Whereas The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel had a four week heads-up on the 91,000-document WikiLeaks dump, the rest of the media found themselves playing catch-up when the big story went live on Sunday. Reporters who’d heard mumblings of the incoming trove—and others who heard about it for the first time in a 6 p.m. Sunday night phone call from a flustered editor—suddenly had to let microwave dinners go cold and dash to the Times and WikiLeaks sites.
Washington Post military reporter Greg Jaffe was one such reporter. The call came in at around 6 p.m., and he had until 9 p.m. to turn a story over for the paper’s early edition today (he was aided by co-writer and Post associate editor Karen DeYoung). Jaffe was at home when he answered the phone, and WikiLeaks had not been on his radar. “You know, other people at the paper were [anticipating the WikiLeaks story],” he said over the phone from his office in D.C., where he is working on a follow-up for tomorrow’s edition, “but I wasn’t, I’m embarrassed to say. I somehow got left off the e-mail chain.”
Jaffe, like many reporters scrambling to meet deadline last night, pored over the Times, Der Spiegel, and Guardian stories, cross-checking them with the raw material posted almost simultaneously at Wikileaks.org (reading the Los Angeles Times story, we get the sense this was their approach, too). The Post story he and DeYoung wrote, which ran today—“Leaked files lay bare war in Afghanistan”—focused on the few revelations Jaffe says the public would not have been aware of: namely, the Taliban’s use of surface-to-air heat-seeking missiles and former ISI head Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul’s ties to the insurgency. He and DeYoung begin:
Tens of thousands of classified documents related to the Afghan war released without authorization by the groupWikileaks.org reveal in often excruciating detail the struggles U.S. troops have faced in battling an increasingly potent Taliban force and in working with Pakistani allies who also appear to be helping the Afghan insurgency.
The documents disclose for the first time that Taliban insurgents appear to have used portable, heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles to shoot down U.S. helicopters. Heat-seeking missiles, which the United States provided to the anti-Soviet Afghan fighters known as mujaheddin in the 1980s, helped inflict heavy losses on the Soviet Union until it withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989.
And later again:
The documents detail multiple reports of cooperation between retired Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who ran ISI in the late 1980s, and Afghan insurgents battling U.S. forces in the mountainous eastern region of the country. In the latter years of the anti-Soviet insurgency, Gul worked closely with several major mujaheddin fighters who currently are battling U.S. troops and trying to topple the Afghan government. The documents also include reports that Gul was trying to reestablish contacts with insurgent leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose fighters have been responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks on U.S. forces.
How did Jaffe choose his focus from the Times’s reporting? “You know, it seemed like it was pretty thin gruel, to be frank,” he says of the leaked documents. “The heat-seeking missiles seemed marginally interesting. Gul, he was a relatively senior guy. Most of the other stuff seemed like just such low-level spot reports, stuff you see on embeds all the time.” Jaffe, who has embedded with troops at various levels in Afghanistan and Iraq, added, “To be honest, as far as I can tell, I found none of it to be super compelling or surprising.”