WikiLeaks.org‘s release of thousands of classified documents to three newspapers may have more impact on journalism than it will on bringing the war in Afghanistan to a swifter end.
The 92,000 military logs published in the New York Times, Britain’s the Guardian, and Germany’s Der Spiegel were compared to the Pentagon Papers, which in 1971 revealed that high-level government officials doubted the Vietnam War could be won.
But the WikiLeaks documents in large measure confirm what the Obama administration had already suggested: that Pakistan’s intelligence agency is rife with Taliban sympathizers. Indeed, even as he criticized WikiLeaks, a White House spokesman agreed that “safe havens” within Pakistan “pose an intolerable threat.”
Nearly 200 of the intelligence files released by WikiLeaks concern allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has been providing arms and training to the Taliban since 2004. The ISI, declaring its innocence, was indignant that the unsubstantiated charges were made public.
This country may have little choice but to work with the ISI so long as the war continues. And there have been changes in the seven months since the last document in the WikiLeaks logs was filed. There has been a troop surge, Gen. David H. Petraeus is the new U.S. commander, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton believes a stronger relationship with Pakistan is being formed.
A war-weary American public will be watching closely for proof of that, especially after release of the WikiLeaks logs. Many agree with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., that, “However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Questions are raised as well about WikiLeaks, which first gained notice in April after it released a video of a classified U.S. Army helicopter attack in Iraq in 2007 that shows soldiers laughing as their fire leaves about a dozen civilians dead. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder.”
Will journalism’s future include more ad-hoc investigative groups providing documents to newspapers for publication in this fashion? Gen. Jim Jones, White House national security adviser, complained that there was no contact by WikiLeaks prior to its posting the documents, a protocol expected from mainstream media.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he hopes to usher in an “age of the whistle-blower,” in which more people will come forward with information for public dissemination. He asserted no political agenda, but said he wanted the Afghanistan documents to focus the public on “the continuing deaths of civilians, children, and soldiers” in the war.
There was no bombshell in the WikiLeaks documents, but their release adds to the pressure to quit the war, one way or another.