Home US & World News NEWS & COMMENT: Pentagon campaign to discredit Wikileaks downshifts

NEWS & COMMENT: Pentagon campaign to discredit Wikileaks downshifts

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Although Wikileaks was a mainstream media darling when it released its first cache of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan in late June 2010, the U.S. government has since been working at discrediting the organization in a smothering cloud of denigration and moralizing.  --  To judge from the paucity of Wikileaks coverage by mainstream media in recent months, the campaign is succeeding admirably.  --  But it will soon be put to a test:  the "disreputable" organization "is expected soon to post on its website as many as 500,000 classified leaked U.S. documents from the Iraq war," Reuters reported Monday.[1]  --  Other wire services and a few foreign papers also reported briefly on the situation (AP, AFP, DPA, Bloomberg), but the only American newspapers that published its own article on the Wikileaks story Monday were USA Today[2] and Newsday.  --  Fox News confined itself to a blog item.  --  COMMENT:  The Pentagon is promoting the narrative line that the "stolen" documents should be "returned" to the government, despite the fact that they exist in the form of digital reproductions that by their very nature cannot be "returned."  --  The Pentagon is also impugning Wikileaks' "credibility," though in fact the organization has to date not published a single document that has proved to be inauthentic.  --  This is something the U.S. Department of Defense, however "reputable," is far from being able to claim.  --  Will any commentator in any mainstream media outlet comment on any of these obvious facts?  --  Somehow we doubt it....

1.

PENTAGON CAUTIONS NEWS MEDIA ON WIKILEAKS DOCUMENTS


Reuters
October 18, 2010

http://www.cnbc.com/id/39729526


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon urged news organizations on Monday not to publish classified U.S. documents due to be released by WikiLeaks as U.S. officials brace for a mass disclosure of leaked Iraq war files by the whistle-blower website.

WikiLeaks, which in July released some 70,000 U.S. documents on the Afghanistan war, is expected soon to post on its website as many as 500,000 classified leaked U.S. documents from the Iraq war.  The U.S. government in July condemned the release of the initial leaked documents, which painted a grim picture of the war in Afghanistan that began in 2001.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said the U.S. military is "absolutely" urging WikiLeaks to "return the stolen documents to the United States government and . . . not publish them."  Lapan also appealed to the news media.

"News organizations should be cautioned not to facilitate the leaking of classified documents with this disreputable organization known as WikiLeaks," Lapan said.

"The concern is that WikiLeaks as an organization should not be made more credible by having credible news organizations facilitate what they're doing," he said.

The Pentagon's comments came on the same day that Sweden said it denied a work and residency permit to Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks Tweeted a response late Monday, saying:  "Rather than apologizing for misleading the press, the Pentagon tries bully it into not reporting."

It also Tweeted a link to an earlier version of this story.

Assange has been establishing a base in Sweden in order to benefit from the Nordic country's strict journalist protection laws.  He is also being investigated over rape allegations in Sweden, which he has denied, calling them baseless.

Assange, an Australian citizen, can appeal the decision within three weeks.

'VENEER OF LEGITIMACY'


At the Pentagon, Lapan said he was not suggesting that news organizations ignore leaked documents, but questioned providing "a veneer of legitimacy to WikiLeaks" by publishing the originals.

"WikiLeaks as an organization is irresponsible in taking hundreds of thousands, potentially in this case, at least tens of thousands in past instances, of classified stolen documents and publishing them on the Web," Lapan said.

A Pentagon team already has reviewed the set of documents that it believes WikiLeaks is preparing to publish, Lapan said.  The 120-member team is prepared to move quickly once the documents are published to verify whether they are the same and to assess the damage they might cause, he said.

With the early review, the Pentagon hopes to be able to move rapidly to mitigate any damage the leaks might cause to their intelligence sources and methods of operations, Lapan said.  A main concern is for the safety of Iraqis named in the files who may have assisted U.S. forces, he said.

The documents posted by WikiLeaks in July detailed allegations that U.S. forces sought to cover up civilian deaths as well as U.S. concern that Pakistan secretly aided Taliban militants even as it took billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

At the time of the July leak of Afghanistan war documents, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said that WikiLeaks might have the blood of U.S. troops and Afghan civilians on its hands because it had leaked files naming people who had collaborated with U.S. forces.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an August 16 letter to the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the leak had not revealed any "sensitive intelligence sources or methods."

2.

PENTAGON BRACES FOR WIKILEAKS DISCLOSURE ON IRAQ

By Tom Vanden Brook

USA Today

October 18, 2010 (updated Oct. 19)

http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-10-19-wikileaks19_ST_N.htm


WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon task force was bracing Monday for the unauthorized release of perhaps hundreds of thousands of secret documents on the war in Iraq and has asked the news media not to publish them.

The website WikiLeaks has obtained an undisclosed number of battlefield incident reports and said Monday it would publish them soon.  The same site published 77,000 such reports from the Afghanistan war in July.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said a 120-member task force has been reviewing about 400,000 documents in the military's database on Iraq to prepare for the publication.

Lapan said the news media should not disseminate "stolen" information even if it is already posted online by WikiLeaks.

"The concern is that WikiLeaks as an organization should not be made more credible by having credible news organizations facilitate what they're doing," he said.

No one has been arrested for passing the classified material to WikiLeaks, but the military has charged Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, who worked in Army intelligence in Iraq, with illegally downloading 150,000 military documents and video.

One of those videos was obtained by WikiLeaks and showed a 2007 attack in Iraq in which U.S. helicopter pilots killed 11 people.  The Pentagon has described Manning as a person of interest in the leak of the documents related to Afghanistan.

In July, WikiLeaks' editor in chief, Julian Assange of Australia, had arranged to publish the material simultaneously on his website and several newspapers.  The New York Times was among them but said it excluded material that could have jeopardized combat operations.

Lapan said Pentagon officials are uncertain when and how much of the material on Iraq would be published.  He said the Pentagon is concerned that Iraqi citizens who assisted the coalition might be named in WikiLeaks documents.

The July material regarding Afghanistan contained mostly reports collected from battlefields from January 2004 to December 2009.  In a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., Defense Secretary Robert Gates said damage from the documents leaked in July appeared to be limited.

"Our initial military review indicates most of the information contained in these documents relates to tactical military operations," Gates wrote in the letter released this week.  "The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security; however, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure."

However, Gates said names of Afghans who cooperated with the U.S.-led missions were released, which risk harm to those people.  At the time of the release, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the jihadist group was reviewing the documents posted online.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the documents released in July could have endangered people and Assange may "have blood on his hands."  WikiLeaks has said its purpose is to combat "unjustified" government secrecy.

Assange, who has expressed anti-war views, was turned down by Sweden on Monday in his request for residency to take advantage of its press-freedom laws and legal protections for those who publish classified materials.

Jim Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said that it appears the WikiLeaks documents will reveal little in the way of new information about troop strategy.  But they may still endanger people by revealing names or other critical intelligence.

"The danger is that important intelligence could be given away to the enemy in Iraq and that Iraqis who cooperate with the U.S. could be the big losers," he said.