Are risks from WikiLeaks overstated by government?

National Security Archive historian: "The Pentagon is hyping"

Topics: Afghanistan War Logs, WikiLeaks,

Although the Pentagon warns that WikiLeaks could have blood on its hands for publishing classified U.S. war documents that name Afghan sources, history shows that similar disclosures have not always led to violence.

It is difficult to find clear-cut examples of the public exposure of informants leading to their deaths, although there are documented cases of a deadly ending to the secret unmasking of foreign agents. Recall the Aldrich Ames espionage case of the early 1990s: The now-jailed CIA turncoat ratted on Soviet informants and at least nine of them were believed executed by the KGB.

The WikiLeaks leak is unrivaled in its scope, but so far there is no evidence that any Afghans named in the leaked documents as defectors or informants from the Taliban insurgency have been harmed in retaliation.

Some private analysts, in fact, think the danger has been overstated.

“I am underwhelmed by this argument. The Pentagon is hyping,” says John Prados, a military and intelligence historian who works for the anti-secrecy National Security Archive. He said in an interview that relatively few names have surfaced and it’s not clear whether their present circumstances leave them in jeopardy.

Donald P. Gregg, a retired CIA officer and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said in an e-mail exchange that the Pentagon’s expressions of concern have merit in this case. But he also said his own experience showed that being unmasked as a spy is not always deadly.

“I was named and publicly denounced as a covert CIA officer by East Germany in 1958, and no one, to my knowledge, ever tried to assassinate me,” Gregg said.

The Taliban itself, however, has said it is scouring the tens of thousands of leaked documents — mostly raw military intelligence reports — for names of Afghans who sided with the U.S. and NATO against the insurgency. Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, said the leak amounted to handing the Taliban an “enemies list.”

“We know the Taliban are harsh and cruel in their treatment of disfavored persons, so it is extremely serious,” said Steven Aftergood, an anti-secrecy advocate who writes the Secrecy News blog. “WikiLeaks is giving ‘leaks’ a bad name by putting people in jeopardy.”

Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., who opposes the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan, said last week that some of the leaked documents could result in “real harm to real people” — particularly defectors from the Taliban who were interrogated and then released.

“We may presume that after they are released from custody they and their families could be in danger of assassination by other insurgents,” Holt wrote in a statement Aug. 10.

In addition to any immediate security risk to Afghans, administration officials say the leak undermines the credibility of U.S. promises to protect the identity of informants. That in turn could hamper U.S. intelligence efforts in the future.

One of the most spectacular cases of exposing foreign agents was Philip Agee’s 1975 book, “Inside the Company: CIA Diary.”

As a former CIA officer, Agee identified in his book more than 200 agency officers, front companies and foreign agents working for the U.S. abroad. He wrote that this was “one way to neutralize the CIA’s support to repression.”

He is sometimes accused of responsibility in the death of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens who was assassinated in 1975 by a Greek terrorist group. Agee and his friends say the accusation is groundless, noting that Welch was not named in Agee’s book and that Welch’s agency link was publicly known.

His and subsequent exposure of agents led Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, making it a crime to intentionally reveal the identity of a covert intelligence officer.

Among the earliest expressions of outrage at the Afghan war leaks was from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said he was appalled at the judgment of website found Julian Assange and the unidentified provider of the secret documents.

“The truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” Mullen told a Pentagon news conference four days after the leak.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. has a moral responsibility to “those who have worked with and put their trust in us in the past, who now may be targeted for retribution.”

Last week during a visit aboard a Navy warship in San Diego, Gates told a sailor who asked about the seriousness of the WikiLeaks case: “We don’t have specific information of an Afghan being killed yet because of them. But I put emphasis on the word ‘yet.’”

Gates’ press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said the Pentagon is relaying names of Afghans exposed in the documents to U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan so they can “safeguard those people.” It’s not clear what steps the U.S. has taken to accomplish this.

The issue could be magnified by an expected WikiLeaks posting soon of thousands of additional leaked documents. Administration officials have said those could be even more compromising.

The vulnerability of locals who work with U.S. forces — openly or secretly — is not just an issue in Afghanistan. A bipartisan group of congressmen and senators called on the Obama administration last week to urgently expand efforts to resettle Iraqis who have worked for U.S. agencies in Iraq, even saying an airlift should be considered. Many of the Iraqis will be targeted for assassination by al-Qaida in Iraq, they said.

“Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>