WikiLeaks has posted a massive collection of classified documents pertaining to the war in Iraq on the web. As it did with a previous leak of documents concerning Afghanistan, it provided them in advance to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel. The Pentagon has strongly condemned the disclosure. It is also attempting to minimize the significance of the breach. A Pentagon statement says that the purloined documents:
are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story. That said, the period covered by these reports has been well chronicled in news stories, books and films, and the release of these field reports does not bring new understanding to Iraq’s past.
Is this pure spin by the military? Perhaps—but perhaps it is not. Indeed, partial support for the Pentagon’s contention comes from an unimpeachable (at least in this instance) source: the New York Times. The Times has had an opportunity to scrutinize the documents in depth and finds that they “provide no earthshaking revelations.” What they do offer, says the paper, is “insight, texture and context from the people actually fighting the war.”
To be sure, the number of documents that have been posted is itself earthshaking: 391,832. Even if the Times has not yet found them, a trove that size might well contain surprises that fundamentally alter our picture of the war in some important way.
The real question is whether, in exchange for a bit of “insight, texture, and context” into the war, the breach has placed lives at risk. On this score the Pentagon statement is very grim. The leak, it says, exposes:
secret information that could make our troops even more vulnerable to attack in the future. Just as with the leaked Afghan documents, we know our enemies will mine this information, looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment. This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed.
If this is true, much like Philip Agee, the renegade CIA officer who in the 1970’s went around exposing the identities of undercover CIA agents, WikiLeaks is acting as an enemy of our democracy. Even if our laws cannot reach it, it should be treated accordingly.