'Guardian' Reporter Weighs In On Leaked Records
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
More this hour on the trove of leaked intelligence reports published by the group WikiLeaks yesterday. Most of the world has just had a day to start sifting through the documents, but three publications - The New York Times, the German magazine Der Spiegel and the British daily The Guardian - were granted early access.
We turn now to one of the reporters who's had a chance to look at the documents in detail.
SIEGEL: Declan Walsh is the Pakistan and Afghanistan correspondent for The Guardian. He's in London, where he has been reporting on these documents.
And, Declan Walsh, there's so much here. I'd just like to ask you about a couple of threads. One of them, the allegation that Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, is in collusion with the Taliban. What new evidence is there of that in these documents, and how strong is that evidence?
NORRIS: The real question is how seriously one should take all of these reports. A lot of them appear to have been sourced either from Afghan intelligence officials, who have traditionally a long history of rivalry with the ISI, or from paid informers. So, really, it's very difficult to know from this great mass of reports and some very sensational allegations.
Some of the reports say that the ISI plotted to kill the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, that they smuggled weapons and ammunition and surface-to-air missiles into Afghanistan in order to shoot down NATO warplanes.
So these are very serious allegations, but there's such a mass of them that it's hard to know which ones one should actually take seriously, and that's the problem within this group.
SIEGEL: Now, I also read an account in one of these documents of Osama bin Laden holding regular meetings as recently as 2006 with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and others in attendance to plan suicide bombings, 2006. CIA Director Leon Panetta has said the last time the CIA had good intelligence on bin Laden's location was in the early 2000s. Does that suggest to you that what we read here in the 2006 threat report is information that the CIA probably does not regard as good intelligence?
NORRIS: I think it probably does. And, you know, there's a number of references to Osama bin Laden. Again, a lot of them seemed to be barely credible. The meeting that you're referring to was described as a meeting with Osama bin Laden, the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, and his two deputies, Mullah Baradar and Mullah Dadullah.
And now, most experts believe that it's highly unlikely that even if those four individuals were inclined to meet that they actually would sit in the same room if only for security reasons.
There's a number of other references to Osama bin Laden in the files. In one, there's a report that he flew to North Korea with an insurgent leader in 2005 in order to shop for rockets to use against the coalition in Afghanistan. There are also reports that an insurgent commander had created a poison powder that would be added to the food of coalition soldiers, and he called that Osama Kapa.
SIEGEL: In that particular report, the detail of the person who was distributing this powder not only has his name and height, the appearance of his eyes, the address of his store, which he locks whenever the police are in, remarkable detail about the person who allegedly was distributing Osama Kapa.
NORRIS: That's right. Experts who have looked over these reports for us have told us that, paradoxically, sometimes the more detail you see in a report, the less likely it is to be true.
People who are giving this information are creating very elaborate stories in order to affect an air of plausibility. Whereas in actual fact, you know, this just may not have been true at all.
SIEGEL: Which raises the question, I mean, is the quality of the information in this huge leak in line with its quantity? That is do you, as someone who covers Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan, do you find yourself, having been immersed in all of this for weeks, revising your view of what you cover or having some more detail, some dubious detail about what it is you write about?
NORRIS: What these reports have provided is a greatly textured picture of the war from the perspective of the soldiers on the ground who are writing these reports. There are intelligence reports of greatly varied quality. Some appear to be good. A lot of them seem to be highly dubious.
On the other hand, the accounts of American soldiers' own lives, you know, of engagements with the Taliban, those appear to be relatively honest accounts, and they certainly provide some very striking details about the chaos of war, of the difficult decisions people have to make, of the misunderstandings that often have very serious consequences in places like Afghanistan.
SIEGEL: Declan Walsh, thanks a lot for talking with us.
NORRIS: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: Declan Walsh spoke to us from London, where he's been working on The Guardian's release of the WikiLeaks Afghan documents. He is their correspondent covering Pakistan and Afghanistan.