By Phil Stewart
Monday, October 18, 2010; A14
The Pentagon said Sunday that it has a 120-member team prepared to review a leak of as many as 500,000 documents about the Iraq war, which are expected to be released by the WikiLeaks Web site this month.
Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the timing of the leak remains unclear but that the Defense Department is ready for a document dump as soon as Monday or Tuesday, a possibility raised in previous WikiLeaks statements.
People familiar with the upcoming leak, however, said they do not expect WikiLeaks to release the classified files for at least another week.
If it is as large as rumored, the leak would be much bigger than the record-breaking release of more than 70,000 Afghan war documents in July, which stoked debate about the nine-year-old conflict but did not contain major revelations. That was the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history.
Lapan said the Pentagon had readied "the same team we put together after the publication" of the Afghan war documents. He said that it was unclear how many of the 120 personnel would be needed for the Iraq leak analysis.
Although the Iraq conflict has faded from public debate in the United States, the document dump threatens to revive memories of some of the most trying times in the war, including the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
It could also renew debate about foreign and domestic actors influencing Iraq, which has been wrestling with a political vacuum since an inconclusive election in March.
One source familiar with the Iraq documents said that they are likely to contain revelations about civilian casualties but that they probably will cause less of a stir than the Afghan leak.
Lapan said the Pentagon team thinks it knows which documents WikiLeaks may be releasing because it has already reviewed the Iraq war file. That could speed up its assessment about potential fallout.
At the time of the Afghan war leak, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that WikiLeaks may have the blood of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians on its hands because it had leaked documents naming U.S. collaborators.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates later said in a letter to the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the leak had not revealed any "sensitive intelligence sources or methods."
But Gates added that disclosing the names of cooperating Afghans, who could become targets of the Taliban, could cause "significant harm or damage to national security interests of the United States." The letter was dated Aug. 16.
WikiLeaks says it is a nonprofit organization funded by human rights campaigners, journalists and the general public. But the Pentagon has demanded it return classified information, and critics have accused it of having an antiwar agenda.
So far the investigation of the Afghan war leak has focused on Bradley Manning, who worked as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is already under arrest and charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
The Pentagon, citing the criminal investigation, has declined to discuss the Manning case.