While many of us yawned at the latest Wikileaks scandal, a few correctly identified the real danger posed by Assange and company. Among them are Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones, Joshua Foust of PBS, and Dr. Rex Brynen (of PaxSims). All brought up great points, but Foust provides the greatest elaboration on the issue:
Adam Serwer, a staff writer for the American Prospect, tweeted this morning, “Former Military Intelligence Officer sez of wikileaks, ‘Its an AQ/Taliban execution team’s treasure trove.’”
This is a very real worry — despite Assange’s assurances that his organization is withholding 15,000 documents to “redact” or change any names, what assurances can we have that WikiLeaks will do a good job?
Can an organization whose sole purpose is exposing secret information really do a good job safeguarding the lives it endangers through exposure? They really cannot. The New York Times admitted as much, saying they took much greater pains not to provide readers the means to uncover the identities of anyone in the reports they mention (some of these efforts, like not linking to WikiLeaks, are almost cutesy on the Internet, but are nevertheless honest). “At the request of the White House,” the Times editors say, “[we] urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.”
Small comfort, since WikiLeaks is barely trying. The materials in question mostly consist of immediate incident reports — seemingly downloaded directly from CIDNE, a massive reporting database the military maintains in Afghanistan and Iraq. These reports are about as accurate as first reports from a crime scene: often accurate in atmosphere, but usually wrong on details.
The military is rightly accused of overclassifying material, but in this case we have some idea of why: even with the names removed from these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations and half the participants, you don’t need names to identify who was involved in a conversation — with some very basic detective work, you can find out (and it’s much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves gossip).
If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer — and lots of them have access to computers — I’d start searching the WikiLeaks data for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized anyone. And then I’d kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.