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Biggest Leak In US Military History: WikiLeaks Posts Thousands Of Classified Docs On Afghan War

Early Sunday, in what is being called “one of the biggest leaks in US military history,” the whistleblower site WikiLeaks posted tens of thousands of classified “military field reports” about the Afghan war. According to the New York Times, the Times, the Guardian, and the German newspaper Der Spiegel were “given access to the voluminous records several weeks ago on the condition that they not report on the material before Sunday.”

Based on that access and reporting, which WikiLeaks was not involved in, the New York Times has published a series of articles today which are too lengthy to go through here in detail but, broadly speaking, conclude that the Afghan war is not going as well as official reports might lead the public to believe. You can read a rundown of what they reveal here.

Perhaps equally as interesting is how the Times decided what to report on from the thousands of classified documents they were given access to. The paper explains its thinking in a note to readers.

Deciding whether to publish secret information is always difficult, and after weighing the risks and public interest, we sometimes chose not to publish. But there are times when the information is of significant public interest, and this is one of those times. The documents illuminate the extraordinary difficulty of what the United States and its allies have undertaken in a way that other accounts have not.

Most of the incident reports are marked “secret,” a relatively low level of classification. The Times has taken care not to publish information that would harm national security interests. The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose — either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations.

You can read the Guardian’s report on the leaks here.

Update: The White House is not happy about this. At all. From Mike Allen.

White House National Security Adviser James Jones issued a statement that begins: “The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.

“Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.

The statement says nothing about the three newspapers that reported extensively on the leaks. However, in their note to readers the NYT does say that “to establish confidence in the information, The Times checked a number of the reports against incidents that had been publicly reported or witnessed by our own journalists. Government officials did not dispute that the information was authentic” suggesting that the government was at least aware these docs were out there and being examined.

Update #2: Michael Calderone confirms the administration was indeed aware the NYT had the documents. New York Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet tells Calderone: “I did in fact go the White House and lay out for them what we had…We did it to give them the opportunity to comment and react. They did. They also praised us for the way we handled it, for giving them a chance to discuss it, and for handling the information with care. And for being responsible.”

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