In what could mark the start of an accelerating backlash from the administration, the release of sensitive military documents by the WikiLeaks whistleblower website was attacked by senior Department of Defence officials.
The criticism by top DoD staff, such as Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, was also accompanied by an announcement that the military had asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help Pentagon authorities investigate the sources of the leak of the classified documents.
Describing the release as a “breach of national security”, Mr. Gates said the use of the FBI would ensure the investigation could go wherever it needed to go.
Regarding the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Admiral Mullen said, “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.”
Mr. Gates however expressed the opposite view on the importance of the documents, “These documents represent a mountain of raw data and individual impressions, most several years old, devoid of context or analysis... They do not represent official positions or policy.” He further emphasised that in his view, the documents’ revelations did not fundamentally call into question the efficacy of the allied strategy in Afghanistan and its prospects for success.
However, Secretary Gates noted that the 90,000-plus documents released by WikiLeaks still had battlefield consequences for United States, Afghan troops and civilians, and also may damage U.S. relationships in Central Asia and the Middle East.
In particular, Mr. Gates expressed concern that they might damage the U.S.’ relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Both nations remember that the U.S. walked away from the region in 1989, and U.S. military and civilian leaders have been trying hard since 2001 to repair those relationships and close the trust deficit,” he said.
Admiral Mullen corroborated this sentiment, noting, “In addition to making sure we understand the tactical risks from these leaks, I think it is incumbent upon us not to let the good relationships we have established and the trust we have worked so hard to build throughout the region also become a casualty.”
Leaked U.S. documents on the Afghan war has not only endangered lives of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but also has the potential to damage America's relationship with its allies and its global trustworthiness, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said.
"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. Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures, will become known to our adversaries," Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.
"This recent massive breach should be a reminder to all entrusted with U.S. secrets that there are potentially dramatic and grievously harmful consequences of violations of trust and responsibility. We will aggressively investigate and, wherever possible, prosecute such violations," Mr. Gates said referring to the leakage of 92,000 classified documents by WikiLeaks on the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Noting that he has spent most of his life in the intelligence business, where the sacrosanct principle is protecting one sources, Mr. Gates said that involves one sources trusting one to protect them and to protect their identities.
"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?" he said.
"You know, it's a funny thing, and especially for a so-called realist, but it's amazing how much trust matters in relationships, whether it's with governments or with individuals around the world," Mr. Gates said.
"It seems to me that, as a result of this massive breach of security, we have considerable repair work to do in terms of reassuring people and rebuilding trust because they - clearly, people are going to feel at risk," he noted.
"So I think one of the consequences of this kind of a breach, both for those who leak the information and those who post it online, that they don't perhaps think about."
The Defence Secretary said the U.S. has conversation with other governments beyond just Afghanistan and Pakistan in this regard. "But, frankly, I'm not familiar with the details of that," he said.