Professionalism/Chelsea Manning: Integrity Vs. Professionalism


Chelsea Manning was a U.S. Army soldier deployed to Iraq in 2009. She leaked over 700,000 classified documents, including military records and diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks in 2010. She was arrested in May of that year and charged with over 20 crimes, including espionage and aiding the enemy. She was convicted by a military tribunal for most of these, including espionage and computer fraud on July 30, 2014. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was imprisoned for 7 years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barrack sat Fort Leavenworth Kansas [1]. She was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, after the prosecution could not prove that the leaks had aided Al-Qaeda [2]. Manning's sentence was commuted by President Barrack Obama on January 17, 2017 [3], and she was released from prison on May 17, 2017 [4]. As of May 2018, she is running for US Senate in her home state of Maryland [5].

Hero Vs. TraitorEdit

Chelsea Manning has been called a hero by some, a traitor by others, but when asked how she sees herself, she said, “I’m just me.” [6] It's as simple as that," Manning told "Nightline" co-anchor Juju Chang in an exclusive interview on "Nightline." When asked if she felt she owed the American public and apology in an interview with Chang; Manning said she has accepted responsibility for her actions: “Anything I’ve done, it’s me. There’s no one else,” she said. “No one told me to do this, nobody directed me to do this. This is me. It’s on me." [6]

Nightline Interview with Chelsea ManningEdit

The interview with Juju Chang, co-anchor of ABC News Nightline and Chelsea Manning can be found at this link.

Why She Did ItEdit

One of the question Chang asked Manning was what compelled her to risk her career and break the law by leaking the documents. Manning responded saying: "We're getting all this information from all these different sources and it's just death, destruction, mayhem. We're filtering it all through facts, statistics, reports, dates, times, locations, and eventually, you just stop," she continued. "I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people" [6].

Manning thought that by leaking the documents she could start a public debate about what happens at war and didn't think the leak would threaten national security [6]. "I work with this information every day," Manning said. "I'm the subject matter expert for this stuff. You know, we're the ones who work with it the most. We're the most familiar with it. It's not, you know, it's not a general who writes this stuff " [6].

The Proper ChannelsEdit

There are several formal methods a service member can request redress for grievances of this kind, including: complaints through the chain of command, correspondence with a member of congress, or submitting an inspector general (IG) or article 138 complaint.[7]

When asked why she, a low-level analyst, didn't raise her concerns up through the chain of command, Manning said, "the channels are there, but they don't work."[6]

Contents of the LeaksEdit

Manning said she gave WikiLeaks the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike video (so-called "Collateral Murder") in early 2010. Unedited version and edited version[8]

To contextualize Manning's decision to leak classified documents, it is important to have some familiarity with the contents of those leaks. This can help to understand her motivation, and to consider the potential consequences of her actions.

A video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun sight, showing the killing of multiple noncombatants in Baghdad during an airstrike on July 12, 2007. The casualties included two Reuters journalists. The soldiers in the video can be heard mistaking the reporters' camera equipment for AK-47s.

Over 91,000 reports of "significant actions" during the US war in Afghanistan. The reports include lethal actions, names of informants, reports of meetings, and some information that could be considered embarrassing to the United States, such as that it paid 100,000 Afghani to the families of slain civilians, an amount roughly equivalent to $1,400. Initially only 75,000 documents were released as "part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source," according to Wikileaks.

391,832 military logs, each detailing a "significant action" during the Iraq War. The reports record 109,032 deaths, of which 66,081 were civilians. Many were previously unreported to the public. The leak brought the Iraq Body Count Project to over 150,000, of which 80% were civilians.

251,287 diplomatic cables, at the time "the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain," according to Wikileaks. Wikileaks made them available in advance to five newspapers: The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, and El Pais. These documents were partially redacted by the journalists ahead of the coordinated release. In September of 2011 the full, un-redacted collection was released by Wikileaks after a decryption key for the documents was accidentally revealed. Wikileaks justified the release by reasoning that the accident had allowed governments to access the full set of files, while ordinary people still could not. By releasing the full set, they claimed, the sources named therein could protect themselves [9].

759 files recording nearly all inmates at the facility. The files revealed that over 150 of the detainees were held for years without charge, including a 14-year-old kidnap victim who was detained due to "his possible knowledge of Taliban... local leaders."

Proponent Perspectives on the LeakEdit

Though the leak may cause severe consequences, she received tremendous support from social groups such as Bradley Manning Support Network. They believe Manning's motives were for the well-being of the country and that whistle-blowers play a vital role in democracy by holding governments accountable[10].

Professional QualitiesEdit

To justify Manning's motives, it is essential to evaluate her professional qualities. Before exposed, she had a series of online chatting session with Adrian Lamo. Within the chat log, Lamo assured Manning's protection and privacy. Manning confessed her motives truthfully in the chats. This shows that Manning's professional loyalty lies with the public.

Prudence and JudgementEdit

Analyzing situations with expertise and being vigilant is an important professional quality.

hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?

—Chelsea Manning [11]

From the quote, Manning showed her exercise of prudence and the stress she was experiencing. Though she believed the viewed content should be made public, Manning contemplated for months before she acted upon the judgement that she would not regret. Many groups believe that because she exercised prudence, not a single person has been harmed despite the sensitivity of the information leaked[12].

Attempts at harm minimizationEdit

In Wikileaks' statement on the "Afghan War Diaries" leak, they stated that only 75,000 of the 91,000 documents were initially released as "part of a harm minimization process demanded by [the] source." This request indicates that Manning was conscious of the potential negative consequences of her decision, and made an effort to minimize the harm to others. Later conduct by Wikileaks also substantiates this. They contacted the Pentagon and requested help redacting sensitive information such as names of Afghan informants, but the Pentagon refused to assist, instead demanding they not be published at all[13]. The Department of Defense initially denied that this request was even made, but a letter from the DoD to Wikileaks' Attorney dated August 16, 2010 confirms the overture was made and refused. These actions by both Manning and Wikileaks counter the opposition narrative that she acted recklessly and without thought to the lives that could be endangered by her actions.

Professional IntegrityEdit

As an Intelligence Analyst for the military, Manning was to follow orders as given. However, as a professional, Manning believed that her loyalty does not simply lie with the government and the military. According to the chat log, Manning felt that she was actively involved in things she was completely against[11]. She disagreed with the military's actions due to the conflict between her personal and professional standings, putting her loyalty to question.

God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

—Chelsea Manning [11]

Manning realized that her loyalty lies with the public instead of the military, thus aligning herself as a professional rather than just an intelligence analyst. Advocates for Manning believe that she should be given the medal of honor for her service[12]. Many also believed the leaked information does belong to the people and wishes for Manning's freedom[14]. By leaking the classified information to the public, Manning exercised her ethical beliefs and retained her professional integrity.

i just… dont wish to be a part of it… at least not now… im not ready… i wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much,…

—Chelsea Manning [11]

Manning exercised prudence and understood the consequences of her actions. Instead of standing silent, she accepted responsibility to expose government misconducts. People relate her to other professionals [15] and whistle-blowers such as Edward Murrow, the broadcast journalist who put himself on the line when confronting Senator Joseph McCarthy [16]. She would not sacrifice her professional integrity for anything, even her own life.

Defiance to AuthorityEdit

After she identified her loyalty and professional duty, Manning found the courage to pass the classified information to Julian Assange, defying the military protocols while knowing the consequences.

Opponent Perspectives on the LeakEdit

Despite the overwhelming support from the general public, some did not see Manning as a definition for professional.

Developing a Pattern of BehaviorEdit

Manning’s defiance began early in her military career according to Jay Huwieler. Huwieler tells the story of Manning as she attempted to complete tasks in basic training. During one drill Manning refused to participate, turning to face the direction opposite her unit.

The problem was, she quit. As the rest of the platoon faced one way, gritting their teeth and baring it, whispering words of encouragement to each other, she stood at an about-face the opposite direction, and said she simply could not pick up her own bag.

—Jay Huwieler [27]

Manning continued this defiant behavior during a daily routine used to promote communication. Every day the unit received a “uniform of the day” which was distributed to few of the recruits. The exercise promoted communication and trust as well as uniformity. During this exercise Manning intentionally misled her peers in an apparent attempt at self-promotion.

Manning called out the uniform of the day, waited until her squad was dressed and had moved out to the morning formation, when she then put on the real, correct uniform of the day and ran to catch up.

—Jay Huwieler [27]

Incidents followed Manning after her completion of Boot Camp including the assault of a superior officer. Captain Casey Fulton witnessed the aftermath of the incident noting the damage to the victim’s face. It should be noted this incident came at a time of anguish for Manning who found herself struggling to fit into the military model.

[Showman] said he had struck her and she had a big red welt on her face

—Captain Casey Fulton [28]

The Question of Loyalty to the U.SEdit

When you join the U.S. Army you vow to stay true to the Army Values.[17] These values included:

Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers. Bearing true faith and allegiance is a matter of believing in and devoting yourself to something or someone. A loyal Soldier is one who supports the leadership and stands up for fellow Soldiers. By wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army you are expressing your loyalty. And by doing your share, you show your loyalty to your unit.


Fulfill your obligations. Doing your duty means more than carrying out your assigned tasks. Duty means being able to accomplish tasks as part of a team. The work of the U.S. Army is a complex combination of missions, tasks and responsibilities — all in constant motion. Our work entails building one assignment onto another. You fulfill your obligations as a part of your unit every time you resist the temptation to take “shortcuts” that might undermine the integrity of the final product.


Treat people as they should be treated. In the Soldier’s Code, we pledge to “treat others with dignity and respect while expecting others to do the same.” Respect is what allows us to appreciate the best in other people. Respect is trusting that all people have done their jobs and fulfilled their duty. And self-respect is a vital ingredient with the Army value of respect, which results from knowing you have put forth your best effort. The Army is one team and each of us has something to contribute.


Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person. In serving your country, you are doing your duty loyally without thought of recognition or gain. The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.

—Selfless Service

Live up to Army values. The nation’s highest military award is The Medal of Honor. This award goes to Soldiers who make honor a matter of daily living — Soldiers who develop the habit of being honorable, and solidify that habit with every value choice they make. Honor is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do.


Do what’s right, legally and morally. Integrity is a quality you develop by adhering to moral principles. It requires that you do and say nothing that deceives others. As your integrity grows, so does the trust others place in you. The more choices you make based on integrity, the more this highly prized value will affect your relationships with family and friends, and, finally, the fundamental acceptance of yourself.


Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Personal courage has long been associated with our Army. With physical courage, it is a matter of enduring physical duress and at times risking personal safety. Facing moral fear or adversity may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable..

—Personal Courage

In the eyes of the U.S. Army Manning did not fulfill her responsibility as an employee of the U.S military. When Manning received the Top-Secret clearance that was needed for her job, Manning agreed to protect classified information. However, Manning violated her promise. Manning did not uphold loyalty to her country. She was charged with aiding the enemy.[18] The prosecution claimed that the diplomatic cables leak harms U.S diplomatic ties with other nations, which can result in severe diplomatic crisis. In addition, the war logs leak can give a strategic edge to U.S. enemy in warfare and aid their terrorist activities worldwide.[19] In the eyes of the U.S. government, Manning compromised U.S. national defense and she is regarded as a traitor. [20]

Taking Matters Into Your Own HandsEdit

Manning testified that she selectively released less sensitive information.

Of the document released, the [diplomatic] cables were the only one I was not absolutely certain couldn't harm the U.S. ... all the cables [I released] have a SIPDIS caption. I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the U.S."

—Chelsea Manning [21]

Manning was not certain about the risk of leaking those cables, however she used her personal judgement to determine what to leak. Some argued that Manning alone has no expertise to redefine the existing military classification system. Regarding to Manning's case, President Obama said "We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate...He broke the law."[22]

Skipped legal reporting channelsEdit

Manning did not take the proper channels to report the inhumane incident discovered, she directly gave away classified information to the public. There were multiple legal avenues available: Manning's chain of command, the Army Inspector General, the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Congress.

Speculation on Manning's motivesEdit

Some speculated that exposing humanitarian issue is not Manning's only motive. One possible motive is to perform revenge to the military. Manning was emotionally unstable prior to the leak. Manning's miserable early life contributed to this. Manning was neglected by both her parents, whom later divorced. Manning was also being bullied both in school and the military. Manning said that she was “Regularly ignored[by superiors in the military] ... except when I had something essential, then it was back to ‘Bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.’”[23] She also suffered from the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars her from openly discussing that she is gay in the military. Psychiatrist Capt. Edan Critchfield diagnosed that Manning has “Occupational problem and adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct.” [24] Manning's friends suggested that her desperation for social acceptance contributed to the leak. By releasing evidences of military's inhumane actions directly to the public, she can become a national hero that some people admired.

His desperation for acceptance — or delusions of grandeur — may have led him to disclose the largest trove of government secrets".

—Manning's friend [23]

Question RaisedEdit

How much does the public need to know?Edit

Richard Ledgett the former Deputy Director of the NSA thought Manning was extremely arrogant.[6] He believed Manning had no right to take it upon herself to leak the information. He stated that feeling that your views are greater than a governing body, was an act of arrogances. While Manning meant no harm with her leak and reports showed that the leak did not alter national security, some of the documents leaked were found in Osama Bin Laden compound after his death.

In the end Manning did accomplish her goal to start a public debate and bring a spotlight on what happens at wars. The leak raised questions about the effectiveness of military ops and the amount of civilian causalities.

Professional ImplicationsEdit

Manning's actions demonstrate commitment not to the interests of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to bringing about an end to the wars through turning the public against them. She saw the high rate of civilian casualties in these wars and contrasted it with the stated goals of the wars: the end of terrorism and the establishment of peaceful democracies that wouldn't harm their own citizens the way the previous regimes in those countries had. She saw that life for the local people under US occupation was certainly no better, and arguably worse, than it had been, and so she tried to end the wars by influencing public opinion.

Manning's example, if we take it as instructive, shows that one should compare goals against outcomes, and be prepared to re-evaluate one's actions if their outcomes do not align with their goals. She also demonstrates commitment to her ideals: she was not merely fired for her whistleblowing; she was imprisoned and knew there was a realistic chance that she could be sentenced to death. Nevertheless, she acted in accordance with her conviction. Engineering professionals who find themselves compelled to stop an action they see as morally wrong can take some inspiration from Manning, and do whatever is necessary, at whatever personal cost, to protect others.

Related Cases and ConceptsEdit

Pentagon PapersEdit

Whistleblowing on classified information had been condemned by the government. It takes courage and commitment to stand up against the legal pressure and threats of mental and physical harm from the government.

The Pentagon Papers, containing classified information on government deceptions during Vietnam War and the Johnson Administration, were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times in 1971.

The Nixon administration filed civil suit in 1971 against Ellsberg, with felony charges under the Espionage Act. Nixon administration conducted covert operations to discredit Ellsberg using CIA agents such as breaking into his psychiatrist's office to steal medical records, wiretapping against him,[25] and planning to drug him during a rally.[26] The administration attempted to bribe chief justice of the case by offering him directorship at FBI. [27] Ultimately, the court dismissed all charges in 1973 due to gross misconduct of the government and illegal evidence gathering.

Nazi Regime and the HolocaustEdit

Whistleblowers expose the government misconducts and lies that it attempts to hide under the guise of confidentiality and national security. Left unchecked, the humanitarian and political issues, such as those exposed in the Manning Case and Pentagon Papers, could degenerate into more horrific cases, such as the Holocaust.

The Nazi regime expended considerable efforts to hide the details of the Holocaust from the German public. The lie told to the public had been that Jews were "deported to work in the east." [28] Propaganda material in 1941 reported that deported Jews had respectable work and lived in good conditions. One of the infamous examples is Theresienstadt, ghetto for elderly and prominent Jews for whom applying the "deported to work" propaganda would be implausible. Nazi authorities painted Theresienstadt as a peaceful retirement community when it is a transit camp to killings centers in Poland and Baltic region.[29] The film, Theresienstadt, was made about the fine conditions of Jewish settlements.

Adolf Eichmann and Milgram ExperimentEdit

Blind obedience to authority figures and surrender of responsibility often lead normal people to do unethical things.

The humanitarian issues of the U.S. military exposed by the Manning Leak demonstrated the dangers of such blind obedience. As Ethan McCord, a soldier involved in the Baghdad Airstrike incident, explained the situation in Iraq, "we were told that if we were to fire our weapons at people, that we were being investigated, the officers would take care of you."[30] This draws striking similarities with the statement by Adolf Eichmann during the Holocaust trials, "I never did anything, great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors."[31] The Milgram studied this effect and identified that "the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument to carrying out another person's wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions." [32]

Shakil AfridiEdit

Whistleblowing and leaking of confidential information has to be done prudently as the consequences could be grave.

Following the raid on Osama bin Laden, classified information about the informant, Pakistani physician Shakil Afridi, who aided CIA in identifying the hideout location was leaked. The Pakistani commission investigating the raid recommended that he be charged with conspiracy and high treason. [33]. Pakistani authorities seized Afridi's assets[34] and denied him of future employment.[35] Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason due to his connection with the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, according to the Pakistani government [36] despite denial from commander of the group.[37]


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  20. Small victory for Manning's Defense?
  21. Bradley Manning On Why He Released State Dept. Cables
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  23. a b Early Struggles of Soldier Charged in Leak Case
  24. Bradley Manning is at the center of the WikiLeaks controversy. But who is he?
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  28. Responsibility for the Holocaust
  29. Deceiving the Public, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Encyclopedia
  30. WikiLeaks' Collateral Murder: U.S. Soldier Ethan McCord
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  33. Pakistan: Doctor Who Aided C.I.A. Should Face Charges, Panel Says, New York Times
  34. Shakeel Afridi’s assets siezed, Dawn News
  35. KP govt disqualifies Dr Shakil Afridi for job, Daily Times
  36. Dr Shakil Afridi jailed for ‘militant links’, International Herald Tribune
  37. Militants deny link with Dr Shakil Afridi, Geo News