Sunday, July 25, 2010

Just In: Wikileaks.Org’s Post Of 90,000 Classified Afghan Reports Causes A Furor

Wikileaks.Org’s Post Of Classified Afghan Reports Causes A Furor
July 25, 2010 | Dean Takahashi
Tens Of Thousands Of Alleged Afghan War Documents Go Online

(CNN) -- A whistle-blower website has published what it says are more than 90,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year.

The first-hand accounts are the military's own raw data on the war, including numbers killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, according to Julian Assange, the founder of, which published the material Sunday.

"It is the total history of the Afghan war from 2004 to 2010, with some important exceptions -- U.S. Special Forces, CIA activity and most of the activity of other non-U.S. groups," Assange said.

CNN has not independently confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The Department of Defense will not comment on them until the Pentagon has had a chance to look at them, a Defense official told CNN.

Assange declined to tell CNN where he got the documents. He claims the documents reveal the "squalor" of war, uncovering how many relatively small incidents have added up to huge numbers of dead civilians.

The significance lies in "all of these people being killed in the small events that we haven't heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events. It's the boy killed by a shell that missed a target," he told CNN.

"What we haven't seen previously is all those individual deaths," he said. "We've seen just the number and like Stalin said, 'One man's death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.' So, we've seen the statistic."

WikiLeaks publishes anonymously submitted documents, video and other sensitive materials after vetting them, it says. It claims never to have fallen for a forgery.
It has made headlines for posting controversial videos of combat in Iraq.

The site gained international attention in April when it posted a 2007 video said to show a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq killing a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists.

At the time, Maj. Shawn Turner, a U.S. military spokesman, said that "all evidence available supported the conclusion by those forces that they were engaging armed insurgents and not civilians."

Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, suspected of leaking a classified 2007 video, has been charged by the U.S. military with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code for transferring classified data, according to a charge sheet released by the military earlier this month.
Attempts to reach Manning's military defense attorney, Capt. Paul Bouchard, were unsuccessful Sunday. However, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins has said Bouchard would not speak to the media about the charges.

Assange says WikiLeaks has attempted to put together a legal team to defend Manning, something it will do for any "alleged" whistle-blower that runs into legal trouble because of WikiLeaks.

Assange, a former teen hacker who launched the site in 2007, denies that WikiLeaks has put troops in danger.

"There certainly have been people who have lost elections as a result of material being on WikiLeaks," he said.

"There have been prosecutions because of material being on WikiLeaks. There have been legislative reforms because of material being on WikiLeaks," he said. "What has not happened is anyone being physically harmed as a result."

The website held back about 15,000 documents from Afghanistan to protect individuals who informed on the Taliban, he said.

But he said he hoped his website would be "very dangerous" to "people who want to conduct wars in an abusive way."

"This material doesn't just reveal occasional abuse by the U.S. military," he said. "Of course it has U.S. military reporting on all sort of abuses by the Taliban. ... So it does describe the abuses by both sides in this war and that's how people can understand what's really going on and if they choose to support it or not."

Assange said the organization gets material from whistle-blowers in a variety of ways -- including postal mail. He said WikiLeaks vets it, releases it to the public and then defends itself against "the regular political or legal attack."

He said the organization rarely knows the identity of the source of the leak. "If we find out at some stage, we destroy that information as soon as possible," he said.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

WikiLeaks, a worldwide anonymous publisher of sensitive and confidential documents, is releasing what it says are 91,000 raw military reports from US units in Afghanistan. According to their website, WikiLeaks says these documents were filed by military units from 2004 to 2010. Basically, the site claims it's the US military's own raw data on the war. (Get more info from the CNN story.)

Here's your challenge: Take a look through the documents and see what you can find of interest. Then share it here on CNN iReport. The documents can all be accessed on the WikiLeaks website.

Good luck, and please remember, this is raw military information. It includes sensitive information such as casualty numbers, so if you'd rather not see that, don't go any further.

July 25, 2010 | Dean Takahashi has posted tens of thousands of classified military field reports about the Afghanistan war, saying its goal was to expose unethical behavior by governments and corporations.

The disclosure is perhaps the most controversial yet since the organization was founded in December, 2006. Other disclosures include internal memos about the dumping of toxic waste near Africa’s coast, the membership of a racist British party, and the prison manual for Guantanamo Bay.
The lesson for tech companies, and everyone else, is clear. Secret documents have a way of becoming public. A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council strongly condemned the latest leak, saying it would put American lives in danger.

“We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies,” the organization’s web site says. “All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information.”

The organization said it withheld the publication of about 15,000 documents for a few days until it could redact the names of people in the reports whose safety could be jeopardized by disclosure. The site is run by London-based founder Julian Assange.

Steven Aftergood, head of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, wrote in a blog posting on June 28 that WikiLeaks engages in “information vandalism” with no regard for privacy or social usefulness. “WikiLeaks must be counted among the enemies of open society because it does not respect the rule of law nor does it honor the rights of individuals,” he wrote.

Three weeks ago, charges were filed against an American soldier in Iraq who reportedly leaked a video that showed an American helicopter attack that killed 12 people, including a Reuters reporter and a photographer. WikiLeaks made the video public.

The Guardian has taken the content from the latest leak and created a map of key incidents in the Afghan war.

Release date : July 25, 2010
25th July 2010 5:00 PM EST WikiLeaks has released a document set called the Afghan War Diary (AWD), an extraordinary compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.

The reports, while written by soldiers and intelligence officers mainly describing lethal military actions involving the United States military, also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and related detail.

The document collection will shortly be available on a dedicated webpage.

The reports cover most units from the US Army with the exception of most US Special Forces' activities. The reports do not generally cover top-secret operations or European and other ISAF Forces operations.

We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the 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 data is provided in CSV and SQL formats, sorted by months, and also was rendered into KML mapping data.

Further information
Primary language : English

The most consequential news item of the week will obviously be  -- or at least should be -- the massive new leak by WikiLeaks of 90,000 pages of classified material chronicling the truth about the war in Afghanistan from 2004 through 2009.  Those documents provide what The New York Times calls "an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."  The Guardian describes the documents as "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency."  

In addition to those two newspapers, WikiLeaks also weeks ago provided these materials to Der Spiegel, on the condition that all three wait until today to write about them.  These outlets were presumably chosen by WikiLeaks with the intent to ensure maximum exposure among the American and Western Europeans citizenries which continue to pay for this war and whose governments have been less than forthcoming about what is taking place [a CIA document prepared in March, 2010 -- and previously leaked by WikiLeaks -- plotted how to prevent public opinion in Western Europe from turning further against the war and thus forcing their Governments to withdraw; the CIA's conclusion:  the most valuable asset in putting a pretty face on the war for Western Europeans is Barack Obama's popularity with those populations].

The White House has swiftly vowed to continue the war and predictably condemned WikiLeaks rather harshly.  It will be most interesting to see how many Democrats -- who claim to find Daniel Ellsberg heroic and the Pentagon Papers leak to be unambiguously justified -- follow the White House's lead in that regard.  Ellsberg's leak -- though primarily exposing the amoral duplicity of a Democratic administration -- occurred when there was a Republican in the White House.  This latest leak, by contrast, indicts a war which a Democratic President has embraced as his own, and documents similar manipulation of public opinion and suppression of the truth well into 2009.  It's not difficult to foresee, as Atrios predicted, that media "coverage of [the] latest [leak] will be about whether or not it should have been published," rather than about what these documents reveal about the war effort and the government and military leaders prosecuting it.  What position Democratic officials and administration supporters take in the inevitable debate over WikiLeaks remains to be seen (by shrewdly leaked these materials to 3 major newspapers, which themselves then published many of the most incriminating documents, WikiLeaks provided itself with some cover).  

Note how obviously lame is the White House's prime tactic thus far for dismissing the importance of the leak:  that the documents only go through December, 2009, the month when Obama ordered his "surge," as though that timeline leaves these documents without any current relevance.  The Pentagon Papers only went up through 1968 and were not released until 3 years later (in 1971), yet having the public behold the dishonesty about the war had a significant effect on public opinion, as well as their willingness to trust future government pronouncements.  At the very least, it's difficult to imagine this leak not having the same effect.  Then again, since -- unlike Vietnam -- only a tiny portion of war supporters actually bears any direct burden from the war (themselves or close family members fighting it), it's possible that the public will remain largely apathetic even knowing what they will now know.  It's relatively easy to support or even acquiesce to a war when neither you nor your loved ones are risking their lives to fight it.

It's hardly a shock that the war in Afghanistan is going far worse than political officials have been publicly claiming.  Aside from the fact that lying about war is what war leaders do almost intrinsically -- that's part of what makes war so degrading to democratic values -- there have been numerous official documents that have recently emerged or leaked outthat explicitly state that the war is going worse than ever and is all but unwinnable.  A French General was formally punished earlier this month for revealing that the NATO war situation "has never been worse," whileFrench officials now openly plot how to set new "intermediate" benchmarks to ensure -- in their words -- that "public opinion doesn't get the impression of a useless effort."  Anyone paying even mild attention knows that our war effort there has entailed countless incidents of civilian slaughter followed by official lies about it, "hit lists" compiled with no due process, and feel-good pronouncements from the Government that have little relationship to the realities in that country (other leak highlights are here).  

This leak is not unlike theWashington Post series from the last week:  the broad strokes were already well-known, but the sheer magnitude of the disclosures may force more public attention on these matters than had occurred previously.

Whatever else is true, WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world.  Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret.  But that's what our National Security State does reflexively:  it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing.  WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall, enabling modest glimpses into what The Washington Post spent last week describing as Top Secret America.  The war on WikiLeaks -- which was already in full swing, including, strangely, from some who claim a commitment to transparency -- will only intensify now.  Anyone who believes that the Government abuses its secrecy powers in order to keep the citizenry in the dark and manipulate public opinion -- and who, at this point, doesn't believe that? -- should be squarely on the side of the greater transparency which Wikileaks and its sources, sometimes single-handedly, are providing.

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