FBI and military investigating source of leaked Afghan war documents

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A07

The FBI and the Justice Department are working with the military to investigate the source of the leak of tens of thousands of classified military documents on the Afghan war to WikiLeaks.org, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group, posted all but 15,000 documents of what it is calling "The Afghan War Diary" on Sunday. WikiLeaks has declined to name its source, but the probe initially is focused on Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, a 22-year-old from Potomac, a Pentagon spokesman said, and may include others who have helped him. "They would look wherever the evidence leads," Col. Dave Lapan said.

Manning, an Army intelligence specialist, was charged this month with passing classified information to an "unauthorized source" while stationed in Iraq. Though the source was not named by the military, a former hacker in whom Manning confided has asserted that Manning passed documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

In an interview Sunday, the former hacker, Adrian Lamo, said "the overwhelming probability" is that Manning was WikiLeaks' source for the documents, which consist of more than 91,000 field intelligence reports and threat assessments. They were mostly classified as "secret," a relatively low classification level, but nonetheless contained information that could put lives at risk, officials said.

A note on the WikiLeaks site touted the records as "the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war." The note added that WikiLeaks was delaying the release of the additional 15,000 documents "as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source."

Yet the names of Afghan informants are identifiable in the online database, as the Times of London reported Wednesday. That raises the question of whether militants will retaliate against them. WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian who also used to hack computer networks, said in an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday that the site posted 76,000 records and that none of the information WikiLeaks has released in the past has led to physical injury of any person, as far as he knows.

A collaboration

In a break from past practice, WikiLeaks provided the files in advance to three news organizations: the New York Times, the Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The newspapers had about a month to digest the data and write their own reports -- a news event spurred by the dogged efforts of a Guardian journalist who sold Assange on the idea of the collaboration, the Columbia Journalism Review reported Wednesday.

The three news outlets all committed to withhold information that could put lives at risk. None put the entire database online, instead posting a selection of significant documents. None knew the identity of WikiLeaks' source.

Lamo, 29, who lives in Sacramento, said that the Afghan war documents are "basically a large dump of battlefield intelligence systems that Manning had access to."

He said, however, that Manning lacked the technical expertise to obtain and transmit all the data and received help from people who worked with WikiLeaks. "There was overlap between people who were his friends and people working with WikiLeaks," Lamo said.

"They made him feel real cool by putting him in touch with Assange," he said. "They were WikiLeaks' 'shopper' for classified information. There are at least two people in his social circle who are in contact with WikiLeaks."

Lamo said he does not know how Manning's friends came to know or work with WikiLeaks. "At some point he was either induced, or of his own volition, decided to contact [WikiLeaks]," Lamo said.

On Wednesday, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a congressional panel: "We're currently supporting the Department of Defense investigation into that leak. . . . I can't say as to where that particular investigation will lead."

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., traveling in Cairo, told reporters Wednesday that "whether any criminal charges will be brought depends on how the investigation goes."

Army leading the probe

Manning's case is proceeding within the military justice system, with the Army Criminal Investigation Command leading the probe. The next step is a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to recommend a court-martial, Lapan said. If individuals not connected to the military are found to be involved in the leak, "then that's when Justice and the others would potentially get involved," he said.

The case was opened in relation to other material that Manning is suspected of having passed to WikiLeaks, including a classified video of an Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed unarmed civilians and more than 150,000 diplomatic cables.

Now, Lapan said, "they have expanded that to take a look at these latest documents."

The Army has assigned Manning a lawyer, but his family is trying to raise money to hire a private lawyer. Separately, WikiLeaks has said it unsuccessfully tried to send a private team of lawyers to meet with Manning.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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