5 Jaw-Dropping Stories in Wikileaks' Archives Begging for National Attention

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:

The information environment is the total of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. The actors include leaders, decision makers, individuals, and organizations. Resources include the materials and systems employed to collect, analyze, apply, or disseminate information. The information environment is where humans and automated systems observe, orient, decide, and act upon information, and is therefore the principal environment of decision making. Even though the information environment is considered distinct, it resides within each of the four domains of air, land, sea, and space.

The manual is also filled with dubious assertions, like this one that people from the Indian tribes of the Great Plains, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few locales, might dispute:

The United States avoids resorting to military force, preferring to wield all other instruments of power in the pursuit of national objectives and in the context of international competition and conflict. Therefore, diplomacy routinely blocks the need for the application of the military instrument of power.

Other U.S. Military Material

U.S. military documents found at Wikileaks’ Web site are not, however, limited to COIN-related material. There are, to take just two examples, the March 2004 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Camp Delta -- the main prison facility at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- and the U.S. military’s Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Iraq circa 2005, both of which are of potential use to reporters and scholars evaluating U.S. military treatment of noncombatants during the Bush years.

One very different but no less interesting report is the “Marine Corps Midrange Threat Estimate: 2005-2015," which was prepared by Marine Corps Intelligence’s Global Threats Branch. “Marine Corps forces will be challenged by emerging technical, military, and geopolitical threats; by thegrowing resourcefulness and the ingenuity of non-state actors and terrorist networks; and by natural disasters,” begins the report. “The U.S. military must develop more agile strategies and adaptive tactics if it is to succeed in this complex environment.” The Marines were changing, said the report, to do just that.

“The threat environment facing today’s Marines can be defined in three words: unconventional, unforeseen, and unpredictable,” reads the document. Despite admitting that future threats were largely unforeseeable, Marine Intelligence still endeavored to forecast the likelihood of various intervention scenarios “based on an independent, data-driven methodology that assessed the conditions for possible Marine intervention or assistance in the selected countries,” more specifically, “20 states of interest that represent a wide range of potential future security challenges for the Marine Corps.”

For those interested in keeping score over the next five years, the Marine Corps’ report forecasts that counterterrorism missions by U.S. Marines in Albania, Bangladesh, Colombia and Saudi Arabia are “possible” -- the mid-range on the three-point scale of likelihood -- as are COIN missions in Liberia, Syria and Uzbekistan. Countries that rated “high” on the scale, when it came to the chance of conducting counterterrorism operations, included Ethiopia, Georgia, Mauritania, and Nigeria, while Iran and North Korea were rated as “high” when it came “major regional contingencies” -- that is full-scale wars.

Insider Information from the CIA

Wikileaks offers access to a number of documents prepared by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which, if not for the site, would likely be totally out of the reach of the very taxpayers who foot the bill for them. These files include everything from a report about the threat Al Qaeda poses to the United States, which was prepared by the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center’s Office of Terrorism Analysis in 2005 to a 10-page book listing the briefings about the U.S. use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (also known as torture) provided to members of Congress during 2009.

Another especially intriguing CIA document, with special bearing on the war in Afghanistan, was released by Wikileaks this spring and offers a window into the ways in which the United States thinks about allied countries, their people and the worth of their opinions.

Since taking office in January 2009, President Barack Obama has repeatedly escalated the war in Afghanistan, increasing troop numbers, boosting air strikes by unmanned drones, and sending more CIA agents and covert operators into the country. Over that same time period, opposition to the war in allied NATO countries has been on the rise, as Canada declared it would withdraw its 2,800 soldiers by the end of 2011 and the Dutch government collapsed under the weight of anti-war sentiment.

This spring, a month after the Dutch government fell, the CIA “Red Cell” -- an analytic team “charged by the Director of Intelligence with taking a pronounced ‘out-of-the-box’ approach that will provoke thought and offer an alternative viewpoint” -- issued a report on “Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission” in Afghanistan. The document, produced in collaboration with an Agency “strategic communications” expert and analysts from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), outlines strategies for manipulating public opinion in France, Germany, and other allied NATO nations in order to further U.S. war aims in Afghanistan.

The report, classified confidential, and not surprisingly, not to be shown to foreign nationals, noted that public apathy in France and Germany -- where most citizens have paid scant attention to the war -- has allowed their national governments “to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)… despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments.” The document cautions that increased ISAF casualties or press coverage of civilian carnage might catch the attention of the European public and increase hostility toward the war effort. The worse case scenario being that, as elections approach, the Dutch troop withdrawal might cause “politicians elsewhere [to] cite a precedent for ‘listening to the voters.’”

To forestall the possibility that NATO nations will respond to public will, the CIA report suggests focused propaganda campaigns, dubbed an “iterative strategic communication program.” For France, it suggests tailored messages focused on civilians and refugees that will “leverage French (and other European) guilt” to the advantage of the U.S. For Germans, increasing positive press about the military situation combined with scare tactics highlighting the possibility that defeat in Afghanistan might “heighten Germany’s exposure to terrorism, opium, and refugees” were offered as viable strategies. The CIA team also indicated that Afghan women could be deployed, as part of a concerted strategy, to manipulate public opinion in support of the war effort.

Foreign Government Documents

While classified U.S. government records may be the highest profile materials that appear on Wikileaks.org, they are far from alone. Other governments have also seen their documents, whether leaked directly to Wikileaks or reposted from elsewhere, exposed via the Web site. One example is a secret, 186-page database of settlements, written in Hebrew, that was compiled by the Israeli government. Writing about it earlier this year, Steven Aftergood, the head of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists explained:

The database provides a concise description of each of the dozens of settlements, including their location, legal status, population, and even the origins of their names, which are often Biblically inspired. Crucially, the database makes clear that unauthorized and illegal construction activity has taken place in most of the settlements.

Another example of the type of foreign government information available through Wikileaks is the Indian Army’s doctrine from 2004, which demonstrates that stilted language and statements of the obvious are not limited to U.S. military manuals. Consider this gem:

Offensive operations are a decisive form of winning a war. Their purpose is to attain the desired end state and achieve decisive victory. Offensive operations seek to seize the initiative from the enemy, retain it and exploit the dividends accruing from such actions. These operations end when the force either achieves the desired end state or reaches its culmination point.

Corporate Documents

Earlier this year, Aftergood castigated Wikileaks for posting everything from documents detailing the secret rituals of sororities to those shedding light on the shadowy rites of Masons and Mormons. “This is not whistleblowing and it is not journalism,” he wrote. “It is a kind of information vandalism.”

Wikileaks also offers a selection of internal corporate memos, manuals and emails, some of which intersect with matters of politics, law enforcement and/or national security issues. One prime example is an email reportedly sent by Anthony Jones, the vice president and senior site executive of mega-defense contractor Boeing's Huntsville, Alabama operations to plant employees in an effort to combat Obama administration efforts to make cuts to the company’s ground-based midcourse missile defense system. Offering subordinates talking points and contact information for Congressional representatives, the email even suggests that workers’ families might also become involved in the campaign. Missing from the note is even a mention of Boeing’s financial interests. The email, instead, frames all concerns in terms of U.S. national security.

Another corporate document that is available at Wikileaks.org is the Microsoft Global Criminal Compliance Handbook. In February of this year, Cryptome.org -- a Web site that, since the 1990s, has “welcome[d] documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance” -- posted the manual and was shut down by its hosting provider, Network Solutions, at Microsoft’s behest. Labeled “Confidential For Law Enforcement Use Only,” the 22-page manual contains no trade secrets, but did allow Microsoft customers to learn just what information the software giant is retaining from their Hotmail and Xbox Live accounts and under what circumstances it will be turned over to law enforcement when presented with a subpoena, court order or search warrant. (“Xbox Live records every IP address you ever use to login and stores them for perpetuity,” Wired.com’s Ryan Singel noted in an article published earlier this year.)

What Else Wikileaks Has to Offer

While most media outlets and bloggers alike, are seemingly content to wait for Wikileaks to unveil a second batch of documents -- roughly 15,000 in all -- about the Afghan war in the days ahead, other important materials are waiting for intrepid reporters and researchers to wade in and make something of the information.

While the chilling “Collateral Murder” video and the gargantuan Afghan War Diary have, quite rightly, garnered a tremendous amount of attention for Wikileaks.org this year, the site has long offered much more in the way of classified, shadowy or otherwise unavailable material from public and private sources. It remains a relatively untapped or at least undertapped treasure trove for journalists, bloggers and academic researchers willing to put in the time and effort.


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