The sentencing phase of the Bradley Manning court-martial trial has begun, the same week leaker Edward Snowden was granted asylum in Russia. To say the spotlight is on leaking classified information might be an understatement. As we’ve covered in the past, there is a difference between leakers and whistleblowers, and the U.S. government is of the strong opinion that Snowden falls under the ‘leaker’ category. A court has now ruled the same for Bradley Manning, and his upcoming sentencing will dictate just how harsh his punishment will be.
Manning was found not-guilty of the most serious charge – knowingly aiding the enemy – but was convicted on 20 other charges related to the thousands of intelligence files he sent to the controversial Wikileaks website.
Military prosecutors said they could call as many as 20 witnesses, many of whom will be testifying on classified matters in closed court. The burden on the prosecution is to demonstrate the damage the leaks caused to national security. Manning could face as much as 136 years of confinement based on the conviction.
Many have been quick to site the manning case as a harbinger of what future digital-era leaks could bring. The reality is that Manning’s release of more than 700,000 classified cables is hardly representative considering the more than four million people who hold security clearances. And while the global reaction to Snowden’s leak has been significant, the long-term implications have yet to be seen. The NSA has already made the case that the PRISM program stopped terrorist threats in their tracks. It’s yet to be seen how disclosing the program will impact its effectiveness.
Scrutiny on both clearance holders and classified programs is already increasing, and with proposed legislation looking into clearance reforms.