Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Document of the Week: Wikileaks Afghan War Diary

I'm reading it now, and shall comment as I figure out what's going on here. But in the meantime, here's the link to the 90,000 pages of documents posted on the web by Wikileaks, so you can read the original material:,_2004-2010.

There's also a dedicated webpage, with a number of download options:

Some preliminary thoughts:

The following statement seems to indicates that the leak may be coming from somewhere nearer the top than the bottom of the chain-of-command:
We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.
The White House reaction, so far, seems to support a view that this "leak" may have been sanctioned from the top, as indicated by this July 26th White House press conference statement by Robert Gibbs:
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I would point you to -- as I said a minute ago, I don’t know that what is being said or what is being reported isn’t something that hasn’t been discussed fairly publicly, again, by named U.S. officials and in many news stories. I mean, The New York Times had a story on this topic in March of 2009 written by the same authors.
Likewise, National Security Advisor General James Jones' statement:
These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
More evidence of a leak from the top can be found in today's statement from President Obama, as reported by The Guardian (UK):
Barack Obama today claimed the disclosures about the mishandling of the Afghanistan war contained in leaked US military documents justified his decision to embark on a new strategy.

If the release of 90,000 leaked messages doesn't damage US releations with Afghanistan and Pakistan, why were they classified in the first place?

I'll hazard one other comment at this point. Whatever the source, even if President Obama or Vice President Biden, a recourse to "leaks" is a symptom that the document classification system is not working properly.

At a certain point, the US government invites a climate of distrust--as it did in Vietnam--when it refuses to routinely declassify and release information that poses little danger to the war effort. In that sense, over-classification becomes a security risk, because it encourages leaks. These leaks, in turn, undermine the justification for secrecy in the first place--and lead to questions as to whether information had been properly classified by the US government.

Indeed, this article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the problem of overclassification, in the light of the Wikileaks story.

A perceived "credibility gap" is the logical consequence of such an approach. In the end, it would tend to undermine both the war effort and the administration, despite any protests to the contrary...