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.
While still sifting through the documents, James Fallows offered these first thoughts over at theatlantic.com:
The interaction between “traditional” and “new” media is the most immediately arresting “process” aspect of this event. It’s structurally similar in one sense to the Pentagon Papers case nearly 40 years ago. Back then, Daniel Ellsberg worked with the New York Times to publicize the documents. Otherwise, how could he have gotten them out? This time, Wikileaks worked with the Times — and the Guardian and Der Spiegel — to organize, make sense of, and presumably vet the data. Wikileaks could have simply posted the raw info even without the news organizations’ help. At first glance this is a very sophisticated illustration of how newly evolving media continually change the way we get information, but don’t totally replace existing systems. The collaboration of three of the world’s leading “traditional” news brands makes a difference in the way this news is received.
Recalling when the Pentagon Papers came out, Fallows writes:
By that point American involvement in Vietnam was “ending” — even though it would be another four years before U.S. troops left the country after the fall of Saigon, and even though many, many American, Vietnamese, and other people were still to die in the “wind-down” phase. The major effect of the Papers was to reveal that for many years officials closest to the action had understood that the war could not really be “won,” at least under the real-world political circumstances the U.S. faced.. …
At first glance, these documents cast severe doubt on the idea that staying for another 18 months — who knows, perhaps another 18 years — would truly “make the difference” in transforming Afghanistan.
That’s what I’ll be looking for in the Wikileaks documents: evidence that the project we’re now committed to in Afghanistan could ever have worked, or might still work now.
Also at theatlantic.com, Alexis Madrigal contends that “Wikileaks May Have Just Changed the Media, Too,” noting how “traditional media organizations are increasingly reaching out to different kinds of smaller outfits for help compiling data and conducting investigation,” and writing that “the publication of these documents will be seen as a milestone in the new news ecosystem.”
Jay Rosen, too, has a thoughtful take on what it means over at PressThink. In part:
In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.