Hacker Adrian Lamo, Who Reported Chelsea Manning, Dies at 37

Adrian Lamo, center, walks out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland in 2011 after testifying at a military hearing in the Chelsea Manning case.

Adrian Lamo, center, walks out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland in 2011 after testifying at a military hearing in the Chelsea Manning case. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

March 19, 2018

Adrian Lamo, the hacker who reported Chelsea Manning to the FBI after Manning divulged to him that she had leaked classified material to WikiLeaks, died last week in Wichita, Kansas at the age of 37.

Manning was a 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst based in Iraq when she contacted Lamo via AOL Instant Messenger in 2010 under the name “Bradass 87.” In the course of their exchanges, Manning revealed to Lamo that she used her security clearance to access more than 260,000 diplomatic cables and thousands of classified documents, including a video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad that left 12 people dead. The video was later published by WikiLeaks under the title “Collateral Murder.”

Lamo would hand over his chat logs with Manning to authorities after learning she had given the classified information to WikiLeaks. In a 2011 interview for the FRONTLINE film WikiSecrets, Lamo explained his decision, saying, “I believed and knew that [she] couldn’t possibly have vetted over a quarter of a million documents [herself] and reassured [herself] to [her] satisfaction that they didn’t contain anything that would cause human harm.”

“I felt that was a really indiscriminate action, one that was not taking into account the well-being of others, and the re-occurrences of that sort of event needed to be prevented,” he explained. “At that point, the needs of the many outweighed the needs of one.”

Manning was eventually arrested, charged and given a 35-year prison term under the Espionage Act for leaking over 700,000 government records. The sentence was the longest punishment on record for a leak conviction. After the sentencing in 2013, Manning, who was previously known as “Bradley,” came out as transgender.

In one of his last moves in office, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. She was released last May after serving more than seven years at a military prison.

Lamo was widely criticized for reporting Manning, with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange describing him as a “serial FBI snitch.” Others considered him a hero and patriot.

While Lamo’s cause of death remains unknown, Wichita police officer Charley Davidson told The Wichita Eagle that there was “nothing suspicious about his death.”

In addition to reporting Manning, Lamo also notoriously hacked into the computer networks of organizations like Microsoft and The New York Times. He pleaded guilty to hacking into The Times in 2004  and was sentenced to house arrest and probation.

“A bright mind and compassionate soul is gone,” Mario Lamo, Lamo’s father, wrote in a Facebook post last week. “He was my beloved son.”

Nicole Einbinder

Nicole Einbinder, Former Abrams Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships



More Stories

Kherson After Liberation: Co-producer of ‘Putin’s Attack on Ukraine’ Documentary Describes Visit
A Ukrainian filmmaker and journalist who was on one of the first trains traveling to the newly liberated city talks to FRONTLINE about the damage he saw in Kherson after eight months of Russian occupation.
November 29, 2022
As Donald Trump Announces His 2024 Run, a Look Back at His Presidency and Impact
FRONTLINE has built a unique public record, in documentary format, of the former president’s impact on American life, politics and democracy — and his previous battles with a special counsel and the Department of Justice.
November 16, 2022
How American Politics Reached This Fraught Moment: 12 Documentaries to Watch Ahead of the Midterms
As a divided America prepares to vote and fears of political violence continue, these FRONTLINE documentaries show how U.S. politics reached this moment.
November 4, 2022
How Russian Soldiers Ran a "Cleansing" Operation in Bucha
"I’ve already killed so many civilians,” a Russian soldier told his wife from Bucha, Ukraine. The Associated Press and FRONTLINE obtained hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and intercepts of audio calls by Russian soldiers that show for the first time what a Russian "cleansing" operation looked like.
November 3, 2022