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WikiLeaks: Afghan war logs will get people killed

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27 July 2010 13:49

Make no mistake — people in Afghanistan will die because WikiLeaks has chosen to publish classified military documents this week. Let me explain why.

WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange was asked in a press conference yesterday whether he thought his actions would compromise soldiers on the ground. His reply? 'There’s no tactically significant information in this material. We have looked at it'.

Wrong.

There is plenty of tactical information in these documents that will have the Taliban rubbing their hands together with glee. Some of the documents provide an insight into the way that tactical units communicate and think. Some provide an insight into support responses available to tactical units. One document I saw details a tactical weapon capability that the Taliban did not previously know about. Our own soldiers in Afghanistan will need to tread more carefully because of what WikiLeaks has done.

Intelligence sources in Afghanistan will need to tread carefully too. Some of the documents released detail intelligence that could only have come from human intelligence sources. The Taliban, like the mafia, are pretty good at tracking back leaks. They'll pore through these WikiLeaks reports, work out who said what and when, and recriminations will inevitably take place. You'll hear nothing from WikiLeaks over the coming months as Afghan intelligence sources dry up and our troops set out on patrol with less information about the threat they are facing.

Speaking yesterday at London's Frontline Club, Julian Assange proudly declared 'this will give us an intellectual understanding of the war'. Assange is a computer hacker by trade, someone who thrives in the tightly controlled computer environment where equations are mathematical and consequences are linear and predictable. He speaks like a computer hacker too — with a strangely indifferent cool manner, which just barely hides a lack of emotion and a touch of arrogance. In the computer world where consequences are predictable, hacking can be a purely intellectual exercise. Not so in the military world.

I'm not a medical professional, so I wouldn't trust myself to pick up a medical chart and deliver a prognosis to a seriously ill patient. Assange though, presumes that there is no need to possess any military professional knowledge to understand highly technical military documents. Assange speaks about things he doesn't understand and doesn't care to understand. It's probable that there is no one with any meaningful professional military experience on Assange's team, and hence no one with a critical military eye to help judge what can safely be released and what can't.

The brilliant satirist Stephen Colbert is the only journalist to date who has been seriously critical of Assange and WikiLeaks' work. Colbert interviewed Assange after the release of the WikiLeak 'Collateral Murder' tape and questioned the objectiveness of Assange's leaking. Colbert noted 'You have edited this tape, and you have given it a title called Collateral Murder. That's not leaking, that’s pure editorial'.

Assange cloaks himself in the right to free speech and the responsibility to increase transparency yet concedes that his announcements are designed to generate maximum political impact. By contrast, Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a considered insider who understood extremely well exactly what he was leaking and why.

The WikiLeaks documents aren’t the Pentagon Papers. They are the electronic equivalent of a child yelling 'fire' in a crowded movie theatre.

Photo by Flickr user biatchOr, used under a Creative Commons licence.

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