Once you’ve finished reading the 90,000-plus mostly classified Afghanistan-related U.S. military documents brought to you by WikiLeaks, you can read what feels like as many blog posts reacting to the documents and the reports based upon them, assessments of what’s there (are these, as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange suggests, the Afghan war’s Pentagon Papers?) and what it all means (here, we’ll look specifically at discussion of what it means for the media).
A quick blog round-up:
Former Washington Post military reporter Tom Ricks is among those “Underwhelmed by Wikileaks’ Leak.” Writes Ricks at foreignpolicy.com:
A huge leak of U.S. reports and this is all they get? I know of more stuff leaked at one good dinner on background. I mean, when Mother Jones yawns, that’s an indication that you might not have the Pentagon Papers on your hands. If anything, the thousands of documents remind me of what it is like to be a reporter: Lots of different people telling you different things. It takes awhile to learn how to distinguish the junk from the gold.
You know how Robert DeNiro used to shout once in every film, “You got nothin’ on me, nothin’”? (I think it was in his contract.) This data dump reminded me of that.
From that Mother Jones “yawn” (it’s ex-defense contractor and now copy editor Adam Weinstein’s take on the documents and, specifically, what they are):
Here’s a cliche for you: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And here’s a fact: A little knowledge is precisely what Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks cohorts have given us in the “Afghan War Diary.” The intimation by Assange (and the media outlets he cherry-picked to preview the data) is that these are the Pentagon Papers of the Afghan war. Certainly there are a few eyebrow-raising details in the bunch, as Mark Mazzetti, Chris Chivers & Co. at the New York Times point out. But in truth, there’s not much there there. I know, because I’ve seen many of these reports before—at least, thousands of similar ones from Iraq, when I was a contractor there last year.
…[M]ost of what you see on WikiLeaks are military SIGACTS (significant activity reports). These are theoretically accessible by anyone in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Tampa, Florida-based US Central Command—soldiers and contractors—who have access to the military’s most basic intranet for sensitive data, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). Literally thousands of people in hundreds of locations could read them, and any one of them could be the source for WikiLeaks’ data. I regularly went through the daily SIGACT reports in Iraq, not because my job required it, but because my colleagues and I were curious.
…So, each morning when I entered my office on Camp Victory, I fired up my SIPR terminal and checked the SIGACTS for interesting stuff.
The first time I did it, my pupils dilated. A vein in my throat warmed. The reporter in me did backflips. I was about to breathe pure oxygen.
By day three or four, I was bored to tears…
Andrew Exum, blogging at Center for a New American Security, is also blasé about what’s there, posting:
Here are the things I have learned thus far from the documents released via Wikileaks:
1. Elements within Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) support the Taliban.
2. The United States integrates direct action special operations into its counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, targeting insurgent leaders through capture/kill missions.
3. Civilians have died in Afghanistan, often as the result of coalition combat operations.
Among the things Exum expected he could learn if he read more of the documents rather than going to bed? “’Afghanistan’ has four syllables,” and “LeBron is going to the Heat.”
Spencer Ackerman, in his initial post on the matter at wired.com’s Danger Room, is less dismissive both of what’s there and of what it means. Per Ackerman:
WikiLeaks just published a trove of over 90,000 mostly-classified U.S. military documents that details a strengthening Afghan insurgency with deep ties to Pakistani intelligence. WikiLeaks’ release of a 2007 Apache gunship video sparked worldwide outrage, but little change in U.S. policy. This massive storehouse taken, it would appear, from U.S. Central Command’s CIDNE data warehouse — has the potential to be strategically significant, raising questions about how and why America and her allies are conducting the war.
Not only does it recount 144 incidents in which coalition forces killed civilians over six years. But it shows just how deeply elements within the United States’ supposed ally, Pakistan, have nurtured the Afghan insurgency. In its granular, behind-the-scene details about the war, this has the potential to be Afghanistan’s answer to the Pentagon Papers. Except in 2010, it comes as a database you can open in Excel, brought to you by the now-reopened-for-business WikiLeaks.