Glenn Greenwald interviewed Adrian Lamo on 6/17/2010 for his article, The Strange and Consequential Case of Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo and Wikileaks. In the interview Lamo contradicts numerous things he says in other interviews — significantly, he says he contacted authorities “the day after” he began chatting with Manning (May 22). Many thanks to bmull for transcribing it.
GREENWALD: So let me begin by making one statement. I know you read what I wrote. I’m glad you saw it because if you hadn’t I would have told you just to be upfront about the fact that from everything I know I do oppose what you did pretty strongly. I support whistleblowers and Wikileaks. I don’t see any justification for what you did but the questions that I’m asking are really the questions that I don’t know the answers to. And I am interested in hearing your answers so I can write something as fairly as possible.
LAMO: In response to that statement I generally support whistleblowers as well. However whistleblowers are a clearly-defined category under the law and “whistleblower” wasn’t written on any of the paperwork that I saw and any of the [unintelligible at 01:00]. The only thing that came close was espionage which is a whole different consideration.
GREENWALD: Right. Well we don’t need to talk about that, but one of the things that I find weird and difficult to understand about this whole episode is how he found you and why he decided to find you, so can you just walk me through that first encounter. Like how did he make contact with you and what did he say and how did the whole thing, how did the whole conversation, come about.
LAMO: Absolutely. I understand that he tracked me down as a result of, actually kind of like how you and began [unintelligible at 02:00]. He was searching for Wikileaks on Twitter and saw that in the recent leak of my documentary and people had asked, “Hey where should we send money if we download this?” And I initially said, for lack of a better answer, “Send it to the director. He’s the one who spent his time on it.” And the director said, “No. I don’t want to be compensated for that. It’s problematic.” And I said, “Okay, well send it to Wikileaks because they support similar principles to what are discussed in the documentary. That is to say, curiosity for the sake of curiosity and freedom of information.” And it was a result of that that I popped up on his radar.
GREENWALD: I’m sorry, you were having that discussion on your Twitter feed or where?
LAMO: Yes, on Twitter [unintelligible at 03:05].
GREENWALD: And he was, how did he see that?
LAMO: By searching for “Wikileaks,” the term.
GREENWALD: And then your account came up basically?
LAMO: That is correct.
GREENWALD: And then how did he find your email from there?
LAMO: I would assume that he did a Google search for my name. I mean it’s not hard to find. In fact you could probably find it in your first ten guesses if you really tried.
GREENWALD: Right. And how do know that that’s how he found you?
LAMO: Because that’s what he profferred to me when I asked him how he had come across my identity.
GREENWALD: And he told that in the chats that you two were having, the IM chats?
LAMO: That’s correct.
GREENWALD: And so the first contact he made with you, was that be email or was that some other way?
LAMO: [Sound of rustling papers] First contact was by email.
GREENWALD: And can you tell me generally what he said?
LAMO: I can’t unfortunately. It’s cryptographically impossible since he encrypted it to an outdated PGP key of mine.
GREENWALD: So were you unable to understand what he said in that first email?
LAMO: Correct. First, second, and third at the very least. I get a lot of random email and the hassle of decrypting it even if I had the key would be enough to push it back about a week or so in my “to read” stack.
GREENWALD: Right. So when you got this email that you were incapable of deciphering did you respond to him in some way, or what did you do?
LAMO: I ignored it for the first couple of hours and then I received a few subsequent emails and then I finally replied, “Hey I can’t read your emails encrypted to a PGP key I no longer have access to. Why don’t we chat via AOL IM instead?”
GREENWALD: Right, so you gave him your IM address?
GREENWALD: So you never actually got any emails from him that you were able to read?
LAMO: [sound of rustling papers] I got a couple that were encrypted to my new key but I never got around to decrypting those because once we started chatting on AOL IM I assumed he proffered whatever he was going to say. And after the first conversation to [unintelligible at 06:30] slipped my mind.
LAMO: If I were to all of a sudden tell you, “Okay, hey, forget about this Manning thing. I’m about to tell you that I’m going to snitch out Osama bin Laden.” You’d probably forget about how we initially met for a little while.
GREENWALD: Right. But did you give any of those emails, initial emails, to Wired?
GREENWALD: You just gave the IM logs to them?
GREENWALD: Okay. And to this date you’ve never gone and encrypted [sic] those emails, even during the time you were talking to the federal authorities, you’ve never gone and encrypted [sic] those emails so you could read them, or decrypted them?
LAMO: No. They didn’t come to mind until this past Sunday [6/13/10] when I was doing my affidavit and they asked me to swear under oath about all forms of communication that I’d had with Private First Class Manning. And at that point I thought about it long and hard and it came to mind. So I retrieved them for them. But based on the amount of trouble that the chat logs caused I quite frankly didn’t want to see what they had to say.
GREENWALD: So you just turned them over without even looking, without even reading them?
LAMO: That’s correct.
LAMO: I think that if you’d had the amount of trouble per letter from somebody that I’ve had that [unintelligible at 08:20] single character in communication you’d be quite happy not to have any more.
GREENWALD: Right. So let me ask you this: At some point I assume early on in the chat conversation you asked him how it was that he found you and he said, he explained that whole thing that you explained to me in the beginning about the Twitter search, right?
LAMO: That would be presumptively correct, yes.
GREENWALD: So did he ever give any other reason about why he contacted you or found you, as opposed to any of the other people that must have come when he searched Wikileaks?
LAMO: I would tend to assume that it’s because he read about my backstory. The fact that I was encouraging people to donate in connection with the documentary that involved parts of my life would lead the casual reader to assume that there was something about that worth reading about. Which is what he would have had to have done.
GREENWALD: But I mean did he, I’m not asking you necessarily to speculate about why he picked you to contact, among all the people who were writing about or had mentioned Wikileaks on Twitter. I’m asking if he ever gave any reason other than, “Well I found your name when I did a Wikileaks search on Twitter.”
LAMO: Not that I can recollect.
GREENWALD: And there was this article that was written about you and the episode that you had where you were involuntarily committed that Kevin Poulsen wrote for Wired on May 20th, the day before you first started chatting with him. Did he ever say that he had read that article?
LAMO: No, he never mentioned it.
GREENWALD: Okay. And you guys, the first chat date that Wired published was May 21st. Do you recall how much before that you received the first email from him? Was it a day before? Was it two days before? Or was it the same day?
LAMO: It was the day before.
GREENWALD: Okay. How, one of the things I’ve been unclear about in all of the things that I’ve read and I’ve listed to all the, or as many interviews that you’ve given that I could find is how soon after you first started chatting with him did you actually go to the authorities? Was it the same day? The next day? How much time elapsed between when he first chatted with you and the time that you contacted the federal authorities?
LAMO: I contacted Army authorities through an intermediary late the day after, rather I got the ball rolling on that. I wanted to make sure we had the right team for the job, so I asked a friend of mine to find who at Army CID was good at this sort of investigation, who would handle it right and who would handle it sensitively.
GREENWALD: Right, but when did you initiate that process of contacting the authorities? Was it on the same day that he first chatted with you? Was it the next day?
LAMO: It would have been the next day since it wasn’t until at least then that it became clear how severe a circumstance I was dealing with.
GREENWALD: But it was really early on in the process. Like you basically had one day of chat with him and then you initiated the process of contacting–
LAMO: Well there is no, there is no “early on in the process.” We had at most five or six days of chat, and from the very first few lines he introduced himself as an intelligence analyst and I didn’t think anything of that. A lot of people have [unintelligible at 13:00] careers. But it was very shortly after that that he admitted to leaking the video and I was a little on the fence about that because I had seen the video and honestly had I been in that position I don’t know what I would have done, in the same way that I don’t think anybody who hasn’t been in my position knows what they would have done. I think that Manning followed his conscience in the same way that I followed mine. The crucial difference was one of those was not lawful. But again when it was just a video I didn’t make any effort to contact authorities. It wasn’t until he began to admit that he had leaked additional classified information that it was evidence that he was building himself a, pretty much a house of cards that, where every suit in the deck was consequences and they were all going to come down on his head sooner or later and it was better for everyone involved that it be sooner.
GREENWALD: But you’re not going to claim are you that you did this for his own good? You’re not really claiming that are you?
LAMO: I’m saying that I had a lot of considerations and–
GREENWALD: Was that one of them, what was best for him? That’s actually what, part of–
LAMO: His own good when he joked darkly about, when I told him that I was back because I’d had to take a phone call and he joked, “That’s okay, I’m ready for whoever it is that you’re on the phone with because I’m armed.” And yeah I think it was for his own good that he be relieved of his position as soon as possible because I–
GREENWALD: And put in prison for the next few decades?
LAMO: You know what, people have been convicted of his exact same charge and none of them have done more than six months in recent memory. In fact although he hasn’t been charged yet, mishandling classified information, which is what he will probably plead to will most likely get him no more than six months.
GREENWALD: Right. There was just a whistleblower who leaked way less significant material than you’re suggesting he leaked, just got 21 months in prison, Shamai Leibowitz. But anyway one of the things that I’m interested in is you went to, you initiated this process of talking to the authorities, either the second day or early on. I mean the first or second of your interaction rather than the fifth or sixth day. Was there a point where the authorities were actually asking you to get information from him, like suggesting that you ask him certain questions, or giving you direction about the kinds of things they wanted you to elicit from him?
LAMO: No. There was no point at which I was guided to ask any particular question. My questions were guided by my own curiosity.
GREENWALD: So once you went to them they didn’t ever say if you could find this out from him that would be great? If you could find that out from him we’d really appreciated it? They knew that you were continuing to talk to him but they never asked you to see if you could discover anything that would help them?
LAMO: I think that they referred to a professional for that, knowing that this was going to have to be a prosecutable case. They had as their first and foremost priority preserving evidence, and #1 had they made that request it would have been improper in the extreme because they would have, I’m not a jurist I don’t know if it would have been entrapment. But #2 if they had made the request I would have refused it because I wouldn’t have been comfortable with it.
GREENWALD: There was a–. But along those lines, after you went to them and were continuing to have the conversations with them were you giving them the chat logs on a regular basis, like at the end of the day or each time you had a chat with him would you then forward it to them or give it to them? Or did you just give it to them all at the end?
LAMO: No, I didn’t provide the logs until it was apparent that they were actually interested in a prosecution. I wasn’t aware of their intentions until Manning was already in custody.
GREENWALD: And it was only at that point that you gave them the logs? The never asked for the logs along the way?
LAMO: That’s correct.
GREENWALD: I read an interview from you I think a year or so ago where, maybe it was a little longer but it was right in that time frame, where somebody was asking you essentially what are you doing now and you talked about a security company that you had either begun working for, were hoping to do consulting work for, and the question was asked, “Are you going to be working for a federal agency?” And you said, “No, I won’t be directly working for a federal agency.” Do you know what I’m talking about, which interview I mean?
LAMO: That’s correct, and my answer was guided by the fact that some of the clients with whom I work receive federal grants, and as such have to register with the federal government, so while they may pay their contractors with federal money they aren’t federal agencies. They don’t have federal mandate.
GREENWALD: But they have contracts with the federal government, right?
LAMO: No. In most cases they have grants with the federal government because they have non-profits in the same way that, say, a homeless shelter might receive a federal grant from a county government.
GREENWALD: But did that work, did any of your work in the last couple years involve any direct interaction with the federal government?
LAMO: I in general don’t disclose clients, especially now that it could put them at risk of being targeted.
GREENWALD: The article that I asked you about before that Kevin Poulsen wrote in mid-May about your involuntary commitment to that hospital– How did, do you know how he found out about that?
LAMO: I think you know the answer to that question.
GREENWALD: I honestly, honestly I don’t. I mean I know he obviously talked to you in the course of writing it, but how did he first become aware that you were experiencing these difficulties? Did you contact him and tell him about it?
LAMO: At one point while I was in the hospital I had contacted him because I was concerned as to when I might be released, and I wanted to make sure that if I were transferred and my family didn’t know where I was, because they hadn’t known or been able to find out in the first couple of days that I was in, that there would be someone that would be, that would have a motive to want to figure it out.
GREENWALD: Why didn’t you just call your family instead of calling Kevin?
LAMO: I most certainly did but they had also tried to find out where I was before and been stonewalled whereas I know that Kevin is aces at tracking down information.
GREENWALD: Did you want Kevin to write a story about what was happening to you?
LAMO: I never instructed him to, and–
GREENWALD: But was that part of your goal in why you called him?
LAMO: My goal and my priority was making sure that I didn’t get lost in the system.
GREENWALD: Did he ask you at some point, “Can I write about this?” And then you gave him permission?
LAMO: Yes. Otherwise the story wouldn’t have been written.
GREENWALD: Why do you say that?
LAMO: If I had said no this is a private matter and I like to close it here–
GREENWALD: Then Kevin would have honored your wishes?
LAMO: He might have. My wishes aren’t binding on him, just as his aren’t on me.
GREENWALD: Right. That’s why I was wondering why you said with such certainty that if I didn’t say he could write about it then it wouldn’t have been written. That suggested to me that Kevin would only write about it–
LAMO: I like to assume the best of people, which is why I’m talking to you.
LAMO: [unintelligible at 22:50] mmhmm skeptically.
GREENWALD: No I’m just absorbing it neutrally actually. One of the odd things–
LAMO: Honestly, let’s go back for a second? Do you think that if– Obviously I don’t expect a positive outcome from talking to you. I’ll be candid. I think you’re paying lip-service to neutrality just as you mostly like have–
GREENWALD: What happened to wanting to assume the best of people?
LAMO: I’m not done. I’m saying you’re paying lip service to neutrality. I think you have it in you to actually listen to what I have to say and maybe just maybe find that the preconceptions, the blinding contempt as you put it, isn’t quite so blinding but in fact leaves enough room for you to see that there’s an actual human being here that has motives other than narcissism and wanting to get every story out there possible. That if this were a game of softball the question I’d be asking would be, “What did you see from where I was standing?” And the answer would be, “Nothing at all.” Just as I don’t understand your blinding contempt because I don’t see what you see from where you’re standing. [I think he’s making a Simpsons reference here, but I’m not sure.]
GREENWALD: Right. Well you know honestly I was pretty candid about the blinding contempt I had exactly because I knew it was a danger in writing what I want to write. Because I want to write is not some preconceived advocacy but really try to get as best an understanding as I could about what really happened here. And maybe what really happened here is, are the facts. And maybe it isn’t. And I know that a danger to my being able to see what happened here was my very strong emotional, negative emotional reaction I had to turning in a 22 year-old kid who I think did some pretty heroic things. And so I was just being very candid about that.
LAMO: I’m willing to most likely piss off half the federal government and say that I think that for a 22 year-old to take the risk of leaking the collateral murder video is heroic because it’s important that our civil population know how the troops on the ground or in the air think and how it is that they’re approaching combat zones. I think that if we don’t have that then we don’t really understand what our taxpayer dollars are going to. I think when you start leaking masses of information that you can’t vet so carefully, and that could put lives in danger, it’s another issue entirely. And I don’t think–
GREENWALD: Let’s talk about that–
LAMO: I am talking about that a little bit and if I can finish. I don’t think the issue of putting lives in danger can so casually be dismissed as jingoism. Because I’ve always considered myself a pretty hard leftist. And for me to go out and sit down with investigators from the department of the Army was a massive and aberrant departure from what I would normally do. And you know, I think that if you were to take 269,000 dollars, records from the department of agriculture you could conceivably put someone’s life in danger even if it was only from some farmer’s vendetta. I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who’s going to disagree with the fact that maybe they should have been vetted a little more carefully.
GREENWALD: Well, I don’t know. Based on the chats that I’ve read he seems to have read through them and gotten a very good sense of what they entail–
LAMO: All 269,000? Or 260,000 sorry.
GREENWALD: Yeah. I mean you know I was a litigator for a long time and you can go through, you know, huge boxes of documents that you think would take you, you know, the rest of your life to go through, and when you start going through them you realize there’s tons of filler. You can go through it in a way that makes you skip over the parts that are obviously, you know, just long and technical documents and figure out what’s in there. And that’s what people do all the time. But did you actually have any specific indication that anything that he had sent to Wikileaks could actually or would actually put anyone’s life in danger? I mean specifically.
LAMO: I didn’t have any indication that it wouldn’t, and based on the volume seemed more likely than not.
GREENWALD: But I mean can you identify anything at all specific? I’ve heard you in interviews make very melodramatic statements about how had decided you were going to have a negative impact on one person’s life in order to prevent some very bad things, or even the end of many many other people’s lives. Is that, or do you have anything specific that led you to believe there was anything in those documents that would really do that?
LAMO: I don’t know. How many thousand state department cables have you read? How many of them contained information that would put someone’s life in danger? Do you have anything specific to lead you to believe that they wouldn’t?
GREENWALD: Well I’m not the one who made the decision based on information that I’m claiming that I have that these documents would have– I’m just trying to get a sense– You’re assuming that there’s beliefs embedded in my question that I haven’t expressed. I’m trying to get a sense of what your mindset was. My question was a very specific one which was did you actually know anything specific about what it was that he released that led you to believe that it would actually result in a loss of lives, or were you just speculating or guessing that it might?
LAMO: I am exercising common sense which I think is different than guessing. Guessing is when I tell you, “Hey I’m holding up a hand behind me back. What do you think the number is?” Speculation would be if I told you it’s an even number. And in this case I was told, in essence, that they’re classified and my intention is to cripple the United States’ foreign relations for the forseeable future. And you don’t do that without, at the very least, putting in jeopardy the lives of American’s travelling abroad who might need consular assistance. If that were the least dangerous thing that occurred from that leak then that would still be enough in my opinion to act to curtail future leaks.
GREENWALD: He said he wanted to cripple America’s foreign relations with the rest of the countries? I mean, I didn’t see that in what was published. Was that in what wasn’t published?
LAMO: I actually didn’t read the full logs of what was published. That was part of the chat, yes.
GREENWALD: Right. And so you thought that– Isn’t it true that anything that reflects negatively on the United States could have a negative impact on its relations with other countries?
LAMO: If you were vacationing in Tehran and all of the sudden the government were pissed as hell at you and happened to be related on an unrelated offense, wouldn’t you want to get effective consular assistance?
GREENWALD: So you think that these documents might have caused there to be less effective consular assistance in a whole bunch of countries that would have endangered American tourists?
LAMO: I’m saying that if I take your statements that they were merely embarrassing and say that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen, which I don’t believe to be the case, then–
GREENWALD: But you don’t know, right? You don’t know.
LAMO: I don’t believe in best-cast scenarios. I don’t think anybody that has–
GREENWALD: But do you have any specific knowledge that there was anything in those documents that would do anything other than embarrass the United States government?
LAMO: No, and I have no specific knowledge that there was any, that there wasn’t.
GREENWALD: Right, because you don’t know what’s in them.
LAMO: And from the tone of the conversation it seemed that he was radically generalizing and that he didn’t know what was in the vast majority of them either.
GREENWALD: Did he say that?
LAMO: Well he also didn’t say that he did– You can play that either way.
GREENWALD: Did, was there a point early on in the conversation when you told him that you were a reporter?
LAMO: Yes there was, and I offered him the opportunity to be protected by a reporter-source relationship, and that I could potentially work work him into a piece for 2600 or a story, rather a part of a book idea that I’ve been working on about my relations with the hacker community, that to say specifically the people who have come to me and the various aspects that they’ve illuminated. And didn’t take me up on it.
GREENWALD: Did he reject it?
LAMO: I asked him, “Do you want it to be this way, or do you want it to be this way?” And he didn’t respond to either. I also told him that I was an ordained minister and if he wanted it could be a confession but that requires an allocution in the affirmative.
GREENWALD: So early on in the conversion you had discussions with him about the fact that because you were a journalist you could offer him protection, confidentiality protection, as a source?
LAMO: Under the California reporter shield law, not federally but yeah–
GREENWALD: I know, but you talked about that with him?
LAMO: That is correct, and he gave no indication whatsoever that that was something that he was interested in.
GREENWALD: In terms of–
LAMO: And I think as a journalist you’re pretty well aware that when you’re talking to someone and you say, you know, “Hey, I’m a reporter. Do you want to talk?” And they don’t take you up on the offer, that it’s kind of frowned upon to assume that, yes, they absolutely want to be a source for something in the future.
GREENWALD: Yeah, I’ve never heard that rule before. In fact I would say the opposite. I would say if somebody contacted me with extremely sensitive disclosures and they knew I was a journalist and I said in the beginning of the discussion, “I’m a journalist and if you’re my source then I can protect you from anyone compelling disclosures of what we discussed.” Unless they said, “No, I don’t want to be your source,” or summarily rejected that I would actually assume that that was the ground rules under which we were operating and I would never turn into an informant in the middle of the discussion and run to the government to tell the government what this person who I had just offered confidentiality to had said to me. But maybe we just have different understandings of the rules of journalism. I don’t know.
LAMO: What can I say? Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to Hollywood Upstairs School of Journalism. [This is a Simpsons reference.]
GREENWALD: Yeah, I don’t think it’s about what school of journalism you go to personally, but I think it’s more a matter of, you know, one’s own personal standards. When you decided–
LAMO: How about this. I also mentioned to him that I was an ordained minister and if he wanted it could be a confession as well. And should I have assumed it was both, either, neither? Which one is right?
GREENWALD: Well, I don’t– I see that you promote yourself as a journalist. I’ve seen your biography that he probably found if he was doing the kinds of searches that you said he was doing in order to find you. You say you’re an award-winning journalist. I didn’t see in there that you were an ordained minister. Maybe you do say that but it’s not nearly as prominent as the journalism part. So traditionally when people who are whistleblowers contact others to tell them about things that they’ve done, they seek out journalists not ministers. You know, ministers tend to be more personal and moral confessions. But I don’t know. I think the more important point is that he was clearly I think operating under the expectation that you created that the discussions that you were having were confidential. You don’t think that? You don’t think so?
LAMO: I have to genuinely disagree with you and I’d have to go back to what I said before that what was it you see from where I was standing. The tones of the chats were “chatty.” They were the tones of someone boasting to someone they thought might be a friend, and certainly in that respect I was a bad friend but I don’t believe I was a bad journalist.
GREENWALD: You– One of the things that I’m having a hard time with is you turned over these chats, the full chat log, to Wired and they published extremely selected samples that were very highly edited. And one of the things that I’m just so interested in is what it is that they didn’t include. Because a lot of the stuff that you’re saying took place in these conversation are nowhere to be found in the chats that Wired published.
LAMO: I’d say that it’s actually a fairly small amount of it, and I think most of it took place in the first chat which they may not have had since the chats took place on two difference computers, one on the first and the rest on the second one. But that being said there was some material and–
GREENWALD: So you didn’t turn over all the chats? You didn’t turn over all the chats to Wired? There’s some that they didn’t get?
LAMO: They received the rest after the fact but nothing that caused them to run a revision.
GREENWALD: So they do now have everything?
LAMO: To the best of my knowledge, yes.
GREENWALD: Including the ones on both computers that you just mentioned?
LAMO: That’s correct, and can we go off the record for a moment?
LAMO: There were materials [recording ends]