By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; A06
Eleven days after the renegade Web site WikiLeaks publicly disclosed more than 70,000 classified U.S. field reports from the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Thursday that it wants them back.
Press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters that the Pentagon is formally demanding -- through the news media -- that WikiLeaks return the reports, as well as 15,000 additional records that the Web site says it might release soon.
"We are asking them to do the right thing and not further exacerbate the damage done to date," he said. "If doing the right thing is not good enough for them, we'll figure out what other alternatives we have." He declined to elaborate on whether the Defense Department is contemplating legal action, but noted that the FBI and the Justice Department are investigating how the documents were leaked.
Morrell said the demand is a response, in part, to assertions by people affiliated with WikiLeaks that the Web site was trying to reach out to the Pentagon, in hopes of collaborating with defense officials on a review of the 15,000 or so documents that haven't been released. WikiLeaks has said it is delaying the disclosure as part of a "harm-minimization process" so it can possibly redact names and other information.
No one at the Pentagon has been contacted by anyone purporting to speak on behalf of WikiLeaks, Morrell said. He added that defense officials are not interested in reviewing the classified material with the group. "We're not getting involved in harm-minimization conversations," he said. "We're asking them to return stolen property."
Morrell acknowledged that the "genie is out of the bottle" in regard to the more than 70,000 reports that are not only posted on the WikiLeaks site, but have since been copied and downloaded by people all over the world. He said the Pentagon is primarily interested in blocking the release of the 15,000 other documents.
"I don't know that we're very confident they'll have a change of heart," he added. "I don't know what to expect from this organization."
Shortly after Morrell's remarks, WikiLeaks responded with a statement on its Twitter page: "Obnoxious Pentagon spokesperson issues formal threat against WikiLeaks: Destroy everything, or else."