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U.S. soldier in WikiLeaks case had free access to secret files

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted from the courtroom after a day of his court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryl
U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning (C) is escorted from the courtroom after a day of his court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryl

By Ian Simpson

FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - The soldier accused of the largest release of classified material in U.S. history had wide-open access to secret files that could easily be downloaded, witnesses told a court-martial on Monday at the start of defense testimony.

Private First Class Bradley Manning, accused of releasing more than 700,000 classified files to WikiLeaks, had nothing to stop him from installing software for the high-speed download of secret State Department cables, the witnesses said.

Defense attorney David Coombs sought to portray a military atmosphere that allowed intelligence analysts like Manning to listen to music or watch movies stored on a classified hard drive or personal computer while on duty.

Captain David Lim, one of Manning's supervisors, said he had encouraged analysts to delve into State Department cables and other classified materials to avoid "tunnel vision."

"We need to incorporate this into our products and incorporate it into what we give our commanders," Lim testified that he had told Manning and other analysts.

Lim and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Ehresman said there was no oversight at Manning's Iraq outpost on installing executable files on the Army computers that had access to classified materials.

An executable file contains a program that is ready to be run or carried out. Manning is accused of installing one to allow the downloading of more than 250,000 State Department files at a rate of 1,000 an hour.

CROSS EXAMINATION

Under prosecution cross examination, Lim said the State Department files were labeled classified and he had not let Manning install the executable file.

Manning is charged with leaking the files while serving in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. The charges include espionage, computer fraud and aiding the enemy by giving the militant Islamist organization al Qaeda access to U.S. intelligence through WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy website.

The defense has sought to portray Manning as a naive but well-intentioned soldier who wanted to show Americans the reality of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The prosecution rested last week after five weeks of testimony, some in closed session.

Manning, a native of Crescent, Oklahoma, was arrested in 2010. He could face life in prison without parole if convicted of aiding the enemy.

One of six witnesses introduced by the defense, Ehresman described Manning as a "go-to guy" for his strong computer skills but with a tendency to jump to conclusions in his intelligence analyses.

Coombs began the defense by offering as evidence a leaked video of a 2007 attack in Baghdad by an Apache helicopter gunship that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters staffers. The video was made by a camera on the gunship.

Coombs showed that a transcript of the video had been made public in a book, "The Good Soldiers," by Washington Post journalist David Finkel, before WikiLeaks published it.

Another witness, Lauren McNamara, who had online conversations with Manning in 2009, said he had talked about his reading and the importance of human life.

"After he got out of the military he hoped to enter politics and effect change from there," she said.

After a lengthy cross examination, Judge Colonel Denise Lind accepted retired Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an expert witness on Guantanamo Bay prisoner assessment. Manning is accused of leaking assessments.

The defense has said it might call up to 46 witnesses but has not released a full list. The trial is scheduled to end by August 23.

(Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Phil Berlowitz)

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