The Private Life of Bradley Manning


MARTIN SMITH, FRONTLINE: [voice-over] As part of our investigation of the WikiLeaks story, we found ourselves in Crescent Oklahoma, a small farming town about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City. This is the boyhood home of Private 1st Class Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking over half a million classified government documents.

[ Twitter #WikiSecrets]

We came here because his father, Brian, agreed to speak exclusively with FRONTLINE about his son.

BRIAN MANNING: People need to understand, you know, that he's a young man that had a happy, you know, life growing up. We had a very happy, you know, household.

MARTIN SMITH: The family lived here, in a farmhouse on a remote stretch of dirt road outside of town. Bradley's father worked in IT for Hertz and was away from home for weeks at a time.

[on camera] Did Bradley complain about you being absent a lot?


MARTIN SMITH: How did it affect your relationship with him?

BRIAN MANNING: Nothing. It never came up. You know, when I would come back after three weeks, you know, sometimes he wouldn't even recognize me. You know, it was kind of, like— reacquaint myself. So that was a little bit rough on him, but— but, I mean, after a couple of hours, it was, you know, "Dad's home," you know, and things were OK.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Bradley's mother, Susan, had come here from her native Britain after she married Brian. They had two children, first a daughter, Casey, and 11 years later, Bradley, born in 1987. Susan was often on her own with the children, isolated in rural Oklahoma.

[on camera] Was it a struggle for Susan with you absent, you know, taking care of the kids?

BRIAN MANNING: It was difficult, you know, being isolated. She never learned how to drive. She lived four miles, you know, outside of town. So I basically had to, you know, stock her up with food and supplies and stuff for the three-week period that I'd be gone. And that was kind of a strain for her because she was basically stranded.

[ More of Brian Manning's interview]

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] At school, Bradley kept to himself and didn't have many friends. He was small for his age and not very athletic, but he did well in class. After school, he'd spend much of his time alone with his computer.

[on camera] He was really into computers.

BRIAN MANNING: Yes. He would create his own Web sites. His first Web site I think he did when he was, like, 10 years old. He taught himself PowerPoint, and at the yearly science fairs, he won, I think three years running, grand prize, you know, so he had a lot of fun with that.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] But according to neighbors and friends, it was a troubled family.

JORDAN DAVIS: I always got the feeling that Bradley was scared of his dad, like, in a somewhat kind of unnatural kind of way.

MARTIN SMITH: Jordan Davis was Bradley's closest friend,

JORDAN DAVIS: Like, more scared than he should be, you know what I mean? Like, everybody's kind of scared of their dad. I mean, that's kind of the familiar dynamic. I think he was probably very controlling and wanted things a certain way, and you know, that people didn't come over and— I asked if I could come over, and he would give me some kind of excuse or whatever. I mean that's just weird. It's weird.

MARTIN SMITH: When Bradley was 13, his parents separated. And after a bitter divorce, his mom moved out, taking Bradley with her.

JORDAN DAVIS: Bradley was never visibly upset about it. If anything, he seemed relieved. As soon as his dad, you know, left and stuff, he started, like, doing his hair and he got different clothes and he did different things. And he was more open and more, I guess, himself.

MARTIN SMITH: That's when he revealed to his friend a secret he'd been keeping from his family.

JORDAN DAVIS: He told me he was gay. And I said, "OK. Well, you know, it's whatever floats your boat, man." And that was pretty much it.

MARTIN SMITH: In 2001, his mother took Bradley back to her home in Wales. In high school there, he was seen as a computer geek. He was not openly gay, but classmates say he was often teased and described him as short-tempered.

After graduation, he called his father and said he wanted to come back to the U.S. He moved in with his dad and his second wife in Oklahoma City.

BRIAN MANNING: When he came back from the U.K., it was like a different person because his mother had put him in the position where he basically ran the household.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] He was spoiled by his mother, is what you're saying?

BRIAN MANNING: Spoiled rotten.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Bradley didn't get along with his new stepmother. He began to argue with his father about money. He also shared with him his secret.

[on camera] At what point does he tell you about his homosexuality? How does that go down?

BRIAN MANNING: Not long after he came back from the U.K. And he said, "You know, Dad, you know, I just want to let you know I'm gay."

MARTIN SMITH: So it surprised you when he told you?

BRIAN MANNING: Well, yes, it definitely— I would say I was surprised, just from the fact of, you know, someone, you know, throwing a bucket of water over your head. It was, like, "Oh, OK. Well, I didn't know that." I said, "That's your decision. It's fine."

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Years later, Bradley claimed he was kicked out of the house for being gay. But his father says Bradley left for a different reason. He'd lost his job at a software company after becoming increasingly erratic and had a heated confrontation with the boss. At home, tensions with his father and stepmother reached a breaking point.

[voice-over] In March of '06, there is this— as you describe it, an altercation?


MARTIN SMITH: What gets said?

BRIAN MANNING: Yeah. It just basically started as a discussion, you know, on, you know, "You're going to have to follow the house rules."

MARTIN SMITH: And he was telling you what, "Don't mess with me, don't tell me what to do"? I mean, what was—

BRIAN MANNING: He was arguing more with my wife than me. You know, I was—

MARTIN SMITH: What was he telling her?

BRIAN MANNING: Well, you know, basically, you know, "You— just stay out of my life" type of thing, you know.


BRIAN MANNING: Yes. Yelling. He was yelling, and you know, kind of tossing some stuff around and stuff and—

MARTIN SMITH: Tossing some stuff around?

BRIAN MANNING: Yeah. I think he tossed a can or something like— you know, it just reached a point where my wife felt vulnerable. And she just was— you know, was scared. And so she called 911.

MARTIN SMITH: Was he approaching her?


MARTIN SMITH: Was there threats of physical violence?

BRIAN MANNING: You couldn't tell, to be honest with you.

MARTIN SMITH: So why does that warrant calling 911?

BRIAN MANNING: Well, as I said it went back and forth back and forth. And when things, you know, reach a certain point, you know, the boiling point, you know, then you don't know where it's going to go.

911 OPERATOR: Oklahoma City 911.

BRADLEY'S STEPMOTHER: Yes, I need an officer here at my house, please.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] On the 911 recording, the altercation was much more serious.

[FRONTLINE exclusive]

BRADLEY'S STEPMOTHER: My husband's 18-year-old son is out of control and just threatened me with a knife. And his father has just had surgery, and he is down on the floor and— get away from him! You get away from him!

911 OPERATOR: Why's he on the floor?

BRADLEY'S STEPMOTHER: Because he tried to protect me until he fell. Get away from him!

MARTIN SMITH: At one point, a suddenly concerned Bradley can be heard in the background speaking to his father.


911 OPERATOR: What's he upset about?

BRADLEY'S STEPMOTHER: Because I have been telling him he needs to get a job and he won't get a job. He said he thinks he should just be able to take money from us!

MARTIN SMITH: Later, we called Brian Manning. He admitted that the incident had been much more serious than he had lead us to believe.

BRADLEY'S STEPMOTHER: I ain't staying here with him. You'd better find somewhere for him to go because he ain't staying here!

[ Listen to the entire 911 call]

MARTIN SMITH: Bradley was escorted from the house by police but was not arrested or charged. The next day, he moved out and never returned.

Over the next year Bradley Manning bounced from Tulsa to Chicago to Maryland, but he was never able to hold onto a job for more than a few months. His father describes him as aimless.

BRIAN MANNING: I said, you know, "Bradley, you're really not going anywhere. You really don't have any— any structure in place." And I said, "If you get into a place like the Army, you know, you're going to have three square meals a day, you're going to have a place to sleep and a roof over your head. And as long as you, you know, follow the path, you know, that's all you have to do."

MARTIN SMITH: In the summer of 2007, Bradley Manning enlisted in the Army and trained to become an intelligence analyst.

JORDAN DAVIS: I tried to talk Bradley out of doing it. But then, it was, like, "Well, maybe it would give your life direction or something," so— but I wish I would have talked him out of it now.

MARTIN SMITH: What happened to him over the next few years is part of our ongoing FRONTLINE investigation into how the private life of Bradley Manning would lead to a very public international scandal. We now know that the structured life of the military didn't quell his outbursts, how he was cited for abusive actions and assaulting a fellow soldier, how his personal life fell apart after his deployment to Iraq, and how, through it all, while he continued to have access to hundreds of thousands of sensitive military and diplomatic documents, the Army let him hold onto his Top Secret clearance.

[Bradley Manning is currently being held in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. In May, FRONTLINE will broadcast an hour-long investigation on Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks.]


blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

Posted March 29, 2011

Watch The Private Life of Bradley Manning »
FRONTLINE series home | Privacy Policy | Journalistic Guidelines | PBS Privacy Policy | PBS Terms of Use

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation