The U.S. Defense Department demanded WikiLeaks return secret military reports from Afghanistan leaked to the website and purge all copies from their records, including tens of thousands of reports already publicly posted.
“We want whatever they have returned to us and we want whatever copies they have expunged,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters today at a news briefing.
“We demand that they do the right thing,” he said. “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.”
Conceived as an electronic dead drop for confidential documents, WikiLeaks.org receives material that governments and businesses seek to keep secret and publishes them so that they remain in the public domain forever.
The website published more than 91,000 secret U.S. military reports from Afghanistan. Reports on the memos appeared July 25 in the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine.
Publication of these classified records has “already threatened the safety of our troops, our allies and Afghan citizens who are working with us to help bring about peace and stability in that part of the world,” Morrell said at the Pentagon today.
‘Working Through It’
Morrell told reporters later that the U.S. is not yet ready to say that its troops’ lives were endangered by the release.
“If you are saying to me ‘do we know of any instance when a name has been exposed and that person has been killed’ -- no,” he said. “We are still working through it,” he said. “We are not ready to make pronouncements.”
Still, publishing the documents offers an opportunity to “look at how we do business and start to do pattern analysis, how we cultivate sources, how we move, how we engage,” he said. “You learn potentially damaging things about how we work.”
The classified documents in WikiLeaks possession are “stolen property,” Morrell said. “The only rightful owner of these documents is the U.S. government.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said July 28 that the Justice Department, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is investigating the source of the leaks. Whether criminal charges are brought depends on the course of the probe, he said.
Morrell demanded that WikiLeaks stop soliciting classified documents.
“WikiLeaks’ public assertion that submitting confidential material to WikiLeaks is safe, easy and protected by law is materially false and misleading,” Morrell said.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange did not immediately respond to efforts to contact him by e-mail and telephone.
Assange said in an interview from London on July 27 that his aim in posting documents that governments and businesses try to keep secret is to “produce positive reform.” WikiLeaks vets every item it posts through a “harm-minimalization process,” Assange said in an earlier interview with Britain’s Channel 4 television that aired July 25.
Morrell said a task force of 80 personnel has been reviewing the posted records 24 hours a day, running about 400 keyword searches so far to look for areas of “particular concern.” The group, which may grow to 100 or 125 intelligence analysts and other personnel, will then comb the documents in more detail, he said.
Commanders in the field are notified of possible risks to personnel or civilians so the forces can take any action necessary to protect the potential targets, Morrell said.