WikiLeaks preparing to release more Afghan files

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WikiLeaks, through its account on micro-blogging website Twitter, dismissed the letter as “some idiot statement, based on a bunch of quotes we never made.”

While he acknowledged that some of the critiques leveled at his group were legitimate, he said the Pentagon _ as well as human rights groups _ had so far refused to help WikiLeaks purge the name of Afghan informants from the files.

At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said he was not aware of any effort by department officials to contact WikiLeaks.

Defense Department spokesman Col. David Lapan dismissed WikiLeaks’ claims that they were reviewing the documents and removing information that could harm civilians.

“They don’t have the expertise to determine what might be too sensitive to publish,” he said. As for when the Pentagon expected WikiLeaks to release the documents, Lapan said: “WikiLeaks is about as predictable as North Korea.”

A team of more than a hundred analysts from across the U.S. military, lead by the Defense Intelligence Agency, is poring over the WikiLeaks documents, according to defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence. Called the Information Review Task Force, the team is working out of the Crystal-City, Virginia-based Counterintelligence Collaboration Center.

The analysts are combing the documents, trying to determine the implications of the WikiLeaks release _ everything from whether military or intelligence-gathering tactics and procedures have been revealed and compromised, to whether specific intelligence sources have been endangered. They’re also looking for incidents of civilian casualties that might not have previously been reported, anything concerning allies or coalition partners, and even “derogatory comments regarding Afghan culture or Islam.”

The officials said the ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of U.S. and coalition members. The team is operating independently of an ongoing Army criminal investigation, and that of other law enforcement agencies, the officials said.

In the meanwhile, the U.S. has also reportedly urged its allies to look into Assange and his international network of activists, although it’s not clear how aggressive Washington has been in prodding its foreign friends.

Earlier Thursday the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told The Associated Press that Washington had not approached the his government about pursuing possible criminal charges against Assange, an Australian citizen, or about putting restrictions on his travel.

“Quite clearly we’re working closely with the United States on these matters,” Smith said, citing Australia’s Defense Department and the Pentagon as the agencies working together. “These are very serious matters for concern.”

Australia, which has some 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, has already launched its own investigation into whether posting classified military documents had compromised the national interest or endangered soldiers.

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Associated Press Writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra and Pauline Jelinek, Kimberly Dozier and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report. Flaherty reported from Washington.

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