Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help the Pentagon investigate the leak of secret U.S. documents on the war in Afghanistan.
The leaking of the documents published by WikiLeaks.org is “potentially severe and dangerous” for U.S. troops and their allies in the war, Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing today.
“It is important that we have all the resources we need to investigate and assess this breach of national security,” Gates said. “We will aggressively investigate and wherever possible prosecute.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday during a visit to Cairo that the Justice Department, which includes the FBI, is investigating the source of the leaks. Whether criminal charges are brought depends on the course of the probe, he said.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assailed Julian Assange, founder of the website that published more than 91,000 secret U.S. military reports from Afghanistan.
“Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good that he thinks he and his source think they are doing,” said Mullen, who joined Gates at the briefing. “But the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”
Gates said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to provide security for anyone who may be in danger as a result of the leak, and that the Pentagon is reviewing its rules for safeguarding classified information.
Gates cited Assange’s statements that he still has thousands of documents that he hasn’t released.
“This is a huge amount of raw data,” Gates said. Most of it is “several years old,” he said. The “problems identified” have been “well-known” and were among the reasons for the president’s decision to change the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan, he said.
Like Mullen, he was critical of all those involved in leaking the documents. “There is no accountability, no sense of responsibility,” he said.
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.
A theme in the reports is allegations that Pakistan’s main spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, secretly aided the Taliban and allied Islamic militant rebels whom the U.S. is trying to defeat in neighboring Afghanistan.
Mullen, who just returned from a visit to Pakistan, said relations have improved between Pakistan’s intelligence leaders and their U.S. counterparts.
The country’s military and its intelligence apparatus are gradually shifting to view militant groups as more of a threat rather than focusing solely on Pakistan’s traditional rivalry with India, he said.
“There have been elements of the ISI that have got a relationship with extremist organizations,” Mullen said. “We consider that unacceptable. In the long run, I think that the ISI has to strategically shift.”
Gates said he has seen a “dramatic change” in Pakistan’s actions, including putting 140,000 troops behind the fight against insurgents on its own territory.
“If you had asked me would they be aggressively pursuing the Taliban in South Waziristan a year or two ago, I would have thought that impossible,” Gates said.
Still, Gates said, he isn’t surprised Pakistan might hedge its bets by forming alliances in case the U.S. leaves the region, as it did before.
“They vividly remember us walking out in 1989 and being left to deal with their security situation on their own,” he said.