WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is demanding that WikiLeaks immediately return the stolen military documents in its possession, including 15,000 documents that the website has not yet published, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here yesterday.
The department also wants the whistle-blower website to permanently delete all versions of these documents, which contain classified and sensitive information, from its website, computers and records, Morrell told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
“We are asking them to do the right thing,” he said. “This is the appropriate course of action, given the damage that has already been done.”
The website recently published tens of thousands of classified documents spanning the January 2004 to December 2009 time frame. The documents detail field reports from Afghanistan and an alleged Pakistani partnership with the Taliban, and also include names of Afghan informants who work or have worked with the U.S. military.
Last week’s disclosure “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.
Recent reports claim that WikiLeaks asked the department for help in reviewing these documents before releasing them to the public as part of a “harm minimization exercise,” Morrell said.
“WikiLeaks has made no such request directly to the Department of Defense,” he said.
The Defense Department is not yet sure which 15,000 documents the site is referring to, Morrell said. “We have some ideas and are doing some proactive work … in the event that the documents we suspect they could be are indeed the documents they are threatening to post,” he said, adding that the public disclosure of additional documents can only exacerbate the damage.
Defense officials further are demanding that WikiLeaks cease its “brazen solicitation” of U.S. government officials, including the military, to break the law, Morrell said. If WikiLeaks does not comply with these demands, he added, Pentagon officials will look to other options to “compel them to do the right thing.”
“This is an appropriate first step,” Morrell said. “We will cross the next bridge when we come to it.”
The incident is a matter of interest to the U.S. government as a whole, not just the military, Morrell said. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asked the FBI to investigate early on, and the Justice Department also is involved. The Pentagon has a task force of more than 80 experts — from the Defense Department as well as other agencies — working around the clock to find issues of concern, he said.
When necessary, officials are notifying the appropriate entities, such as commanders in Afghanistan, Morrell said, and the Defense Department also is taking measures internally to reinforce existing rules and guidelines and boost vigilance.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, condemned the leaks during a Pentagon briefing July 29.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)