Military warns Afghanistan leak has put lives at risk
Probe under way amid fears for troops, agents and collaborators
The lives of informants and double agents have been placed at risk by the publishing of tens of thousands of secret military documents, US intelligence officials have said.
Col Dave Lapan, a US Defence Department spokes- man, said the military might need weeks to review all the records to determine "the potential damage to the lives of our service members and coalition partners".
US military analysts were examining the documents, which catalogue attacks on and by coalition forces in Afghanistan.
One of their chief concerns is to assess the potential damage to the intelligence network that has been built up over nearly a decade inside Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This includes such figures as Afghan village elders who have worked with US troops, and militants who have become double agents.
Wikileaks, the website that published the information, insists it has behaved responsibly, even withholding 15,000 records that are believed to include names of Afghans or Pakistanis who helped US troops on the ground.
But with the information gradually being uploaded on to the Wikileaks website, Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA, predicted that the Taliban would take anything that described a US strike and the intelligence behind it "and figure out who was in the room when that particular operation, say in 2008, was planned, and in whose home".
The militants would then likely punish the traitor who had worked with the Americans, he said.
Robert Riegle, a former senior intelligence officer, said: "It's possible that someone could get killed in the next few days."
The warning came as the Pentagon announced it had launched a criminal investigation into the leak, and described Bradley Manning, the army analyst in custody in relation to an earlier breach of security, as a "person of interest" in the case.
The 22-year-old private was arrested in May for leaking a video of a Baghdad air strike to Wikileaks.
Manning is believed to be held at a US military prison in Kuwait and is expected to face military trial overseas. An online support group has been set up to raise money for his defence.
In an online chat with a computer hacker, Manning boasted that he had used blank CDs to download information. He also claimed he had retrieved 260,000 diplomatic cables and a video of a US air strike in Afghanistan last year that killed dozens of civilians, that has not yet been released.
Experts said that his job would almost certainly have given him access to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, also known as SIPRNet, which hundreds of thousands of US military personnel, civilian employees and private contractors have access to. Information on the network is classed up to the level of "secret" and excludes the more sensitive "top secret" or "sensitive compartmented information" categories.
According to a recent US investigation, 854,000 people -- or nearly one and a half times the number of people who live in Washington -- have top-secret security clearance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)