West Wing briefing

Obama's busy week ahead: Plugging leaked documents, post-Sherrod, plant visits

U.S. commanders are learning that victory in today's wars is less a matter of destroying enemies than of knowing how and when to make them allies.
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010; 8:52 AM

The White House could be excused for wanting an easy week. This won't be one.

President Obama and his top national security officials will begin the week having to answer questions about how 92,000 pages of classified intelligence reports were leaked from the front lines of Afghanistan, and to counter the impression the documents leave about the war effort in that country.

The documents were posted online Sunday by WikiLeaks.org, but the political shock waves will be felt starting Monday, when official Washington gets back to work and starts sorting out their impact.

First on the agenda will be a discussion about how the leaks originated. The White House already has indicated its displeasure that the nonprofit organization did not give the administration a heads-up that this was coming.

"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security," National Security Adviser James L. Jones said in a statement Sunday. "Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents -- the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted."

Obama's Afghanistan policy has been the leakiest part of an otherwise fairly disciplined White House, a frustration for the president that culminated last year in a vow by Obama to fire anyone caught leaking about it.

It was the September 2009 leak of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's secret assessment of the war effort in Afghanistan that forced Obama to conduct his three-month review of the war largely in public view. And the administration has been angered for months that leaks -- perhaps from the military -- were aimed at pushing the president toward greater military action.

The massive publication of the new documents will only increase the pressure inside the White House to determine who is leaking, and for what purpose.

Publicly, the White House has not said anything about the source of the leaks. Earlier this month, officials charged Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, 22, of Potomac with leaking classified military documents, so it's possible that he might be a prime suspect for the administration. Pentagon officials declined to say whether he is a target in this most recent release.

Wikileaks, which is run by an international group of volunteers, declined to identify its source for the Afghanistan documents.

But beyond the question of leaks, the administration will have to answer the more substantial question of whether the rather negative assessments contained in the documents call into question the president's December 2009 strategy shift.

According to several news organizations that were given early access to the documents, they paint a bleaker picture of the war effort, and suggest far greater involvement of the Pakistani intelligence service in propping up the very insurgents that U.S. forces are attempting to destroy.

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