I honestly don’t know. Did the site really release information allowing the Taliban to identify specific informants?
My New York Times says the following:
The disclosure of documents containing the names of Afghan informants, which was reported Tuesday in The Times of London, could further complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to manage the course of the war in Afghanistan.
A search by The New York Times on Wednesday also turned up several examples.
In one 2007 report, for instance, a military officer discussed meeting with a person who was named in the report, who claimed to have worked with allied forces and wanted to continue doing so. The Times withheld details that could identify the man.
In another 2007 report, American troops met privately with an Afghan official, who was named in the report, who told the Americans about the recent movements of a local militant leader and his heavily armed force. The report also identified several other informants who were part of the official’s network.
For the record, I am a liberal Democrat. I am also a strong believer in the first amendment.
This case has me wondering about that amendment’s proper boundary. It’s one thing to leak classified policy details and debates. Such leaks are often justified to inform the public and to hold government accountable. It’s quite a different thing to reveal operational intelligence details that threaten the safety of particular human beings or that reveal sensitive tactical information while we fight an enemy that specifically targets people for suicide bombings and other forms of grisly intimidation.
We live in a new media age in which the internet facilitates open-source intelligence and allows sites such as Wikileaks to collect and disgorge thousands of raw documents with little careful gatekeeping. I don’t know enough about Afghanistan to have a strong policy view. I do know that we made promises to people there who help us at real personal risk. We have to protect them.
The Pentagon may well be exaggerating the threat to people’s safety here. If these leaks did put people in danger, some legal action is appropriate: against the leakers, but maybe against WikiLeaks itself, too. I’m not very comfortable going down this road, but the subject warrants discussion.
What the heck were they thinking?