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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Source source material

Material for The Source (Oct 22—25, BAM Fisher) was drawn from primary source texts by librettist Mark Doten and set to music by composer Ted Hearne. Four singers housed in a visual and sonic installation bring the work to life with direction by Daniel Fish. The company inhabits a multimedia assemblage of Twitter feeds, cable news reports, court testimonies, and chat transcripts in a multimedia oratorio that investigates media hysteria, secrets, and identity amid digital chaos. Mark Doten provides context for excerpts from his libretto.

The most staggering aspect of the classified materials that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning leaked is their almost ungraspable scope. They include 483,000 army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and 251,000 diplomatic cables; these were released, along with video of a US airstrike in Baghdad, by WikiLeaks and its media partners in 2010.

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. While I believe that the content of the leaks is more important than any individual—including Manning—there are several players who were integral to the events; brief descriptions of them are below. 


Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning is a US 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 US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth. Following her sentencing, she made public her transgender status and requested the treatments necessary for her gender dysphoria; these treatments have thus far been withheld.

Adrian Lamo is a former hacker who gained notoriety in the early 2000s for breaking into the computer networks of Worldcom, Yahoo!, 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 greater 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, US 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 UK 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.


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 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. —Mark Doten

The following are excerpts from the libretto (on the left) alongside the source material [click on the images for a larger view]. See more here.

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