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Pentagon: Wikileaks file-dump didn't reveal anything important

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It was revealed over the weekend that in the judgement of US defence secretary Robert Gates, the much-hyped Wikileaks dump earlier this year of military files regarding the war in Afghanistan did not compromise "any sensitive intelligence sources and methods", though it had endangered the lives of US troops and Afghans cooperating with them.

The Pentagon was also said to be anticipating the next file release, this time primarily focused on the war in Iraq, perhaps as soon as this week. The US defense department reportedly has as many as 120 analysts ready to trawl through the released documents in order to assess possible damage to operational or national security.

This new assessment of the Afghan file dump's importance came at the weekend when US media released a letter written by Secretary Gates in August. According to Reuters, Gates - reporting on the data leak to the Senate Armed Services Committee - wrote:

"The review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure."

Mainstream media cooperating with Wikileaks on the Afghan files struggled to pull much of significance from them, and there was heavy criticism for the revelation of information including map coordinates which could have been used by insurgents to target Afghans cooperating with NATO forces. Overall the leak has turned out to be a damp squib, with the subsequent media narrative focused on the personal eccentricities of colourful Wikileaks mouthpiece Julian Assange.

Wikileaks has announced that it will release a further vast file pile shortly, and it is known that once again mainstream media organisations are helping the site's personnel trawl through the files for information of interest - and to redact data which might endanger lives.

The Pentagon for its part has demanded that Wikileaks return classified information in its possession and delete any copies. Assange has also alleged that US intelligence services are acting covertly against the site and against him personally. He has suggested that government agencies stand behind the rape charges he now faces in Sweden and recent funding problems suffered by Wikileaks.

The US military authorities say they are ready for the next file dump, and will go through it thoroughly to assess its impact - if any - with a large team of analysts now ready for the task.

"It's the same team we put together after the publication of the (Afghan war documents)," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told Reuters at the weekend. That, according to the Colonel, could involve up to 120 personnel - depending on the size of the data dump.

Lapan also told the newswire that the Pentagon believes it knows just which documents Wikileaks has. This is plausible: while Wikileaks has not explicitly disclosed its source, the Afghan and Iraq files are widely believed to have been passed to the site by a junior US Army soldier, Bradley Manning. Manning is now in military custody facing charges of computer misuse and communicating classified information to unauthorised persons, and military investigators have had ample time to find out what files he passed on.

Manning was arrested by US military police in May, reportedly following a tip-off from a former hacker named Adrian Lamo whom he had contacted on the internet. According to Lamo's account, the soldier was "basically trying to vacuum up as much classified information as he could, and just throwing it up into the air".

Manning is also thought to have supplied footage from US attack helicopters above Baghdad in 2007, released separately by Wikileaks earlier this year, in which gunfire from the aircraft killed Reuters journalists and hit other unarmed civilians including children. The US military had previously assessed the incident and cleared the aircrews involved: noting that US ground troops had come under massive attack nearby just prior to the incident and that armed men were also struck.

Certainly the 2007 helicopter gunfire killed and injured very few innocent bystanders compared to many other aerial bombardments (for example the one described below) seen in recent years which attracted little or no coverage. The story, as with most Wikileaks stories, would actually seem to have been about Wikileaks rather than the information it provided. ®

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