SFOpera - Librettist's Note

Librettist's Note

The classified materials that Chelsea Manning leaked are almost ungraspable in their scope. In addition to the widely circulated “Collateral Murder” video (which compiled gunsight footage from a U.S. helicopter strike in Baghdad), the leaks included 483,000 Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and 251,000 diplomatic cables. They were released by WikiLeaks and its media partners in 2010.

The size of the leaks presented a problem for journalists covering the story. How to report on the data, which seemed too big for any one person—or even any one newsroom—to process and understand? Perhaps inevitably, much of the reporting at the time focused less on what the leaks revealed about America’s conduct of wars and diplomacy than on the personalities involved. The Source exists in that same space: it’s a negotiation between individuals and a massive quantity of information—information written specifically to obscure the personal, to transform the stories of life and death in a theater of war into neutral bureaucratic data. Brief descriptions of three key individuals in The Source are below.

Chelsea Manning is the U.S. Army private responsible for the largest public leak of classified information in American history. She was arrested in May 2010, and in August 2013 was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment on numerous counts of espionage, theft and computer fraud, as well as several military infractions. She is serving her sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Following her sentencing, she announced that she was transgender and requested the treat-ments necessary for her gender dysphoria. After significant delays, she received some accommodations, including hormone therapy. In September of 2016, she began a hunger strike protesting the conditions of her imprisonment. She ended the action after the Army agreed that she would be allowed gender transition surgery.

Adrian Lamo is a former hacker who gained notoriety in the early 2000s for breaking into the computer networks of Yahoo!, WorldCom and other corporations—he would expose security vulnerabilities, and then offer his services to the companies to help them patch their weaknesses. After hacking The New York Times, Lamo was the subject of an investigation by federal prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to a count of felony computer crimes in 2004, for which he was sentenced to six months of house arrest and ordered to pay restitution.

Just prior to her arrest, Manning sought out Lamo online, drawn by his reputation as a hacker, his public support of WikiLeaks, and possibly his sexual orientation. (Manning was aware that Lamo is bisexual and had worked for LGBT rights in the 1990s.) The two engaged in a far-ranging online chat, during which Manning spoke of the leaks, as well as her feelings about herself, her gender identity, life in the Army, U.S. foreign policy, secrecy and her hopes that her actions would lead to “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” Lamo reported her to the authorities, which led to her arrest on May 27, 2010, at her base in eastern Iraq.

Julian Assange is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, and was at the center of a firestorm of attention and controversy during the release of the material provided by Manning. In 2012, facing extradition from the U.K. to Sweden for alleged sexual offenses, he was granted asylum by Ecuador and has lived in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since that time. The material provided by Manning remains the most significant leak in the history of the organization, though Assange and WikiLeaks continues to generate controversy. In 2016, WikiLeaks released documents from the “Guccifer 2.0” hack of the DNC. The libretto is sourced primarily from the contents of the leaks themselves—diplomatic cables, the “Iraq War Logs” and the “Afghan War Diary”—and from Manning’s side of the Manning/ Lamo chats published by Wired.com. Other sources include tweets from Lamo regarding his decision to turn in Manning, an array of questions that journalists have posed to Julian Assange and selections from interviews, radio and social media, drawn primarily from the same time period as the leaks.

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