Pentagon braced for the release of 400,000 Iraq files on Wikileaks
The Pentagon is braced for its biggest-ever security breach of classified information as Wikileaks, the website that publishes leaked official documents, prepares to release 400,000 intelligence files related to the Iraq war.
A task force of 120 people has been assembled to assess the potential implications and damage of the disclosure of the documents, which promises to eclipse the recent release of more than 70,000 classified US military files on the Afghanistan war.
Col. Dave Lapan, the Pentagon spokesman, said the timing of the leak remained unclear but the Defence Department was ready for a document dump as early as Monday or Tuesday.
Some of the new data is said to be from a "tactical reports database" in Iraq that lists SIGACTS ("Significant activities") relating to major military operations, movement of personnel and alliances with key tribal figures and allies.
The Afghanistan release in July prompted, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to warn that WikiLeaks might cause the deaths of American troops and Afghan civilians named as cooperating with Nato forces because the documents contained names.
The documents detailed Nato concerns that the Pakistan intelligence services has backed the Taliban fight against US forces in Afghanistan, they also exposed an increasing number of Afghan civilians being killed by coalition troops. The leak also detailed how a secret "black" unit of special forces were allowed to hunt down and "capture or kill" Taliban leaders without trial.
But Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, said in a letter to the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the leak of classified information from Jan 2004 to Dec 2009 had not revealed any "sensitive intelligence sources or methods".
He added that disclosing the names of Afghans who had helped Nato could cause "significant harm or damage to national security interests of the United States".
The investigation into the Afghan war leak has centred on Private Bradley Manning, who worked as a US Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is already under arrest and charged with leaking a classified video of a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq.
Julian Assange, 39, the WikiLeaks founder, an Australian, has accused the Pentagon of seeking to destroy the website, which carries the slogan: "We open governments".
The website was launched four years ago and posts anonymous leaks of secret information online. The leaks have included the membership of the far-right British National Party and the email account of Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor.
Juan Zarate, a former Bush administration counter-terrorism official, told CBS News that the actions of WikiLeaks helped build distrust of the US government among allies. "Can you trust the U.S. government to not only hold information but to, you know, keep it safe?
"Internally, this also creates a chill in terms of information sharing within the US government - between intelligence services and the military, for example."