Austin Bay

Following his conviction this week on at least five counts of espionage and several lesser charges, including fraud and theft, U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning will now do hard time in prison.

In certain circumstances, spies deserve capital punishment. Several decades in jail strikes me being as Manning's criminal due, however.

Treason rates the death sentence, but Manning didn't commit treason. In fact, he beat that rap.

Manning admitted he gave Julian Assange's Wikileaks organization at least 700,000 pages of classified U.S. documents, as well as numerous classified videos. The massive document release included classified State Department cables and military information related to operations in combat zones. So prosecutors charged Manning with "aiding the enemy," an act of treason. The prosecution argued that Manning knew the information he released would aid al-Qaida.

Proving treason involves proving "specific intent." Prosecutors had to prove Manning specifically intended to aid specific enemies. They failed to make that case.

Manning's theft and espionage, in fact, were rather unspecific. He stole information by the megabyte, with scant selectivity and little reflection. He looked for secrets addressing topics that assured sensational media coverage.

Theft, however is still theft; violating military oaths and ironclad laws protecting classified information are military crimes.

Leaking unspecific classified information, especially trainloads of it, can damage U.S. defenses.

I think it already has. Manning's filched documents provide everyone -- friend, foe or bystander -- with a detailed look at American information gathering, information assessment and decision-making in the sensitive realms of foreign policy and defense.

Liberals forever extoll "soft diplomacy," the goodnik mission of diplomats in contrast to the "hard diplomacy" soldiers wield. Diplomacy requires able, careful diplomats. Yet Manning's leaked State Department cables provide our adversaries with a highly granular, candid and often personal portrait of a generation of U.S. diplomats. The cables reveal how specific diplomats operate, what they seek to accomplish and with whom they talk.

Though Manning's leaks did not place American diplomats in immediate mortal danger (a treasonous act), the leaks damaged their ability to conduct diplomacy, both near and long term. The private first class clearly does not understand that diplomacy is America's first line of defense.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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