Given the response to my last entry about the journalistic failures of WikiLeaks, I did my best to ignore this topic. With the level of insanity around the topic today, I can no longer ignore it. If the striking through of my first statements in response to “Collateral Murder” confuses you, allow me to be clear. In no way do I support WikiLeaks. On the surface they appear as a beacon of transparency in a sea of opacity that is the flow of information. If one even chips that surface something far less noble is found. Their continuous claim that as an organization they have attained true objectivity and responsibility in reporting is utterly ridiculous. Cherry picking raw data and packaging it for release as a sensationalized editorial piece is neither objective nor responsible.
In this latest leak, tens of thousands of classified documents from Afghanistan were leaked. From what I have read, and I did admittedly get quite bored somewhere around the 10,000th report, these are almost entirely SIGACT reports. A SIGACT is any report of “significant activity” in an area of operations (AO). What exactly constitutes a SIGACT varies from commander to commander. If Private Joe Snuffy is in an outpost and a traffic officer fires 3 rounds from his AK47 into the sky instead of using a whistle (a practice common in Baqubah during my first tour in Iraq) chances are that action constitutes a SIGACT to his commander. It means absolutely nothing but it will be reported anyway.
The above example is exactly the sort of SIGACT found in the vast majority of the Afghanistan leaks. Several of the reports are of such little relevance that I can assure you, having recorded tens of thousands of SIGACTS myself, the next higher echelon wondered why anyone even wasted the breath to relay the message. This is not to say the entirety of the leaked information is irrelevant but that the majority of it is completely useless drivel. That is, if you understand it. A key problem surrounding the discussion of this leak is that very few people outside the military actually understand these reports. Unfortunately, that does not stop the ignorant masses from opining loudly about the content they’ve read and failed to comprehend.
One of the largest areas to have been discussed in the wake of these leaks is that of civilian casualty reports. Again, without knowing what generates such a report the discussion is rooted in ignorance. Any dead civilian seen by any friendly forces generates such a report. Reading that some unit’s callsign reports four dead and seven wounded civilians near some location in no way indicates by itself that the reporting unit had anything to do with the death or injury of those civilians. Nobody is denying that US-led forces have in fact killed civilians, whether justifiable by ROE or not, but few pay any attention to the very significant number of civilians killed intentionally by other Afghans. Regardless of who does the killing, dead civilians result in CIVCAS (Civilian Casualty) reports.
Perhaps the single most ridiculous claim to come from Julian Assange is “this material was available to every soldier and contractor.” While it is certainly true that each soldier is quite likely granted a provisional secret clearance while deployed in support of combat operations it is patently false to state that each of them is given access to the SIPRnet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network). In a given infantry company the number of soldiers with digital access to classified information past the moment they report it is very small. Not all contractors have unfettered SIPRnet access either. You get SIPRnet access only if you need it. That need is not determined by you, but by strict policy enforced by the unit’s intelligence and network sections. It follows quite logically then that those in the best position to exploit the SIPRnet have access to such by means of their position inside the intelligence section.
Furthermore, everyone with a real secret (or higher) clearance and access to the SIPRnet is briefed on what is and what is not authorized. There is nobody with a clearance who is unaware of the nature of their access and the consequences of violating the laws under which that access is covered. This gives rise to the baseless nature of another Assange claim wherein he asserts that because everyone can access the information (which is either a gross misunderstanding on his part, or a bold-faced lie) the US military failed to give due diligence to its informers.
Assange, as the face of a secretive organization, ought to know full well that security is an illusion. Many of the people with whom he is associated know this all too well, and work actively to break security mechanisms so that they might be made more secure as a result.
The US military did not release the names of Afghans with whom they had worked to the public. Those names were classified, and their secrecy bound by rules and regulations the violations of which carry strict punishment. Someone broke those rules and regulations and provided the information to WikiLeaks who in turn released the names to the public. WikiLeaks released those names. The US military did not. There is no way to mistake who is explicitly at fault for releasing those names to the public: the individual leaker (possibly Bradley Manning), and the publishing organization (WikiLeaks). These leaks quite literally endangered the lives of Afghans trying to do what they believed to be right. Is it hypocrisy for Secretary Gates to say Assange has blood on his hands? Probably. I know I have blood on my hands, and have dealt with that. Assange needs to come to terms with it himself now. A HUMINT (Human Intelligence) source has a very limited lifespan once exposed, and he has exposed many.
Transparency is important. Make no mistake about my feelings in that regard. The public, to whom our government is legally accountable, deserves to know what is going on in the name of their protection (and at the great expense of their tax dollars). This means both our government, its agencies, and the public have a lot of work to do. Uncle Sam needs to own up to its mistakes and release information in a clear and direct method the public can understand. The public needs to educate themselves on how to go about understanding, as best they can without the frame of reference gained by experience, that information.