“They asked me if I knew what his frame of mind was, or if even back then he had any anti-American sentiments,” said Radford, the editor and owner of the Crescent Courier newspaper. “They asked me if we had received any information electronically or in packages from him.”
He had not.
“As soon as they left,” Radford recalled, “I went on the Internet to see what they were talking about.”
For those in this rural town of about 1,400 who remembered the skinny, spectacled youth and felt like talking about it, the reaction was twofold: shock that he would land in such trouble, but little surprise that Manning would be clever enough to have gotten into state secrets.
That’s exactly what he did. Manning, now 25, has pleaded guilty to more than 10 counts related to releasing classified information to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, in violation of his oath to the government when he received his security clearance during the Iraq war. Although the guilty plea was an offer to the military court trying him, he is currently on trial for far more serious charges of espionage, including aiding the enemy.
Manning’s trial has gained even more resonance in the wake of another bombshell case, Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency employee who leaked classified documents about the United States’ secret intelligence-gathering. Snowden, who is seeking asylum abroad with the help of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has praised Manning as a “classic whistle-blower” who “was inspired by the public good.”
‘Bad’ home life
Radford’s wife, Jacqueline, said she’s not surprised the whip-smart kid who went to school with her son had grown up to make a mark, albeit an explosively controversial one.
“He was always on the cutting edge. It doesn’t surprise me that he would be in the big middle of this information,” she said. “The only thing I see is that he showed poor judgment in who he told. That’s consistent in that he just had information. That’s the thing with Bradley and his people; they are kids that know stuff.”
Manning was part of a very bright group of youths who participated regularly on behalf of the town’s school in “quiz bowls,” academic contests pitting student teams in competitions on history, science, math and other subjects. Manning’s team once scored a trip to Washington, D.C., and Mark Radford chaperoned the group.
That trip was quite a prize for an eighth-grade kid from a small Oklahoma town. Manning was recognized as a leader in the group, said Jacqueline Radford.
However, she also knew even then that he was a hacker.
“They would bring home the new games, and he would crack the codes,” she said. “He was more interested in cracking the codes than sitting down and playing the games. He was inquisitive, smart. And he brought a lot of information my kid’s way.”
She also remembered Manning as a child whose parents — an alcoholic mother and a frequently absent father — left him on his own.
“I’ve always tried to be supportive of him because of his home life,” Jacqueline Radford said. “I know it was bad, to where he was left to his own, had to fend for himself. Other people had to feed him. When he went on a trip, we always had to make sure to send enough money to be helpful for him. I would send enough money to take care of Bradley.”
If he was humble in means, Manning was not meek, said childhood friend Chera Moore. She knew Manning from kindergarten through seventh grade.
“He was very outspoken, especially about government stuff, especially for a kid. He was nonreligious, had different views than anybody in our class. He didn’t care what anybody thought about it; he just said what he thought and how he felt,” Moore said. “He didn’t agree with a lot of stuff … like in the Pledge of Allegiance saying ‘under God.’”
She said the boy’s father, Brian Manning, became angry with a teacher for requiring a biblical-related assignment.
“We had to read a Bible verse and write a report on it, and he (Bradley) refused to do it. I think that’s when his father got involved. We weren’t forced, but you could have got an F on it, and I’m sure he did,” she said.
Manning’s smarts, she remembered, often put him at odds with teachers.
“He would get upset, slam books on the desk if people wouldn’t listen to him or understand his point of view,” Moore said. “In fifth grade, he would argue with the teacher. He would get sent to the office. It didn’t seem to bother him. He would get really mad, and the teacher would say, ‘OK, Bradley. Get out.’”
Manning’s parents split for good, and in 2001, his mother returned with him to her native Wales. At school there, he was alienated and lonely.
A legacy of whistle-blowers
In the end, Moore said, Manning’s infamous mix with authority may have had its roots in his need for recognition — if not from his parents, then from someone else.
“I feel like some of the reason he’s doing it is that when he was a kid … people wouldn’t listen to him,” she said. “But now he’s being noticed. He may have wanted to do it just to get noticed … I honestly feel that this is a cry for attention.”
If so, Manning is not the only whistle-blower from Crescent to be noticed on a national level. Only a few miles south from the town, near the shuttered nuclear fuel-processing plant, is the site where former Crescent resident Karen Silkwood met an untimely end while allegedly trying to release documents to the media about the dangers of another misspent federal program — the lax security in plutonium processing.
“Some of the people from far off think this has something to do with the Karen Silkwood case,” said Moore’s mother, Jackie Harris Moore. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. Do you realize how old that case is?’ That kid wasn’t born … They don’t know how long it’s been, and they hear the story and think, ‘Hey, she leaked. Now this kid’s leaking.’”
If convicted in trial, Manning could face life in prison.
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