Whistleblower Chelsea Manning calls for radical transformation of society


MONTREAL — Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. soldier who became famous after she was imprisoned for passing government documents to Wikileaks, is calling for radical changes to the American military and police forces.

The time for incremental change was in the 1970s, she told journalists at Montreal’s C2 technology conference.

What is needed today, Manning explained, is to “aggressively push back” against what she called an authoritarian state.

Manning, 30, was a former Army intelligence analyst who served seven years in a U.S. prison until then-President Barack Obama commuted the sentence in 2017.

Known as Bradley Manning at the time of her arrest, she came out as transgender after her 2013 court martial and has become an activist for trans rights, gender equality and the ethical development of technology.

While much of her 30-minute discussion with reporters centred on securing personal data and the importance of a technology code of ethics, she also talked about her desire to change the U.S. “system.”

“The world that I feared in 2010 would exist … has really played out and accelerated in its development when I was (in prison),” she said. “You see the intensity and the aggressiveness and the real authoritarian police forces that we have in the U.S. and how normal that is.

“It looks like a U.S. military occupation.”

Before she joined the military, Manning was homeless for a few months in Chicago. She was optimistic at having a stable job when she enlisted and was stationed in Iraq. But she soon became disenchanted with the way her country conducted itself in the Middle East.

Her time at war drove her to leak hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.

“This pattern, being homeless, being in the military, experiencing war, then prison — both in solitary and general population — seeing all these things made me realize how ubiquitous and systemic these problems are,” she said.

“And we can’t tweak little things. The time for reform was 40 years ago.”

She didn’t go into detail about how citizens could overthrow the “authoritarian” state, and she wouldn’t speak either about her decision to seek the Democratic party nomination in Maryland for the U.S. Senate.

Her platform includes closing prisons, freeing inmates, eliminating national borders, restructuring the criminal justice system and providing universal health care and basic income.

— With files from The Associated Press

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press