Pentagon scrambles to prep for 'thermonuclear' Wikileaks release

The Pentagon is trying to anticipate what Julian Assange's 'thermonuclear' file might contain. The Wikileaks founder has promised to release the file if anything happens to him.

Tertius Pickard/AP
Demonstrators hold up images of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before a protest in Brisbane, Australia, on Friday.

Perhaps more than any other organization, the Pentagon is trying to figure out what, precisely, is contained in the so-called “thermonuclear” file that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has promised to share with the world if “something happens” to him or to his staff.

With the threat of Wikileaks releases looming earlier this year, the Defense Department made the decision to create a team of some 120 intelligence analysts to cull through files that they deemed Wikileaks most likely to have in its possession.

This hasn’t been particularly difficult, since military investigators have been able to conduct forensic searches of the computer that once belonged to Private First Class Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, while he was stationed in Iraq. Pfc. Manning has been charged with providing classified material to Wikileaks and has been held in solitary confinement since July at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.

Pentagon officials explained that the team’s first order of business as it reconstructed and culled through the documents that were most likely to have been leaked was to locate informants who worked with the US military. The team, Pentagon officials said, was prepared to warn these sources if their lives were at risk as a result of being named in the Wikileaks files.

This was ultimately unnecessary, according to the Pentagon, since Wikileaks redacted the names of the informants cited in the Iraq trove of hundreds of thousands of documents released in October – something it had not done, military officials pointed out, with the release of some 91,000 Afghanistan war documents last July.

Though the size of the Pentagon's Wikileaks team was cut in half, down to about 60 people, after the release of the Iraq War documents, it was bulked up once again in advance of the leaked State Department cables. Though senior military officials noted that the release of the documents would primarily impact the State Department, the Pentagon was concerned, too, that documents could affect the DOD if they included, for example, the names of US government intelligence sources, according to Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman.

Now the task force is working “to try to anticipate what might be in the ‘insurance’ file,” says Col. Lapan. To do this, the team members also have the resources of the Defense Intelligence Agency at their disposal.

Wikileaks supporters have downloaded the so-called “insurance” document from the web site. Assange has said that he will release a code to open it if anything happens to him or to his staff.

That file “would pose the same kind of threats” as previous leaks, says Lapan, in which senior US military officials warned that they could endanger the lives of US troops. Pentagon officials have speculated that Assange's "thermonuclear" option could include diplomatic cables about detainees held at the infamous Guantanamo Bay military detention center in Cuba.

“One thing we do know,” Lapan says, “is that the size of the file is very large.”

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