Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers
March 17, 2010
To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added WikiLeaks.org, a tiny online source of information and documents that governments and corporations around the world would prefer to keep secret.
The Pentagon assessed the danger WikiLeaks.org posed to the Army in a report marked “unauthorized disclosure subject to criminal sanctions.” It concluded that “WikiLeaks.org represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC and INFOSEC threat to the U.S. Army” — or, in plain English, a threat to Army operations and information.
WikiLeaks, true to its mission to publish materials that expose secrets of all kinds, published the 2008 Pentagon report about itself on Monday.
Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed that the report was real. Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, said the concerns the report raised were hypothetical.
“It did not point to anything that has actually happened as a result of the release,” Mr. Assange said. “It contains the analyst’s best guesses as to how the information could be used to harm the Army but no concrete examples of any real harm being done.”
WikiLeaks, a nonprofit organization, has rankled governments and companies around the world with its publication of materials intended to be kept secret. For instance, the Army’s report says that in 2008, access to the Web site in the United States was cut off by court order after Bank Julius Baer, a Swiss financial institution, sued it for publishing documents implicating Baer in money laundering, grand larceny and tax evasion. Access was restored after two weeks, when the bank dropped its case.
Governments, including those of North Korea and Thailand, also have tried to prevent access to the site and complained about its release of materials critical of their governments and policies.
The Army’s interest in WikiLeaks appears to have been spurred by, among other things, its publication and analysis of classified and unclassified Army documents containing information about military equipment, units, operations and “nearly the entire order of battle” for American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in April 2007.
WikiLeaks also published an outdated, unclassified copy of the “standard operating procedures” at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. WikiLeaks said the document revealed methods by which the military prevented prisoners from meeting with the International Red Cross and the use of “extreme psychological stress” as a means of torture.
The Army’s report on WikiLeaks does not say whether WikiLeaks’ analysis of that document was accurate. It does charge that some of WikiLeaks’s other interpretation of information is flawed but does not say specifically in what way.
The report also airs the Pentagon’s concern over some 2,000 pages of documents WikiLeaks released on equipment used by coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon concluded that such information could be used by foreign intelligence services, terrorist groups and others to identify vulnerabilities, plan attacks and build new devices.
WikiLeaks, which won Amnesty International’s new media award in 2009, almost closed this year because it was broke and still operates at less than its full capacity. It relies on donations from humans rights groups, journalists, technology buffs and individuals, and Mr. Assange said it had raised just two-thirds of the $600,000 needed for its budget this year and thus was not publishing everything it had.
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of the Army’s report, to Mr. Assange, was its speculation that WikiLeaks is supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. “I only wish they would step forward with a check if that’s the case,” he said.