USA — Leakers, Publishers May Have Blood on Hands, Mullen Says

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2010 — Those who leaked clas­si­fied doc­u­ments to Wik­iLeaks and those who decid­ed to pub­lish them may have blood on their hands, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

The Wik­iLeaks orga­ni­za­tion made pub­lic tens of thou­sands of clas­si­fied bat­tle­field reports. 

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates con­demned the leak in the strongest pos­si­ble man­ner. Gates said he has asked the FBI to help Pen­ta­gon author­i­ties in the investigation. 

The chair­man chal­lenged the moti­va­tion of Julian Assange, the founder of Wik­iLeaks, to pub­lish the leaked documents. 

“Mr. Assange can say what­ev­er he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young sol­dier or that of an Afghan fam­i­ly,” Mullen said. 

Peo­ple can rea­son­ably dis­agree about the war and they can chal­lenge com­man­ders for their deci­sions, “but don’t put those who will­ing­ly go into harm’s way even fur­ther in harm’s way just to sat­is­fy your need to make a point,” the chair­man said. 

Gates said the more than 90,000 doc­u­ments that have been post­ed are old, and cov­er mate­r­i­al already well known and debat­ed. Still, he said, the release has bat­tle­field con­se­quences for U.S. and Afghan troops and Afghan civil­ians and also may dam­age U.S. rela­tion­ships in Cen­tral Asia and the Mid­dle East. 

Intel­li­gence sources and meth­ods, as well as mil­i­tary tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures, will become known to U.S. adver­saries, the sec­re­tary said. 

“These doc­u­ments rep­re­sent a moun­tain of raw data and indi­vid­ual impres­sions, most sev­er­al years old, devoid of con­text or analy­sis,” Gates said. “They do not rep­re­sent offi­cial posi­tions or pol­i­cy. And they do not, in my view, fun­da­men­tal­ly call into ques­tion the effi­ca­cy of our cur­rent strat­e­gy in Afghanistan and its prospects for success.” 

Defense Depart­ment offi­cials will con­duct a thor­ough and aggres­sive inves­ti­ga­tion to deter­mine how this leak occurred, to iden­ti­fy who is respon­si­ble and to assess the con­tent of the infor­ma­tion com­pro­mised, Gates said. “We have a moral respon­si­bil­i­ty to do every­thing pos­si­ble to mit­i­gate the con­se­quences for our troops and our part­ners down­range, espe­cial­ly those who have worked with and put their trust in us in the past, who now may be tar­get­ed for ret­ri­bu­tion,” Gsaid he added. 

Mullen said the sheer size and scope of the leak demands a care­ful review see how future tac­ti­cal oper­a­tions may be affect­ed, and the degree to which the lives of U.S. and coali­tion troops and Afghan part­ners may be at risk. “I think we always need to be mind­ful of the unknown poten­tial for dam­age in any par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ment that we han­dle,” the chair­man said. Call­ing on the FBI to aid the inves­ti­ga­tion ensures that the depart­ment will have all the resources need­ed to inves­ti­gate and assess this breach of nation­al secu­ri­ty, the sec­re­tary said, not­ing that use of the bureau ensures the inves­ti­ga­tion can go wher­ev­er it needs to go. 

The Defense Depart­ment also is tight­en­ing pro­ce­dures for access­ing and trans­port­ing clas­si­fied information. 

“As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion, we endeav­or to push access to sen­si­tive bat­tle­field infor­ma­tion down to where it is most use­ful – on the front lines – where, as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, there are few­er restric­tions and con­trols than at rear head­quar­ters,” Gates said. “In the wake of this inci­dent, it will be a real chal­lenge to strike the right bal­ance between secu­ri­ty and pro­vid­ing our front­line troops the infor­ma­tion they need.” 

The doc­u­ments may also dam­age U.S. rela­tion­ships with Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Gates said both nations remem­ber that the Unit­ed States walked away from the region in 1989, and U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian lead­ers have been try­ing hard since 2001 to repair those rela­tion­ships and close the trust deficit. 

“If we’ve learned noth­ing else in fight­ing these wars, it’s that rela­tion­ships mat­ter,” Mullen said. 

These rela­tion­ships are vital, Mullen said, and some of the doc­u­ments may encour­age dis­trust. “So in addi­tion to mak­ing sure we under­stand the tac­ti­cal risks from these leaks,” he said, “I think it’s incum­bent upon us not to let the good rela­tion­ships we’ve estab­lished and the trust we’ve worked so hard to build through­out the region also become a casualty.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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