeting him online, calling the young military analyst "a good kid who got a little mixed up."
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Eric Bloom said Monday that Manning has not yet been charged with any crime. He said it wasn't possible to predict how long Manning would be held in confinement without charges being brought.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters that Manning's involvement in the 2007 video provided to Wikileaks was "something (U.S. authorities) were looking at."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the department was helping the Army investigate because the case includes classified State Department reports, which he would only describe as analytic in nature.
The classified video was taken from the cockpit during a 2007 fire fight and posted last April on the website Wikileaks.org. It was an unflattering portrait of the war that raised questions about the military's rules of engagement and whether more should be done to prevent civilian casualties.
The video shows a group of men walking down the street before being repeatedly shot by the helicopters. The American gunners can be heard laughing and referring to the men as "dead bastards."
Among those believed to have been killed in that attack was Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and his driver Saeed Chmagh, 40. Two children were wounded.
An internal investigation concluded that the troops had acted appropriately. According to a July 19 summary of the results of the inquiry, Reuters employees were likely "intermixed among the insurgents" and difficult to distinguish because of their equipment, the document states.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has personally criticized the unauthorized leak of the video.
"You're looking at a situation through a soda straw and you have no context or perspective," Gates said.
Former computer hacker Adrian Lamo of Sacramento, Calif., said he alerted the military after Manning confided in him online that he had leaked the video in addition to 260,000 classified diplomatic cables.
Lamo, who first provided his account to Wired.com, told The Associated Press on Monday that he had agonized over the decision.
"I turned him in because, for the rest of my life, I'd wonder if something he leaked would have cost a human life," Lamo said.
In 2004, Lamo had pleaded guilty to breaking into The New York Times' computer system and still owes $62,800 in federal restitution. He said he has received no financial benefit from turning in Manning and that the money he owes was never discussed.
Lamo said he's already seen an angry backlash — including death threats — from the hacker community, which frequently swaps claims of criminal activity under the assumption that all secrets are kept. Lamo said he ignores boasts by "ordinary criminals" but said he felt Manning's charges went much further.
Lamo said that Manning had described some of the classified diplomatic cables as information that would have destroyed U.S. relationships with key partners.
"This wasn't an easy choice," Lamo said. "I wish it hadn't been me to make it. I genuinely liked Spc. Manning. He was a good kid who got a little mixed up. A lot mixed up."