WASHINGTON — The Army has launched a wide-ranging investigation into how a private suspected of downloading thousands of secret reports and diplomatic cables and handing them over to WikiLeaks was able to do so and whether other soldiers should face criminal charges in the case.
The Army confirmed the investigation, but wouldn’t release details. An Army official familiar with the investigation said the six-member task force has been given until Feb. 1 to complete a report that will look at everything from how Pfc. Bradley Manning was selected for his job and trained to whether his superiors missed warning signs that he was downloading documents he had no need to read.
The report could change how the Army — the largest distributor of government security clearances — grants access to government documents as well as lead to recommendations of charges against soldiers who worked with Manning and may have been aware of his activities.
It’s the second time in two years that Army procedures have been the subject of intense internal investigation. A similar investigation was undertaken after an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, killing 13. That investigation focused, in part, on how superiors failed to notice signs that Maj. Nidal Hassan, who had exchanged e-mails with a radical Yemeni-American cleric, might turn violent. The investigation resulted in dozens of changes in Army procedures.
Manning was working as an intelligence specialist in Baghdad during 2009 and the early months of 2010 when he allegedly downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified documents.
Those documents reached WikiLeaks — Army officials have said they’re not certain how — and have been published by the website in four separate bursts that began in April with the release of a video showing an Army helicopter firing on civilians in Baghdad, killing two Reuters news agency employees. The website also released tens of thousands of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before the current, ongoing publication of hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, which began Nov. 28.
Manning allegedly downloaded the documents while pretending to listen to music by Lady Gaga on headphones, a cover story, investigators say, to explain the sound of the computer’s CD drive whirring as he copied the files. He’s being held on charges that could lead to a 52-year prison sentence.
Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., the commander of the Army General Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., will lead the study, which was ordered by John McHugh, the Army secretary.
“Lt. Gen. Caslen has a very broad investigative mandate and he has been assured of the cooperation of both the Department of the Army and the U.S. Central Command as he proceeds. Lt. Gen. Caslen’s investigation will not interfere nor conflict with the ongoing criminal investigation,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said in a statement.