- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2010


The Wikileaks release of 92,000 mostly secret documents on the Afghanistan War has produced no bombshell revelations, but it has revealed the dangers of the “open government” movement. The main impact of the document dump may be to teach the enemy how better to kill our fighting forces.

Reporters are naturally trying to find scandal in the massive document trove, but these are not the Pentagon Papers. Not all secret documents have news value or historical importance. Most of the 92,000 records - in fact, almost all of them - have no news value. Several thousand are unclassified or the classification is not noted, and the highest classification appears to be “secret,” which is about at the level of detail and significance of most news reports.

The claimed cover-up of the Taliban using heat-seeking man-portable anti-air missiles - or “manpads” - is a manufactured scandal. The suspected use of these weapons was reported as early as 2007. In April 2009, Lt. Gen. Gary North, the Central Command Combined Forces Air Component commander, said publicly that air forces in Afghanistan “occasionally” are engaged by shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles, but “our aviators going out are armed with the latest intelligence and the best in technology for [infrared] missile defeat, and so we’re very comfortable with the technology, the capabilities, and as you know, aviators, both rotor and fixed, have to keep their head on a swivel because it is dangerous out there on occasion.” A better story line on manpads is that they have been ineffective in the hands of insurgents, unlike the game-changing use of these weapons against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. However, enemy failure makes a less compelling narrative to most media outlets than trumped-up government malfeasance.

There is a potential problem with the authenticity of the Wiki-leaked documents. The New York Times said it verified the authenticity of the documents it cited, and that “government officials did not dispute that the information was authentic.” This is disingenuous because the Defense Department will not discuss classified material even if it is published, whether to confirm or deny. A Pentagon source told The Washington Times there was no official or unofficial statement on the documents from Defense. Unless the Gray Lady contacted the individual authors of every document cited to confirm they were genuine, reliable verification is unlikely.

Another problem is the vast scale of the document dump. Wikileaks had no way of knowing whether all the records it released were factual. “Salting,” the practice of slipping fake documents into archives, is a growing problem. Anyone who downloads the full spreadsheet of 92,000 documents could easily change small portions, inserting a name here or an event there, subtly altering existing entries to serve their own interests. They could pass these corrupted files around to those they wish to deceive, or upload them in purported “mirror” sites for anyone to download. Once bogus records enter the online data stream, they will be difficult to expunge.

The moral case for the document dump is hard to sustain. Defenders of open government make the argument that some secrets need to be revealed in the public interest, such as high-level official malfeasance, fraud and other criminality. In matters of abuse of power, unauthorized leaks may be justified. But there are no such revelations in these documents, some of which are unclassified, and all of which are fairly low-level routine reports. Leaking them doesn’t serve the public interest, but definitely serves the interests of the enemy. A large number of the documents deals with small-scale attacks, discoveries of weapons caches and other aspects of the day-to-day routine in a counterinsurgency.

America’s enemies now will have a complete picture of events. Since there is no equivalent Taliban data dump, the enemy will be the only side with full knowledge. Terrorists will see how U.S. forces report and assess incidents, and thus armed, they will be able to adapt their tactics to make them more effective. Put simply, Wikileaks is going to get American troops killed.

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