Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.org, released a flood of classified documents on Sunday – some 92,000 military records related to the war in Afghanistan – he says contain evidence of war crimes.
Assange gave the New York Times, London’s Guardian and Germany’s Der Spiegel first crack at access, giving these outlets early access to the documents "several weeks ago" on the condition they did not publish the material until July 25, when WikiLeaks intended to publish it, too.
The White House quickly condemned the release, saying it could "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."
The Times said it took "care not to publish information that would harm national security interests."
The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose — either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations. We have, for example, withheld any names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports. We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts.
During a press conference in London, Assange was unapologetic about the leak.
"It is up to a court to decide really if something in the end is a crime,” Assange said. “That said, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material." (While Assange may be able handle the criticism, it appears his servers couldn't handle the traffic, as the WikiLeaks site appeared to be down shortly after 10 a.m. ET.)
But while staggering in volume, the leak does not appear to be revelatory. According to the Associated Press, the documents “cover much of what the public already knows about the troubled nine-year conflict: U.S. special operations forces have targeted militants without trial, Afghans have been killed by accident, and U.S. officials have been infuriated by alleged Pakistani intelligence cooperation with the very insurgent groups bent on killing Americans.”
Nonetheless, the Times said it spent "about a month mining the data for disclosures and patterns, verifying and cross-checking with other information sources, and preparing the articles" for Sunday publication.
WikiLeaks – a site that “publishes and comments on leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct” — has been around since 2006, but did not really gain mass awareness until April, when Assange and co. posted a military video showing the 2007 slaying of over a dozen people in Iraq — including two Reuters staffers.