Despite its small stature, WikiLeaks flexes muscle
WikiLeaks’ decision to transfer tens of thousands of raw classified field reports on the Afghan war to The New York Times and two European news organizations reflects the growing strength and sophistication of the small nonprofit website, founded three years ago to fight what it considers excessive secrecy.
WikiLeaks.org founder Julian Assange called the release of nearly 92,000 individual reports portraying a sputtering Afghan war effort “the nearest analogue to the Pentagon Papers.”
He was referring to the secret military documents that helped shift public opinion about the Vietnam War after they became public in 1971.
“It provides a whole map, if you like, through time, of what has happened during this war,” Assange, a native of Australia, said in a television interview Sunday.
He acknowledged that some will judge harshly the website’s airing of classified documents, but he insisted that WikiLeaks was not breaking the law or putting troops at risk.
For the first time, WikiLeaks decided unilaterally to delay the release of some documents because of the possibility that putting them out immediately could cause harm, he said.
“We believe that the way to justice is transparency, and we are clear that the end goal is to expose injus- tices in the world and try to rectify them,” Assange said.
In a separate interview Monday, Assange said information in the documents about killings of Afghan civilians and covert operations appeared to offer evidence that would support criminal charges against members of the U.S.-led coalition.
The publication of the documents is expected to feed an appetite for greater disclosure about the war, now in its ninth year.
“People want more details,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation for American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “They want greater clarity and greater candor than they have gotten up to this point. WikiLeaks, in this case, has filled a void left by the Pentagon.”
The White House responded to the release of the documents with criticism.
“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” national security adviser James Jones said in a statement.
Officials are reviewing the documents to decide whether to take legal action against the site, a senior administration official said.