Pentagon Blasts Leak Of Afghan Documents

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the leak could endanger U.S. and allied troops and damage U.S. relationships with other governments.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

For three days the Pentagon kept largely silent about the leak of tens of thousands of intelligence documents from the war in Afghanistan. But yesterday both the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff let loose.

They said the leak could endanger U.S. and allied troops and damage U.S. relations with other governments.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has been following this story and he joins us now to talk more about it. Good morning.

TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: One of the more dramatic comments came from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He said that WikiLeaks and its source, and I'm quoting him, might already have on their hands the blood of a young soldier or an Afghan family.

GJELTEN: That's right, Renee. What Admiral Mullen was referring to is the fact that dozens and dozens of Afghans who have provided information to the United States were identified by name in these reports. And of course that could subject them to reprisals from the Taliban. This is the kind of thing they were talking about when they said that the disclosure of documents could be damaging to intelligence source and also to methods. And by methods they're referring to the little kind of operational details everything from how U.S. forces move around to how they communicate with each other.

You know, it's not that these documents reveal any great secrets, military plans, what the United States is up to it's these matters of sources and methods, the disclosure of which in their opinion could be damaging to U.S. interests.

MONTAGNE: Is there evidence yet of the actual effect this leak has had?

GJELTEN: Well, Renee, the Pentagon says they don't know that yet. They are now trying to track down some of these individuals who were named in the reports. But they say it's not just a matter of what's happening now. It's more how this might affect things in the future, the willingness of individuals and other governments to cooperate. Will they trust the United States to protect the confidentiality of their partnerships in the future? That's a question. And in this regard, Renee, I was struck by something Secretary Gates said yesterday. You know, he comes from the so-called realist school of national security thinking, which is the opposite of the touchy-feely school. Realists say things like we have no permanent friends in the world, only permanent interests. But Gates wanted to talk about a kind of touchy-feely subject trust. He even admitted it sounded a little strange coming from him, but then he said this.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): It's amazing how much trust matters, whether it's with governments or with individuals around the world. And it seems to me that as a result of this massive breach of security we have considerable repair work to do in terms of rebuilding trust, because people are going to feel at risk.

GJELTEN: And Renee, that's the issue for the future. A lot of folks, a lot of governments, may be embarrassed by this disclosure. Those relationships will need to be rebuilt.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, what more do we know about how this leak happened?

GJELTEN: Well, suspicion is centering on a 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst, PFC Bradley Manning. He's already under arrest for a separate leak of classified information, allegedly, to WikiLeaks.

But the Pentagon won't say anything more. Secretary Gates yesterday said he had called FBI Director Robert Mueller. He says there is now a joint Pentagon-FBI investigation. He says the investigation will be aggressive and they will prosecute wherever possible.

MONTAGNE: And just finally, any sign yet of any changes in Pentagon intelligence procedures as a result of this?

GJELTEN: That's another issue that's under consideration. Secretary Gates did call attention to one issue. For the last 10 or 15 years the Pentagon has had a policy of putting a lot of intelligence in the hands of soldiers on the front lines in the belief that the more they know about what's going on, the better they can fight.

And Secretary Gates said yesterday they now recognize that policy raises some security risks. Going forward they're going to have to decide how to balance those concerns.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much. NPR's Tom Gjelten.

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