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US officials testify in Manning hearing

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Bradley Manningby Camille Elhassani

PFC Bradley Manning's lawyers called two witnesses from the US state department on Thursday to discuss what information was collected after the Wikileaks disclosures.

Manning is charged with causing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to be published on the whistleblower website Wikileaks.

The defence is trying to determine what documents were created after Wikileaks released purported classified state department cables, where they are, and how they can be accessed.  Then they can ask the prosecution for those documents to bolster Manning's defence.

The state department received a court order on Monday for three officials to testify for the defence.

The first witness was Marguerite Coffey, the former director of the Office of Management Policy Right Sizing and Innovation Policy.

She said her office was tasked with identifying shortcomings and deficiencies in system security and information management.  She also made recommendations on updating information management policy.

For example, the Foreign Affairs Manual didn't even contain the word "thumb-drive" before the Wikileaks disclosures.

Working group

Rena Bitter, the director of the state department's operations centre, also testified.

She said her office is responsible for co-ordinating the state department's response to a crisis, and they were put into action on the Wikileaks matter in November 2010.

They created a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week working group harnessing the resources of the state department to monitor the fallout.

She said: "The real purpose was to stay ahead of the public disclosures.”

They issued twice daily situation reports on the Wikileaks disclosures.

The 24/7 Working Group was operational for about three weeks.  Afterwards, they created a Persons at Risk Working Group to deal with people identified as at risk due to the disclosures and develop ways to help them.

The group still works informally.

Diplomatic fallout

The US ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, resigned because the classified cables released by Wikileaks revealed he complained to his bosses at the state department about the way Mexico was handling the campaign against drug cartels.

Mexico was incensed and made it known Pascual was no longer welcome. And the US ambassador to Ecuador Heather Hodges was expelled in April 2011 after Wikileaks cables attributed to Hodges alleged corruption in Ecuador's government.

Bitter said: “I know that all of the purported cables are out there but I don't know who released that information.”

She was pressed on what memos and reports were created by the working groups and how one might go about accessing those.

Bitter repeatedly said she didn't know exactly how information is archived by the state department but she thought it could be requested in a normal way.

One more state department official was expected to testify in the Thursday afternoon session.


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