WikiLeaks informant Bradley Manning apparently downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified US documents onto CDs to smuggle them out of secure military surroundings in Iraq in 2010, according to witness testimony on Monday at the opening of his long-awaited court martial.

He then labelled at least one CD “secret” and hid it behind a language-learning CD in a plastic case bearing the label, “Starting Out in Arabic”, according to witness testimony.

Army investigator Thomas Smith was the first to take the stand in the military courtroom outside of the nation’s capital, after opening arguments from the prosecutor and defence attorney.

Mr. Smith launched the investigation into the massive leak of US secret documents in late May 2010. After evidence had been collected and catalogued from the operations room in Iraq, where Pfc. Manning worked as a military analyst, Mr. Smith turned to searching Pfc. Manning’s room.

Mr. Smith testified how he confiscated numerous writable CDs in the room, Manning’s private Apple computer and a label maker, which he said was used to print clear labels for each CD. Manning appeared to have wanted to thoroughly label the purloined content he was smuggling out.

The items in the room were not locked away, but lying out in the open.

Earlier this year, in a statement Pfc. Manning read to the court during pre-trial hearings, the Army private explained he put the stickers onto the CDs to add to their authenticity when he passed them on to media organisations.

He said his plan was to release the information to Reuters news agency. He also earlier this year revealed that he had first offered the document trove to the Washington Post and New York Times, but the newspapers did not respond.

Pfc. Manning is alleged to have leaked a 2007 video of a US Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad. Taken by the aircraft’s onboard camera, the video clearly shows the shooting deaths of 11 civilians, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.

According to logs of a chat in May 2010 between Pfc. Manning and former US computer hacker Adrian Lamo, Pfc. Manning said he burned the documents onto CDs in Iraq and was able to smuggle them home to the US undetected by labelling them “music by Lady Gaga”. Logs of the chat between Mr. Lamo and Pfc. Manning were published by the US magazine Wired in 2010.

In the chat exchange, Pfc. Manning also imagined the reaction by the US government to publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents. “(Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public”. Pfc. Manning, now 25, was arrested in May 2010 and faces life in prison if found guilty on more than 21 counts, the most serious of which is aiding the enemy. He has spent three years in detention awaiting trial, and has admitted to purloining the files and giving them to the internet whistleblower WikiLeaks.

A former hacker that Pfc. Manning boasted to about his actions reportedly informed federal authorities, leading to Pfc. Manning’s arrest.

As the trial unfolds in the US, the recipient of Manning’s purloined classified material and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is ensnared in his own legal problems in Britain.

Mr. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since June 2012 after he exhausted his appeals against extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted on sex abuse allegations. Ecuador has granted Mr. Assange asylum, but in order to travel there he would have to cross British territory and could be seized and extradited

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