Pentagon threatens to 'compel' WikiLeaks to hand over Afghan war data

With WikiLeaks on the verge of publishing another cache of secret Afghan war documents 20 times larger than its original leak, the Pentagon said Thursday that it may 'compel them to do the right thing.'

Max Nash/AP
Founder of the WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, faces the media during a debate event, held in London July 27.

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With WikiLeaks now threatening to publish thousands more classified documents on the US war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is demanding that the whistleblower website erase its extensive classified records and hand over all documents in its possession.

"The only acceptable course is for WikiLeaks to take steps to immediately return all versions of all of those documents to the US government and permanently delete them from its website, computers, and records," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Thursday, according to the Guardian.

He added: "If doing the right thing is not good enough for them, then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing."

The White House had condemned the leak immediately after it appeared July 25, with National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones issuing a statement at the time that it "could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."

But now, with WikiLeaks threatening to release more classified documents, the Pentagon is upping the pressure. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Morrell’s appeal is the Obama administration’s latest response to the disclosure, which has set off a criminal inquiry by the Army and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prompted a sweeping Pentagon review of the documents to hunt for any information damaging to troop safety and national security, and increased pressure on President Obama to defend his war strategy.

Adding to the urgency is that Wikileaks recently posted to its website a massive, encrypted file labeled "Insurance," which is 20 times larger than its last leak. Some speculate this latest file could be the 15,000 intelligence reports that Wikileaks purports to have and says it's holding back for vetting. Other guess they could be 260,000 diplomatic cables accessed by the now-imprisoned Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, the Associated Press reports.

Manning has been quoted as saying that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would "have a heart attack" when these files go public, and that they show "almost criminal political back dealings."

Some further speculate that WikiLeaks may be using the threat to publish more files as "insurance" should the government go after their staff or shut down their website, Al Jazeera reports.

Pentagon spokesman Morrell further criticized WikiLeaks for encouraging US insiders to engage in espionage. He called the website a "brazen solicitation to US government officials, including our military, to break the law," Al Jazeera adds.

But legal experts say that, other than going after individuals responsible for the leaks, there is little that the Pentagon can do, according to CNN. The opportunities to leak material has multiplied in the Internet era, compounded by the fact that the US military and 16 intelligence agencies are classifying more information and that more than 854,000 Americans have top-secret clearances, according to a recent Washington Post investigation.

"The classifying of information has gone way up – it's doubled or tripled since these wars began – and then we have nearly nine years and counting of Afghanistan and Iraq and the controversial practices associated with them," Coleen Rowley, a former field-office legal counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation told The Christian Science Monitor.

WikiLeaks appears to be showing some restraint in what it publishes. Founder Julian Assange has said that the organization is redacting names of those who could be harmed in the 15,000 documents that could be leaked. Through The New York Times, the group has asked the Obama administration to guide it on what should be redacted, CNN reports.

Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst with the Federation of American Scientists who directs their Project on Government Secrecy, told National Public Radio that WikiLeaks made a "very important concession" to redact certain names and details from documents. "It means that transparency is not the unique and overriding value but that it needs to be factored in along with others, such as security and privacy."

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