Video of Iraqi journalists' killings: Is WikiLeaks a security threat?

A 2008 report by the US Army suggests that WikiLeaks, which on Monday published a video that shows US forces apparently killing two Iraqi journalists, could be a threat to national security. The website has released sensitive information in the past, the report notes.

By , Staff writer

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    This frame grab taken from a video shot from a US army Apache helicopter gun-sight, posted at Wikileaks.org, shows a group of men in the streets of the New Baghdad district of eastern Baghdad just prior to being fired upon by the helicopter July 12, 2007. Among those believed to be killed in the attack were two Iraqi journalists working for Reuters. Two children also were wounded.
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The US military has been warily watching for several years the group that released on Monday a graphic video showing a US helicopter apparently killing two Iraqi journalists from Reuters in a Baghdad suburb in 2007.

WikiLeaks.org, the organization in question, is a small nonprofit dedicated to publishing classified information from around the world. In 2008, a classified report from the Army Counterintelligence Center judged that WikiLeaks “represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC) and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army.”

The report on WikiLeaks was obtained and leaked by the organization itself.

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Wikileaks releases video depicting US forces killing of two Reuters journalists in Iraq

The report noted that US intelligence can not rule out the possibility that a mole within the US government is providing WikiLeaks with information.

The WikiLeaks website began operations in December 2006. It says that it was founded by Chinese dissidents in conjunction with journalists and technical experts from elsewhere in the world.

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The Army Counterintelligence Center report pointed to a number of documents posted on WikiLeaks to highlight what it termed the site’s “insider threat” to the Department of Defense.

In 2007, for instance, the site made public an extensive database of US Army equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan. This information could enable foreign terrorist groups and Iraqi insurgents to identify unit capabilities and vulnerabilities, said the Army report.

“Such information could aid enemy forces in planning terrorist attacks,” judged the Counterintelligence Center.

WikiLeaks' ability to keep its sources secret is a key to its existence, noted the Army. Yet the report claimed that the group’s software could be vulnerable to a cyberattack.

“It remains technically feasible ... to gain online access or physical access to WikiLeaks.org information systems to identify and trace whistleblowers through cyberinvestigations,” said the Army report on the group.

The study noted that some in the US credit WikiLeaks as a prime example of the necessity of freedom of the press, and the release of Monday's video. But a number of foreign companies have already filed suit against the group for data theft and associated charges.

Most of WikiLeaks' content is hosted by a Swedish Internet service provider (ISP) that also hosted controversial file-sharing service The Pirate Bay. The ISP says it will only comply with lawful requests by Sweden to remove content. WikiLeaks says it has faced down more than 100 lawsuits since it went live.

Its interests have ranged far beyond US national security. It has published documents that have earned the ire of Scientology, a Swiss bank, and the far-right British National Party (BNP).

Monday's video

The video released by WikiLeaks on Monday consists of 38 minutes of aerial footage taken by a video camera on an Apache gunship. The images originally were encrypted, and WikiLeaks itself broke the code to make them visible, according to the organization.

The film shows a group of two Apaches locating a group of about a dozen men congregating in Baghdad. The helicopter’s aviators say they believe some in the group are carrying weapons. After being told they are “free to engage” the men, the helicopters fire on the group, killing most of them.

Among those thought killed in the attack were Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh.

Pentagon officials on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the video, and said that it did not contradict the finding of an official inquiry that the helicopter pilots acted within their rules of engagement. A rocket-propelled grenade launcher was found at the scene of the attack, officials noted.

The Iraqi Journalists Union on Tuesday called on the Iraqi government to investigate the attack, as the graphic video has reignited anger in the country over the incident.

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