Amidst international controversy about the ethics of leaking classified information, whistleblower Chelsea Manning received the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in absentia this Wedneday in a ceremony at the Oxford Union.
Manning, a former US Army private currently serving a 35 year prison sentence, committed perhaps the greatest single leak of classified information ever in 2010.
The intelligence she passed on to WikiLeaks is thought to have influenced the 2010 Arab Spring, launched heated worldwide discussion about national security vs. freedom of information, and inspired other whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, who received the Sam Adams Award last year.
Wednesday evening’s Oxford Union awards ceremony included a rare video message from Edward Snowden, who congratulated Manning. He stressed that her work highlighted the problem of “overclassification”, where governments use state secrets privilege to withhold information unrelated to national security.
Oxford Union President Polina Ivanova commented on the significance of Snowden’s video appearance in the ceremony honouring Manning. “The feel of the event and its participants’ speeches is best illustrated by Snowden’s closing words in the video – ‘It is for an extraordinary act of public service at unbelievable personal cost that we grant this award to Chelsea Manning’,” she said.
The Sam Adams Award is given to a US or UK intelligence officer dedicated to uncovering the truth, even in the face of breaking the law.
One of the awards panel, retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern, commented in a Radio Times interview on the conspicuousness of Manning’s absence at the awards ceremony.
“It is rather mysterious and rather amazing that three of our six awardees are not free. Bradley Manning, or Chelsea Manning, in federal prison, Julian Assange cooped up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and, of course, Snowden in Russia unable to travel because the United States withdrew his passport, making him stateless,” McGovern said. “So we are beginning to wonder whether the Sam Adams Prize is a good thing to have when 50 percent of our [awardees] find themselves in some kind of confinement.”
Members from the Oxford Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrated on Cornmarket hours before the Union awards ceremony. “We thought it was really important to have some presence on the street so people who live in Oxford and are passing through can have some information about what’s going on,” organiser Genny Bove told Cherwell.
The Oxford campaigners have joined national efforts to support Manning during her incarceration, including raising money for her Welsh family to visit her in prison.
One postgraduate said, “Having this event at Oxford is really significant; I’m glad the Union is providing such a high-profile stage to honour the achievements of whistleblowers and give them a voice when that’s unavailable in so many other places. Chelsea Manning has started a conversation we all need to be having.”