WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange said Thursday his organization is preparing to release the rest of the secret Afghan war documents it has on file. The Pentagon warned that would be even more damaging than the organization’s initial release of some 76,000 war files.
That extraordinary disclosure, which laid bare classified military documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010, has angered U.S. officials, drawn the attention of the Taliban, and energized critics of the NATO-led campaign.
The U.S. military has accused WikiLeaks of endangering the lives of soldiers and informants in the field and demanded that the group refrain from publishing any more secret data.
Speaking via videolink to London’s Frontline Club, Assange said he had no intention of complying. He gave no specific timeframe for their release, but he said that his organization was about halfway through 15,000 or so secret files previously held back from publication.
“We’re about 7,000 reports in,” he said, describing the process of combing through the files to ensure that no Afghans would be hurt by their disclosure as “very expensive and very painstaking.”
Still, he told the audience that he would “absolutely” publish them. He gave no indication whether he would give the documents to media outlets The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel — as he has before — or simply dump them on the Wikileaks website.
Assange is under pressure from U.S. authorities, who have thrown the resources of the military and the FBI into investigating the source of his scoop. The Pentagon has a task force of about 100 people reading the leaked documents to assess the damage done and working, for instance, to alert Afghans who might be identified by name and now could be in danger.
Taliban spokesmen have said they would use the material to try to hunt down people who’ve been cooperating with what the Taliban considers a foreign invader. Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, accused Wikileaks of recklessness on Thursday.
Jean-Francois Julliard, the group’s secretary-general, said that WikiLeaks showed “incredible irresponsibility” when posting the documents online.
“WikiLeaks has in the past played a useful role by making information available … that exposed serious violations of human rights and civil liberties which the Bush administration committed in the name of its war against terror,” Julliard said in an open letter to Assange posted to his group’s website.
“But revealing the identity of hundreds of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan is highly dangerous.”
WikiLeaks, through its account on micro-blogging website Twitter, dismissed the letter as “some idiot statement, based on a bunch of quotes we never made.”
Human rights groups have also expressed discomfort with the disclosure, although in his discussion with other panelists in London Assange suggested the criticism had been exaggerated.
While he acknowledged that some of the critiques leveled at his group were legitimate, he said the Pentagon — as well as human rights groups — had so far refused to help WikiLeaks purge the name of Afghan informants from the files.
U.S. officials seemed to corroborate his statement. At the State Department, spokesman Mark Toner said he was not aware of any effort by department officials to contact WikiLeaks or take any action to stop it from publishing more classified U.S. documents.
Defense Department spokesman Col. David Lapan dismissed WikiLeaks’ claims that they were reviewing the documents and removing information that could harm civilians.
“They don’t have the expertise to determine what might be too sensitive to publish,” he said. As for when the Pentagon expected WikiLeaks to release the documents, Lapan said: “WikiLeaks is about as predictable as North Korea.”
In the meanwhile, the U.S. has also reportedly urged its allies to look into Assange and his international network of activists, although it’s not clear how aggressive Washington has been in prodding its foreign friends.
Earlier Thursday the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told The Associated Press that Washington had not approached the his government about pursuing possible criminal charges against Assange, an Australian citizen, or about putting restrictions on his travel.
“Quite clearly we’re working closely with the United States on these matters,” Smith said, citing Australia’s Defense Department and the Pentagon as the agencies working together. “These are very serious matters for concern.”
Australia, which has some 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, has already launched its own investigation into whether posting classified military documents had compromised the national interest or endangered soldiers.