Biggest leak in intelligence history
90,000 Afghan war documents leaked
Previously unreported civilian deaths among the disclosures by WikiLeaks
by KIMBERLY DOZIER
WASHINGTON — Some 90,000 leaked U.S. military records posted online Sunday amount to a blow-by-blow account of six years of the Afghanistan war, including unreported incidents of Afghan civilian killings as well as covert operations against Taliban figures.
The online whistle-blower WikiLeaks posted the documents on its website Sunday. The New York Times, London's Guardian newspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegel were given early access to the documents.
The White House condemned the document disclosure, saying it "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."
The leaked records include detailed descriptions of raids carried out by a secretive U.S. special operations unit called Task Force 373 against what U.S. officials considered high-value insurgent and terrorist targets. Some of the raids resulted in unintended killings of Afghan civilians, according to the documentation.
Among those listed as being killed by the secretive unit was Shah Agha, described by the Guardian as an intelligence officer for an IED cell, who was killed with four other men in June 2009. Another was a Libyan fighter, Abu Laith al-Libi, described in the documents as a senior al-Qaida military commander. Al-Libi was said to be based across the border in Mir Ali, Pakistan, and was running al-Qaida training camps in North Waziristan, a region along the Afghan border where U.S. officials have said numerous senior al-Qaida leaders were believed to be hiding.
The operation against al-Libi, in June 2007, resulted in a death tally that one U.S. military document said include six enemy fighters and seven noncombatants — all children.
The Guardian reported that more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are on a "kill or capture" list, known as JPEL, the Joint Prioritized Effects List. It was from this list that Task Force 373 selected its targets.
The New York Times said the documents — including classified cables and assessments between military officers and diplomats — also describe U.S. fears that ally Pakistan's intelligence service was actually aiding the Afghan insurgency.
According to the Times, the documents suggest Pakistan "allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders."
The Guardian, however, interpreted the documents differently, saying they "fail to provide a convincing smoking gun" for complicity between the Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban.
White House, Pakistan respond
In a statement released Sunday, White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones lauded a deeper partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan, saying, "Counterterrorism cooperation has led to significant blows against al-Qaida's leadership." Still, he called on Pakistan to continue its "strategic shift against insurgent groups."
Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said the documents "do not reflect the current on-ground realities." The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are "jointly endeavoring to defeat al-Qaida and its Taliban allies militarily and politically," he added.
Der Spiegel, meanwhile, reported that the records show Afghan security officers as helpless victims of Taliban attacks.
The magazine said the documents show a growing threat in the north, where German troops are stationed.
The classified documents are largely what's called "raw intelligence" — reports from junior officers in the field that analysts use to advise policymakers, rather than any high-level government documents that state U.S. government policy.
While the documents provide a glimpse of a world the public rarely sees, the overall picture they portray is already familiar to most Americans. U.S. officials have already publicly denounced Pakistani officials' cooperation with some insurgents, like the Haqqani network in Pakistan's tribal areas.
The success of U.S. special operating forces teams at taking out Taliban targets has been publicly lauded by U.S. military and intelligence officials. And just-resigned Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was leading the Afghan war effort, made protecting Afghan civilians one of the hallmarks of his command, complaining that too many Afghans had been accidentally killed by Western firepower.
More document releases possible
WikiLeaks said the leaked documents "do not generally cover top-secret operations." The site also reported that it had "delayed the release of some 15,000 reports" as part of what it called "a harm minimization process demanded by our source," but said it may release the other documents after further review.
Jones, the White House adviser, took pains to point out that the documents describe a period from January 2004 to December 2009, mostly during the administration of President George W. Bush.
That was before "President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years," Jones said.
But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."
A different U.S. official said the Obama administration had already told Pakistani and Afghan officials what to expect from the document release, in order to head off some of the more embarrassing revelations.
Another U.S. official said it may take days to comb through all the documents to see what they mean to the U.S. war effort and determine their potential damage to national security. That official added that the U.S. isn't certain who leaked the documents.
Another official said teams of analysts started examining the documents the moment they were disclosed online.
All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity to comment on the release of classified material.
U.S. government agencies have been bracing for the release of thousands more classified documents since the leak of a classified helicopter cockpit video of a 2007 firefight in Baghdad. That leak was blamed on a U.S. Army intelligence analyst working in Iraq.
Spc. Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Md., was arrested in Iraq and charged earlier this month with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data, after a former hacker turned him in. Manning had bragged to the hacker, Adrian Lamo, that he had downloaded 260,000 classified or sensitive State Department cables and transmitted them by computer to the website Wikileaks.org.
Lamo turned Manning in to U.S. authorities, saying he couldn't live with the thought that those released documents might get someone killed.
Afghanistan war logs: Story behind biggest leak in intelligence history
From US military computers to a cafe in Brussels, how thousands of classified papers found their way to online activists
US authorities have known for weeks that they have suffered a haemorrhage of secret information on a scale which makes even the leaking of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war look limited by comparison.
The Afghan war logs, from which the Guardian reports today, consist of 92,201 internal records of actions by the US military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009 – threat reports from intelligence agencies, plans and accounts of coalition operations, descriptions of enemy attacks and roadside bombs, records of meetings with local politicians, most of them classified secret.
The Guardian's source for these is Wikileaks, the website which specialises in publishing untraceable material from whistleblowers, which is simultaneously publishing raw material from the logs.
Washington fears it may have lost even more highly sensitive material including an archive of tens of thousands of cable messages sent by US embassies around the world, reflecting arms deals, trade talks, secret meetings and uncensored opinion of other governments.
Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange, says that in the last two months they have received yet another huge batch of "high-quality material" from military sources and that officers from the Pentagon's criminal investigations department have asked him to meet them on neutral territory to help them plug the sequence of leaks. He has not agreed to do so.
Behind today's revelations lie two distinct stories: first, of the Pentagon's attempts to trace the leaks with painful results for one young soldier; and second, a unique collaboration between the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel magazine in Germany to sift the huge trove of data for material of public interest and to distribute globally this secret record of the world's most powerful nation at war.
The Pentagon was slow to engage. The evidence they have now collected suggests it was last November that somebody working in a high-security facility inside a US military base in Iraq started to copy secret material. On 18 February Wikileaks posted a single document – a classified cable from the US embassy in Reykjavik to Washington, recording the complaints of Icelandic politicians that they were being bullied by the British and Dutch over the collapse of the Icesave bank; and the tart remark of an Icelandic diplomat who described his own president as "unpredictable". Some Wikileaks workers in Iceland claimed they saw signs that they were being followed after this disclosure.
But the Americans evidently were nowhere nearer to discovering the source when, on 5 April, Assange held a press conference in Washington to reveal US military video of a group of civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters staff, being shot down in the street in 2007 by Apache helicopters: their crew could be heard crowing about their "good shooting" before destroying a van which had come to rescue a wounded man and which turned out to be carrying two children on its front seat.
It was not until late May that the Pentagon finally closed in on a suspect, and that was only after a very strange sequence of events. On 21 May, a Californian computer hacker called Adrian Lamo was contacted by somebody with the online name Bradass87 who started to swap instant messages with him. He was immediately extraordinarily open: "hi... how are you?… im an army intelligence analyst, deployed to eastern bagdad … if you had unprecedented access to classified networks, 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?"
For five days, Bradass87 opened his heart to Lamo. He described how his job gave him access to two secret networks: the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, SIPRNET, which carries US diplomatic and military intelligence classified "secret"; and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which uses a different security system to carry similar material classified up to "top secret". He said this had allowed him to see "incredible things, awful things … that belong in the public domain and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC … almost criminal political backdealings … the non-PR version of world events and crises."
Bradass87 suggested that "someone I know intimately" had been downloading and compressing and encrypting all this data and uploading it to someone he identified as Julian Assange. At times, he claimed he himself had leaked the material, suggesting that he had taken in blank CDs, labelled as Lady Gaga's music, slotted them into his high-security laptop and lip-synched to nonexistent music to cover his downloading: "i want people to see the truth," he said.
He dwelled on the abundance of the disclosure: "its open diplomacy … its Climategate with a global scope and breathtaking depth … its beautiful and horrifying … It's public data, it belongs in the public domain." At one point, Bradass87 caught himself and said: "i can't believe what im confessing to you." It was too late. Unknown to him, two days into their exchange, on 23 May, Lamo had contacted the US military. On 25 May he met officers from the Pentagon's criminal investigations department in a Starbucks and gave them a printout of Bradass87's online chat.
On 26 May, at US Forward Operating Base Hammer, 25 miles outside Baghdad, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning was arrested, shipped across the border to Kuwait and locked up in a military prison.
News of the arrest leaked out slowly, primarily through Wired News, whose senior editor, Kevin Poulsen, is a friend of Lamo's and who published edited extracts from Bradass87's chatlogs. Pressure started to build on Assange: the Pentagon said formally that it would like to find him; Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said he thought Assange could be in some physical danger; Ellsberg and two other former whistleblowers warned that US agencies would "do all possible to make an example" of the Wikileaks founder. Assange cancelled a planned trip to Las Vegas and went to ground.
After several days trying to make contact through intermediaries, the Guardian finally caught up with Assange in a café in Brussels where he had surfaced to speak at the European parliament.
Assange volunteered that Wikileaks was in possession of several million files, which amounted to an untold history of American government activity around the world, disclosing numerous important and controversial activities. They were putting the finishing touches to an accessible version of the data which they were preparing to post immediately on the internet in order to pre-empt any attempt to censor it.
But he also feared that the significance of the logs and some of the important stories buried in them might be missed if they were simply dumped raw on to the web. Instead he agreed that a small team of specialist reporters from the Guardian could have access to the logs for a few weeks before Wikileaks published, to decode them and establish what they revealed about the conduct of the war.
To reduce the risk of gagging by the authorities, the database would also be made available to the New York Times and the German weekly, Der Spiegel which, along with the Guardian, would publish simultaneously in three different jurisdictions. Under the arrangement, Assange would have no influence on the stories we wrote, but would have a voice in the timing of publication.
He would place the first tranche of data in encrypted form on a secret website and the Guardian would access it with a user name and password constructed from the commercial logo on the cafe's napkin.
Today's stories are based on that batch of logs. Wikileaks has simultaneously published much of the raw data. It says it has been careful to weed out material which could jeopardise human sources.
Since the release of the Apache helicopter video, there has been some evidence of low-level attempts to smear Wikileaks. Online stories accuse Assange of spending Wikileaks money on expensive hotels (at a follow-up meeting in Stockholm, he slept on an office floor); of selling data to mainstream media (the subject of money was never mentioned); or charging for media interviews (also never mentioned).
Earlier this year, Wikileaks published a US military document which disclosed a plan to "destroy the centre of gravity" of Wikileaks by attacking its trustworthiness.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Kuwait, Manning has been charged under US miitary law with improperly downloading and releasing information, including the Icelandic cable and the video of Apache helicopters shooting civilians in Baghdad. He faces trial by court martial with the promise of a heavy jail sentence.
Ellsberg has described Manning as "a new hero of mine". In his online chat, Bradass87 looked into the future: "god knows what happens now … hopefully, worldwide discussion, debates and reforms. if not … we're doomed."