USA — Pentagon Demands WikiLeaks Return Stolen Documents

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)

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