If you release a vast amount of information that had been kept secret by a major power for an endless variety of reasons, the consequences are predictably far reaching and mixed: good, bad, and debatable. Some of Bradley Manning’s disclosures have been credited with helping to inspire the Arab Spring – in the long run, we may hope, a major milestone in the development of democracy. Some of them certainly harmed U.S. relations with allies and put American agents and their contacts in danger.
His motivations were those of a whistle-blower. But his methods were incomprehensibly reckless and, for good reason, expose him to severe punishment.
His supporters argue that such punishment will deter whistle-blowers of the future. In fact, it just underlines their need to take care in how they proceed. Manning should have approached a lawyer with experience in whistle-blowing cases. If, upon careful consideration, he was determined to act, he should have used the lawyer to negotiate the release of selected information to one or more sympathetic officials legally authorized to receive it – for example, a member of the House or Senate Intelligence Committee. The U.S. government has every legitimate right and a compelling need to deter undiscriminating release of classified information.