A cache of upwards of 400,000 classified documents from the US effort in the Iraq war – to be released imminently by the WikiLeaks website – “could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed,” Pentagon officials say.
They add, however, that they are expecting few surprises, making the tricky case that although the leaks could be highly damaging, they offer scant new information.
As WikiLeaks issued a message on Twitter Friday afternoon announcing a news conference Saturday, Pentagon officials warned that the material poses a grave threat to US troops. They urged news organizations not to republish it.
“We deplore Wikileaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents, and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Friday.
“We know terrorist organizations have been mining the leaked Afghan documents for information to use against us, and this Iraq leak is four times as large,” Mr. Morrell noted, referring to the July WikiLeaks release of 70,000 documents related to the Afghanistan war.
Now, a Pentagon team has finished reviewing the documents that it believes are likely to be posted soon. It had been scanning the material particularly closely for information that could endanger Iraqis who have worked with US forces, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan.
“Our concern is mostly with the threat to individuals, the threat to our people and our equipment,” Lapan said. “But in terms of the types of incidents that are captured in these reports, where innocent Iraqis have been killed, where there are allegations of detainee abuse – all of these things have been very well chronicled over time.”
Pentagon officials describe the documents as “ground level” reports between the years 2003 and 2010.
Morrell’s statement decried the inclusion of “significant activities,” or “SIGACT” reports, as they are known in the military – “initial, raw observations by tactical units.” The statement goes on, “They are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.”
He also said, “The period covered by these reports have been well-chronicled in news stories, books and films and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq’s past.”
Among Pentagon officials, there is widespread concern that the release could reopen old wounds. But one minor bit of good news, they said, was that the WikiLeaks release is not expected to include photographs or video.
For now, troops are standing by to notify and work with Iraqis who may named or otherwise identified in the leaks, officials say.
They add that they were not working to redact particularly sensitive material. “The only responsible course of action for Wikileaks at this point is to return the stolen material and expunge it from their websites as soon as possible,” Morrell’s statement said.
Recognizing that the likelihood of this happening is slim, the Pentagon took a fatalistic approach. “Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources, and react in combat situations,” Morrell wrote in the statement.