MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Officials in the U.S. and other countries, as well as Taliban commanders and their sympathizers, have now had three days to go through the thousands of intelligence reports published this week by the group WikiLeaks.
At the Pentagon today, an angry Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the leak has done severe damage and announced his department would aggressively investigate to determine how it happened.
NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.
TOM GJELTEN: Secretary Gates had not spoken on the leak before, but on the Pentagon podium today, he did not mince words in describing the effect of WikiLeak's publishing tens of thousands of secret intelligence reports from the Afghan War.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world.
GJELTEN: The immediate concern has been those Afghans whose lives could be in danger if it's known they worked with U.S. and NATO forces.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has claimed that he and his colleagues took care not to reveal those identities, but many were exposed, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai pointed out today in Kabul.
President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): The names of such Afghans who have cooperated with the coalition NATO have been also revealed in these documents. This, indeed, is extremely irresponsible and shocking.
GJELTEN: In a TV interview this week, Assange acknowledged that some identities, in fact, may accidentally have been revealed, but he said the people killed in Afghanistan by U.S. and NATO forces is, quote, "a bigger problem," unquote. Assange has said his intent in publishing the secret documents was to affect the political will to change the course of war.
At the Pentagon today, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was withering in his response.
Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.
GJELTEN: Going forward, the U.S. concern is that the publication of classified information may make individuals and governments less likely to cooperate with U.S. and allied forces in the future. Defense Secretary Gates, a former CIA director, says the sacrosanct principle in the intelligence world is trust.
Sec. GATES: That is one of the worst aspects of this, as far as I'm concerned. Will people trust us? Will people whose lives are on the line trust us to keep their identities secret? Will other governments trust us to keep their documents and their intelligence secret?
GJELTEN: Intelligence officials often speak of the importance of protecting not only sources but also methods. Many of the documents released by WikiLeaks are so-called incident reports and describe in some detail operations that have taken place on the battlefield.
Retired Marine major general Michael Ennis, a former director of Human Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, says his concern, as an intelligence professional, would be that the field reports may include details the enemy could learn from.
Mr. MICHAEL ENNIS (Former Director, Human Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency): If it was revealed how a special operations team happened to come on a particular enemy post or position, using a tradecraft method of getting to that place or getting certain information, that's what I'm talking about - methods used at getting the information or methods used for finding the bad guys.
GJELTEN: American soldiers, of course, can also learn from the methods of fellow soldiers.
At the Pentagon, Gates says the handling of secret field reports will be reconsidered now with the goal of finding a balance between the benefit of sharing intelligence information and keeping it secure.
Sec. GATES: Should we change the way we approach that or do we continue to take the risk?
GJELTEN: The reports published by WikiLeaks are believed to have come from a low-level Army analyst stationed in Baghdad. Defense Secretary Gates says he's asked the FBI to help the Pentagon aggressively investigate this leak wherever it leads, and he says they will prosecute any violations of security wherever possible.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
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