5 Jaw-Dropping Stories in Wikileaks' Archives Begging for National Attention
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In December 2008, I received an email message from Julian Assange -- the now world-famous public face of the whistleblower organization, Wikileaks. I don’t recall why or how it came about, but he invited me to join a counterinsurgency “analysis team” alongside a number of other academics, journalists and analysts.
The idea was to offer us embargoed material, much as Wikileaks recently did with the files of the Afghan War Diary -- a 6-year archive of tens of thousands of classified military documents, dealing with the U.S. war in Afghanistan -- giving the New York Times , the Guardian and Der Spiegel advance access to the documents. The reason for doing so was because Wikileaks had released a number of important U.S. military counterinsurgency manuals in the preceding months, but few reporters had shown much interest in them. Operating in a media environment where breaking the story is key and the fear of being scooped limits the amount of time and energy publications are willing to invest on documents sitting out in public, Assange carried out a trial run of a strategy that served Wikileaks exceptionally well this year.
I never wrote anything on the embargoed counterinsurgency manuals and the “analysis team” either petered out or gave up on me. But just as was the case then, today there are many files, beyond the much-publicized Afghan War Diary and the “Collateral Murder” video of a U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter mowing down people in Baghdad in 2007, that continue to hide in plain sight on Wikileaks’ Web site. Below are just five examples of the types of documents available at Wikileaks.org that deserve in-depth analysis and national media attention.
COIN of the Realm
Those counterinsurgency (COIN) manuals I read and then never wrote about, as well as other related materials, are still available at Wikileaks and have taken on ever-increasing importance as COIN has become the strategy du jour for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Wikileaks currently offers no fewer than eight core U.S. counterinsurgency manuals and handbooks as well as numerous supporting materials with special bearing on COIN operations. One of the most important is the U.S. Special Forces Southern Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Handbook of 2006 which was designed to provide “guidance to the commanders and staffs of combined-arms forces that have a primary mission of eliminating insurgent forces and discusses the nature of organized guerrilla units and underground elements and their supporters.”
The handbook is notable for the fact that it is incredibly unsophisticated and rehashes lots of well-worn material on guerrillas and conventional efforts to defeat them. As a result, it explains a great deal about why and how the U.S. finds itself nearly a decade into a war against a rather rag-tag insurgency without exceptionally fervent popular support or the sponsorship of a major power.
Another COIN-related document of special interest on Wikileaks’ Web site is the September 2008 U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare manual. Defined as “[o]perations conducted by, with, or through irregular forces in support of a resistance movement, an insurgency, or conventional military operations,” unconventional warfare (UW) is just one of the panoply of other non-traditional types of operations, like irregular warfare and counterinsurgency, that the U.S. military both studies and carries out. At nearly 250 pages, the acronym-filled manual offers everything from a stilted primer on U.S. “national power” to guidance on when to begin conducting psychological operations in a UW campaign (“as early as possible”) to obtuse and near-useless formulations that, in almost any other publication, would be red-lined by an editor. For example: