Transcript: Wikileaks Afghanistan docs 'alarming'

In a Monday briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says it's "alarming" to find so many "top-secret documents" from the U.S. military in Afghanistan publicly available, thanks to the document-sharing site.

Wikileaks and Afghanistan: The War Logs

The White House on Monday condemned Wikileaks' decision to release more than 75,000 secret military reports from Afghanistan, calling the move "alarming" and saying there is an investigation into how the documents were obtained.

Wikileaks gave the documents in advance to The New York Times, Germany's Der Spiegel, and the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, which independently confirmed their authenticity. The Guardian called the disclosure a "devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan," saying it reveals how the United States-led coalition has killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have risen, and NATO commanders worry that neighboring Pakistan and Iran are aiding the insurgency.

About 76,900 of the files--which the group calls the "Afghan War Diary"--appeared on Wikileaks.org on Sunday afternoon. Wikileaks says it has delayed the release of an additional 15,000 files to allow names and other sensitive information to be removed.

Following is a transcript of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' briefing with reporters on Monday afternoon, with portions not relating to Wikileaks removed. The questions are from White House correspondents.


QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. Two questions. A few on Wikileaks.

What was the president's reaction when he heard about the leaking of these documents?

GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the president sometime last week, after discussions with news organizations, that these stories were coming.

Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is--is always the same, and that is, whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it, besides being against the law, has the potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, was he personally angered by this? Did he demand answers or investigations?

Look, I want to be clear. The president does not need to read a leaked document on the Internet today to be shocked and horrified by unnecessary --and every civilian casualty is unnecessary--casualty of innocent life.
--Robert Gibbs

GIBBS: Well, there is an ongoing investigation that predated the end of last week into--into leaks of highly classified secret documents.

QUESTION: Does the White House believe that the documents raise doubt about whether Pakistan is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism?

GIBBS: Well, let's understand a few things about--about the documents.

Based on what we've seen, I don't think that what is being reported hasn't in many ways been publicly discussed, either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government, for quite some time.

We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan. We have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time. And on both of those--both of those aspects, we've--we've taken steps to make improvements.

I think just the last time General Petraeus testified in front of the Senate, there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationships that have been had between--between the Taliban and Pakistan's intelligence services.

QUESTION: So no doubts about Pakistan's trustworthiness or...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: No, no.

Look, I think the president was clear back in March of 2009 that there was no blank check for Pakistan; that Pakistan had to change the way it dealt with us; it had to make progress on safe havens.

Look, it's in the interest of the Pakistanis, because we certainly saw last year those extremists that enjoyed a safe haven there turning their eye on--on innocent Pakistanis. That's why you've seen Pakistan make progress in--in moving against extremists in Swat and in South Waziristan.

But at the same time, even as they make progress, we understand that the status quo is not acceptable and that we have to continue moving this relationship in the right direction.

QUESTION: One more quick one on this: what do you think this says about the ability of the government to protect confidential information when leaks like this can occur?

GIBBS: Look, I think there is no doubt that this is a concerning development in operational security. And as we said earlier, it--it poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe.

...

QUESTION: On the Wikileaks, one of the questions that this raises is whether it makes sense for the United States to continue to give billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan, if they are helping the Taliban. And I'm wondering if that is a concern and what you think...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Well, I--again, as I said a minute ago, on March 27, 2009, the president said, after years of mixed results, "We will not and cannot provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders."

Again, I am not going to stand here on July the 26th and tell you that all is well. I will tell you that we have made progress in moving this relationship forward, in having the Pakistanis, as I said earlier, address the issue of safe havens, the issue of extremists operating in that country, by undertaking operations, again, in Swat and in South Waziristan.

Because, over the course of the past more than year and a half, what the Pakistanis have found is that those--the extremists that once enjoyed complete safe haven in parts of their country--now threaten their country.

So they've taken steps. We want to continue to work with them to take more steps.

We understand that we are in this region of the world, because of what happened on 9/11, that--ensuring that there is not a safe haven in Afghanistan by which attacks against this country and countries around the world can be planned. That's why we're there, and that's why we're going to continue to make progress on this relationship.

QUESTION: A blank check is one thing, but is there enough progress there to justify the aid that is being given to them?

GIBBS: Again, look, we--I think--I think it was--even if you look at some of the comments the secretary of state made just last week in Pakistan, and, you know, our--our criticism has been relayed both publicly and privately. And we will continue to do so in order to move this relationship forward.

QUESTION: And I know you're unhappy about the leak, but could you talk about how that part of the issue is characterized in the memos and whether you think it's actually...

GIBBS: Which...

QUESTION: ...in terms of--in terms of Pakistan's role?

GIBBS: Look, I'm--again, I would point you to--as I said a minute ago, I don't know that what is being said or what is being reported isn't--isn't something that hasn't been discussed fairly publicly, again, by named U.S. officials and in many news stories. I mean, The New York Times had a story on this topic in--in March of 2009, written by the same authors.

...

QUESTION: Robert, back on Wikileaks. A couple times now, you've said in the last couple of moments that a lot of this information is not really new; that named U.S. government officials have said some of this same information in public.

GIBBS: Well, I'm not saying it's--yes, I said there weren't any new revelations in the material.

QUESTION: So how does it harm national security, if we've known this already?

GIBBS: Well, because you've got--it's not the content as much as it is, there are names, there are operations, there's logistics, there's sources. All of that information out in a public way has the potential to do harm. If somebody is cooperating with the federal government, and their name is listed in an action report, I don't think it's a stretch to believe that that could potentially put a group or an individual at great personal risk.

QUESTION: But is part of the concern as well that this is going to embarrass government officials because maybe the war in Afghanistan is a lot worse off than this administration and the previous administration let on?

GIBBS: Well, again, that's why I would go back to my first point, which is in terms of broad revelations, there aren't any that we see in these documents.

And let's understand this. When you talk about the way the war is going in Afghanistan, the documents purportedly cover from, I think, January 2004 to December 2009. I can't speak for the conduct of that war from an operational perspective for most of that time.

I do know that when the president came into office in 2009, he, in the first few months, ordered an increase in the number of our troops, having spent two years talking about how our efforts in Afghanistan were greatly under-resourced, increased resources in troops to provide security for an election, and then, as you well know, conducted a fairly comprehensive and painstaking review of our policy, which resulted in December 1st, 2009's speech about a new direction in Afghanistan.

GIBBS: And I would say this: We came in talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region, not as simply two separate and distinct countries, which put emphasis on our relationship and the actions of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Right. But even if there is a new policy put in place in December of 2009, does that erase the mistakes that may have been made years in advance of that?

GIBBS: Well, of course not...

QUESTION: How can that turn--or...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ...but do these documents then suggest that this war is too far gone...

GIBBS: No.

QUESTION: ...to turn around with one policy change?

GIBBS: No, I don't--I don't-- I don't, in any way, think the documents suggest that. And I haven't seen anybody to suggest that, except to say this. The--we agreed that the direction--this administration spent a large part of 2007 and 2008 campaigning to be this administration and saying that the way that the war had been prosecuted, the resources that hadn't been devoted to it, threatened our national security.

That's--remember, we had a fairly grand debate about whether or not the central front in this war was Iraq or Afghanistan. We weighed in pretty heavily on Afghanistan because, for years and years and years, more troops were needed, more troops actually had been requested by the commanding general, but no troops were forthcoming.

That's why the president increased our number of troops heading into an important election period and why we took steps through a, again, painstaking and comprehensive review to come up with a new strategy.

QUESTION: But even after that painstaking review, these documents are suggesting that the Pakistani government has representatives of its spy agencies, essentially, meeting with representatives of the Taliban...

GIBBS: But, again...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ...plotting to attack American soldiers and Afghan officials.

GIBBS: Let me just make sure...

QUESTION: How can that suggest the war is going well?

GIBBS: No, no. You're conflating about seven issues into one question. But let's be clear. I don't--I don't think...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Let me finish. Let me finish.

QUESTION: Afghan officials are working with the Taliban. How can the war be going well? That's one question.

GIBBS: Again, I'm saying that the war--the direction of our relationship with Pakistan, based on steps that we've asked them to take, has improved that relationship, right?

QUESTION: OK, because last week, Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. and Pakistan are, quote, "partners joined in common cause."

GIBBS: Yes.

QUESTION: Despite these documents...

GIBBS: Again...

QUESTION: ...the U.S. and Pakistan are joined in common cause?

GIBBS: Yes, in fighting--in fighting--as I just mentioned a few moments ago, in fighting extremists that are within that border.

Again, go back to last year. Remember last year...

QUESTION: Sure.

GIBBS: ...when these extremists decided they were going to march on the capital in Pakistan? That became a threat to Pakistan. For the first time ever, you saw--you saw Pakistan fighting back against violent extremists that had otherwise enjoyed safe havens.

When--when General Jones refers to in his statement the actions that they took in Swat and South Waziristan, that's exactly what we're talking about.

The point I would make on the premise of your question, understand that the documents go through December of 2009. I don't know if you meant to conflate actions--let's just say that the documents...

QUESTION: Well, have the documents stopped? Do we know for sure that the Pakistani intelligence is no longer working with the Taliban?

GIBBS: Well, again, these documents--I think they're making progress and, again, I'd refer you to...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: We're making progress, but it has not ended even after...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I--I--I--again, I would point you to the hearing that was conducted just a month ago--less than a month ago with General Petraeus, where this was talked about.

Nobody's here to declare mission accomplished. You've not heard that phrase uttered or emitted by us as a way of saying that everything is going well.

Understand this: that we got involved in this region of the world after September 11th, and then for years and years and years and years, this area was neglected, it was under-resourced, it was under- funded. That's what led the president to say that what we needed to do was focus on what was going on in Afghanistan. That's why we're here.

QUESTION: Two questions, Robert.

The first one is, given the apparent ease that Mr. Manning was able to obtain and transfer these documents, has the White House or anyone in the administration ordered any kind of immediate change to make sure that this is not...

GIBBS: I would point you to the Department of Defense that should be able to discuss what changes they've made in operational security.

QUESTION: Do you have any insight into what Mr. Manning may have been motivated by?

GIBBS: Not personally, no. I--I--I don't know if the Department of Defense would have something.

QUESTION: (inaudible) the president's reaction, can you give us any kind of insight, in terms of was he angry, was he concerned, was he worried?

GIBBS: Well, look, I think anytime you--you--anytime in which more than 90,000 top-secret documents, which are against the law for me to give to you, would--I think it would be safe to say it's alarming to find 90,000 of them published on a Web site.

QUESTION: Last question: Also on Ms. Sherrod, I wondered if you had any word on whether she'll accept a job that's been offered and if there's any time frame for that?

GIBBS: That's a question for her.

QUESTION: Following up, I know how you feel about this, but the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the White House is trying to keep the focus on the release of the documents rather than what's in the documents.

GIBBS: No, no, I...

QUESTION: You say the president's very concerned with this release, this breach of federal law, but is he concerned with evidence in these documents about civilian casualties, about cooperation between the Taliban and the ISI?

GIBBS: Let's be clear again: The--the statements that the president made in March of 2009 very much understand the complicating aspects of our relationship with both of these two countries, the existence of, as I said, historical relationships between the Taliban and Pakistani intelligence. And look, during the recent debate about General McChrystal, remember a decent part of the Rolling Stone article discusses frustration within our own military about rules of engagement around civilian casualties.

So we're not trying to either conventionally--through conventional wisdom trying to deflect anything. I'm--what I'm really saying is that what--what has been, I think what is known about our relationship and our efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are not markedly changed by what is in these documents. In fact, I think if, again, you go back to March of 2009, what the president says, we are clearly taking steps to make progress in dealing with Pakistan's safe havens.

Certainly, dealing with civilian casualties, we all know that in efforts like this to win hearts and minds, you're certainly not going to do that with--with innocent civilians caught tragically in the crossfire.

QUESTION: In reading these documents, if they're true, you can't help but be shocked by what you read in here about some of the horrible things that have happened. Has the president read enough of it himself to be shocked...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I--I--I don't know.

Look, I want to be clear. The president does not need to read a leaked document on the Internet today to be shocked and horrified by unnecessary--and every civilian casualty is unnecessary--casualty of innocent life.

GIBBS: We can go back--and I've been asked about them inside this briefing room for well over a year--times in which our commander at that point, General McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry--former General Eikenberry--had gone to see different places around Afghanistan that--that had seen horrific civilian causalities.

Look, each and every--as I said, each and every casualty--innocent civilian casualty is a tragedy, and it makes the job against the extremists much, much harder.

QUESTION: On the--does the president believe that the release of these documents has harmed or will harm the war effort overall?

GIBBS: Again, I think any time in which you potentially put those that could be--whose names could be in these documents, missions and operations--their documents are classified and rated secret for a reason. And I think that's--that's the law.

QUESTION: So it's a setback for the war effort?

GIBBS: No, I think it's concerning that you have--you certainly have operational security concerns.

Again, I think many of our challenges in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are the same today as they were last week. I don't think anybody would tell you that they anticipate that progress isn't going to be slow and difficult in both of these two countries. That's--that's why...

QUESTION: I'm still not clear on where you are on this.

I mean, it's a pretty fundamental question. Do these documents constitute a setback to the war effort in Afghanistan?

GIBBS: I think they constitute a potentially national security concern.

QUESTION: The White House has made a point to say that Wikileaks is not an objective news outlet, but rather an organization that opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan. I just wonder if you could explain how that's relevant to the accuracy of the documents.

GIBBS: I think that the--I think that the founder of Wikileaks, if I'm--if I read his interviews correctly today, comparing troops in Afghanistan to the secret East German police is certainly something that we would fundamentally disagree with and something that has--somebody that clearly has an agenda.

QUESTION: That may be the case, but does that in any way impact the accuracy of these documents? For example, are you suggesting they selectively held back documents that would be more favorable...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I don't--I don't--I don't--I'm...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I'm not afforded--nobody in this government was afforded the opportunity to see what they do or don't have. I don't--I don't know that this question is relevant for me as much as it is for--for him.

QUESTION: I just wondered if by making this point, you're trying to, I guess, attack the credibility of the documents that are out there.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: No, no.

Again, I have--I have not--I certainly have not reviewed 90,000 documents. This got brought to us late last week. Again, what I--the coverage I read off of the news documents doesn't, I think, materially change the challenges that we have in each of these two countries.

As I said a second ago, I don't think the challenges that you have listed on a piece of paper this time last week are, quite honestly, different, based on what we read in these documents at this time this week.

I think the challenges that we've had and the historical relationship with Pakistan intelligence and the Taliban were certainly something we were working to address. So it's not--that in and of itself isn't--isn't a surprise.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Working on safe havens in Pakistan and their impact on our efforts in the war, all of those things--I think all of those things many of you all have covered.

QUESTION: Is the administration confident it has the leaker in custody?

GIBBS: I'm not going to get into discussing the aspects of the investigation that are ongoing.

...

QUESTION: Could you tell me what effort the White House has made before the publication of the Wikileaks documents and after to try to contain any political fallout? Any outreach to Capitol Hill? Any efforts by General Jones or anyone else from the Security Council (inaudible)?

GIBBS: We--we certainly, when we learned of the story, notified relevant committees on Capitol Hill that--that these documents were about to go online.

I don't know that I would--I wouldn't put that under the rubric of containing political damage. I would put that under the rubric of understanding that 90,000 documents dating back to January of 2004 which traditionally don't become public were about to be, and Capitol Hill was notified.

QUESTION: And what efforts--I know that you met with the Times.

GIBBS: Yes.

QUESTION: What efforts did you make to try to get in touch with Assange or any of those Wikileaks people?

GIBBS: They are not in touch with us.

The only--the only effort that I made in discussing--the only effort that I made with the Times, who I will say came to us; I think handled this story in a responsible way--I passed a message through the writers at The New York Times to the head of Wikileaks to--to redact information that could--that could harm personnel, or threaten operations or security. And I think that's in their story--in the Times story today.

QUESTION: And one last question: You mentioned, at the beginning of this--this briefing, the investigation into improper leaking of classified information. Is Wikileaks part of that investigation?

GIBBS: There's an ongoing investigation as to--as to this leak, yes.

QUESTION: Is that the Manning (ph) investigation (inaudible)?

GIBBS: I'm not going to get into that.

QUESTION: Robert, did you...

GIBBS: Nice try, though.

QUESTION: Did you try to get The New York Times not to publish?

GIBBS: No. Never asked them that.

The New York--let's keep--let's understand first a few things.

The New York Times didn't publish the documents. Wikileaks published--Wikileaks published the documents.

I will say this. Had only The New York Times had this story, would we have made a case and an effort, as we have with them and other news organizations, not to compromise security? Yes.

But understand that the Times was one--The New York Times was one of three news organizations that had access to these documents. We got questions from--I believe on Friday from Der Spiegel and met with Tommy Vietor, Ben Rhodes, and I met with The New York Times on Thursday.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Robert, can you talk a little bit about any White House concern about support for the war being possibly eroded by the leaks here? Have you done any, sort of, assessment? What's your thinking?

GIBBS: No, again, I--I--I go back to the point that I made to Savannah and others. I think if you took out a piece of paper, certainly if--you know, we'll--the president's monthly Af-Pak reviews will happen on Thursday down in the Situation Room. I'm--I'm unaware of a list of concerns that would be different today than they were a week ago, based on what we've seen.

I don't--again, I don't--I don't see broad new revelations that we weren't either concerned about and working through this time a week ago.

...

QUESTION: Back to Wikileaks, is it your belief that the documents themselves, to the degree you've either been briefed about them or they've been described to you by people who know a little bit more than you do, are authentic?

GIBBS: I--I think we've acted as if they were.

QUESTION: OK.

There have been some who have talked about it and say these things should be viewed by the public as it--to the degree it does--go through them with some degree of skepticism because they are by nature fragmentary, they develop or talk about one certain episode or...

GIBBS: Right.

QUESTION: What would you, as spokesman for the White House, advise the public who may be running through these things and taking them in, in some degree of...

GIBBS: Well, look...

QUESTION: ...with some degree of interest? What is your overall assessment...

GIBBS: Well...

QUESTION: ...of how much is true, what's not true...

GIBBS: Well...

QUESTION: ...mostly true, mostly untrue?

GIBBS: Again...

QUESTION: How should they weigh them?

GIBBS: ...I think these are--I think--I'm not going to play that broad a role, except to say that I think obviously, this is on-the-ground reporting.

What is unclear, certainly, if you read through the stories, is whether some of the events that they think might happen happened.

But, again, I think the--I would sum this up the way I summed it up a little bit ago, and that is that what the concerns that are in these documents, and--and they're important concerns; they're concerns that we've certainly dealt with since the time we've been here, and in--certainly, as it related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, what precipitated the administration from doing a comprehensive review about our policy in both areas.

GIBBS: That is--our goal is to get this right. Our goal is to keep America safe and to ensure that--and ensure the safety of those that are conducting these operations.

QUESTION: Let me take it from a different point of view.

There are some--and this was part of the subtext or one of the subtexts of The Washington Post's lengthy series last week--that maybe too many things are kept secret. Some might look at these documents and say, "Do these all need to be top-secret? Is all this information really that vital, really that sensitive to American national security that these should all be top-secret?"

Do you have any evaluation of that?

GIBBS: Well, again, I think that is--those are made on a document-by-document basis.

I--I'm not an expert in the classification process.

Look, obviously if you--I think the president would always lean on the American people knowing as much as they possibly can. I think--look, I think if you go back...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: But--no, no, no, no. Hold one.

Let's be clear. Go back to the 12 or so meetings held in the Situation Room, OK? We announced every one. We had readouts from every one. Lord knows, you had readouts beyond the readouts from each and every one. There were photos from each. We didn't exactly have a cloistered evaluation of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's not the way we've operated.

And again, I--I think it's--let's be clear, and I want to make clear that I'm clear on this. Based on the fact that there's nothing--there's no broad new revelations in this, our concern isn't that people might know that we're concerned about safe havens in Pakistan or that we're concerned, as we are, about civilian casualties. Lord, all you need is a--a laptop and a mouse to figure that out, or 50 cents or a $1.50, depending on which newspaper you buy.

I don't--I don't think that is--that is, in a sense, top-secret.

What generally governs the classification of these documents are names, operations, personnel, people that are cooperating, all of which, if it's compromised, has a compromising effect on our security.
--Robert Gibbs

But what generally governs the classification of these documents are names, operations, personnel, people that are cooperating, all of which, if it's compromised, has a compromising effect on our security.

QUESTION: And can you explain the precipitating factor for the Al Megrahi letter? What--what...

GIBBS: I just have a copy of it. I don't know.

I assume--look, at this point--and this is some conjecture on my part--at this point, this is a fairly public process. I don't know what exactly led to this letter. I know the letter speaks quite clearly to our preference, strong preference, as communicated both in this letter and in conversations that we had directly with the government there, that Megrahi should not be released.

QUESTION: Robert, I take your premise that there's nothing really new in these documents, that broadly says something different than what we already knew.

There are many examples in Washington where the same things have been said, and then a precipitating event later causes political shockwaves that change the dynamic.

GIBBS: You're talking about the media culture.

QUESTION: Well, perhaps.

(LAUGHTER)

But, you know, there's some interaction there. So I guess the question is, and it sort of goes back to Jonathan's, which I don't think you answered, which is, are you all doing anything...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Well, I answered Jonathan's question. What I--what I...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ...but the second part, which was, have you done anything since the documents--since the documents were released this morning, to try to assess whether or not, you know, these documents provide any ammunition to your critics, I mean, any... (CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Critics, like who?

QUESTION: Well, there are critics of the Afghanistan war, increasingly people who are uncomfortable...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I don't know if--I don't know if--I don't know every call that's been made out of here.

What I was trying to do was decouple the fact that we notified Congress that 90,000 documents were about to be put on a Web site that were--up until the moment that they go live, were classified documents is part of what is generally assumed to be our notification process.

Look, I don't know of--I certainly have not heard of a broad effort relating to--to what you're talking about.

...

QUESTION: Wikileaks one more time. To follow on Michael's question about the--the inflection points in public opinion and history, what do you make of the comparisons between these leaks and the Pentagon Papers?

GIBBS: Well, look, the Pentagon Papers are--are different in the sense that you're talking about policy documents. These are, sort of, on-the-ground reporting of--of different events. I don't see how, in any way, they're--they're really comparable, given--again, given the fact that--go back and look at, again--just in the past month, I know we've talked about--in here, we've talked about the concern about civilian casualties.

GIBBS: It's not something that has been--not something that we previously hadn't touched on that all of a sudden burst out into the public arena. Certainly, as I said earlier, the historic relationships that have been had between--between the Taliban and the Pakistani intelligence services--I mean, the headline in The New York Times story says--basically attributes the headline of that connection to--to U.S. aid.

So again, it's not to--I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of those concerns. They're--they are serious. That's why we've taken steps to try to improve that relationship for the Pakistanis to take certain steps, so that we can build, in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, a situation that improves our security.

QUESTION: You probably could have said a lot of those things about the Pentagon Papers, too. A lot of those same concerns were raised in court. I guess my question is...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Well, again, I--no, no, no--what I'm trying to--what I'm trying to--I don't think the--the material that's in the Pentagon--again, the Pentagon Papers is a fairly exhaustive policy review by the Pentagon. I think, as Major said earlier, these are a series of one-off documents about an operation here or an instance there, or--they're not a broad, sort of--this isn't a broad review of aspects of civilian--you know, progress that we have or haven't made on civilian casualties. It's just on-the-ground reporting on that. I think that's...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I mean, the aggregation of these documents (inaudible) collectively paints a portrait...

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Well, but again, you don't--you--you--because there's only a certain time period, and you don't know what was and what wasn't either leaked or post--posted, I think to say that you know everything is probably not the case.

QUESTION: Would you compare it to Abu Ghraib, or at least the repercussions from the impact?

GIBBS: I'm always--I will say this--was--I'm always loathe to look back and compare one event to something else. When--I just don't always--I don't--I think we have a tendency to always want to compare to something else rather than simply reporting out what.

But again, I--I want to stress again that the notion that, again--if you wrote down all of what our concerns are in our relationship with Pakistan; if you wrote down what they were about our relationship and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, I do not know that you would list one thing differently today as a result of what we've read in these documents that you wouldn't have already listed a week ago.

I just don't--and I think that's why--what's partly your answer to that: that you--you don't have some revelation that there's a systematic change of the course of events; that we have stepped up operations in a certain part in the war in Southeast Asia; that we've escalated. That's just not--that's not what these documents are.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: The head of Wikileaks tells us that he--he won't identify the source of the material. He actually says we still don't know who the source is. But if it was Private First Class Manning, who is already in custody, the head of Wikileaks says, "He's a hero."

QUESTION: What does the president say to Wikileaks and those who believe that they are doing the right thing...

GIBBS: Well, look...

QUESTION: ...in outing the policy they disagree with?

GIBBS: Well, I think there are ways in which one can disapprove a policy without breaking the law and putting in potential danger those who are there to keep us safe.

Again, if I were to have handed one of you these documents, I would be breaking the law.

I think there are certainly better ways to--to discuss and register one's opposition, rather than putting people in potential harm's way.

QUESTION: What (inaudible)? Do you know?

GIBBS: I'm not going to get into that.

...

QUESTION: Robert, can I ask you about the congressional briefing on Wikileaks?

GIBBS: I'll come back (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Let me--let me follow on Wikileaks. Let me just follow on Wikileaks for a second.

Even if there is nothing substantially new in these documents, you're in the communications business. Are you concerned that the public, and therefore perhaps members of Congress, will think that there's something new here and that perception will drive reality, and that it will have an impact on your policy?

GIBBS: Well, look, I think inherently, the last phrase of your question that you didn't necessarily enumerate were--was about the politics of all this.

The president made a decision to put almost 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan, not based on the politics, but based on what was right, based on what he believed was--gave us the best chance at succeeding in Afghanistan, and in making the decisions that gave us the best opportunity to improve our relationship with Pakistan and create, as Ed pointed out, a partnership to go after those in Pakistan that sought to do Pakistanis harm or those in Pakistan and Afghanistan that sought to do Americans harm.

That's the filter by which the president went through the meetings. That's the filter by which the president made that decision.

The politics of all of this stuff will settle out, regardless. The question that the president asked himself and the question that the team asked themselves in making this decision is, what's the right policy for this country? What's the right policy that keeps us safe? And what's the right policy that prevents safe havens from being re-created in Afghanistan, where planning can happen again unfettered to attack this country, as happened on September 11th?

That's--that's what--that's what we're focused on.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is it unanimous among all the administration that this is the right policy, that (inaudible)?

GIBBS: I would point you to DoD on that.

GIBBS: I would say this: that there was a very, very large, very, very extensive, with multiple inputs, review of where we were and what we needed to do, going forward. We're in the process of implementing going--of--we're in the process of implementing that new strategy, evaluating that new strategy and moving forward.

QUESTION: But is America (inaudible) safer?

GIBBS: That's--I believe America is safer.

And I--because if we were not to--if we were not to be in this area; if we were to--if the Taliban were to come and overthrow a government and create a safe haven that allowed al-Qaeda and its extremist allies to not have to plot in a cave, but sit in the open and plot the next September 11th, our country is--our country would be much, much more dangerous, a much greater target. And I think that's why the president has made the decisions that he's made.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Robert, why do the documents in the Wikileaks [leak] date back to 2004? Is this a direct slap in the face to this administration's intelligence (inaudible) in Afghanistan?

GIBBS: I--again, I think if it says anything, it speaks to some concerns about operational security. I--I don't--I don't believe that that's directed at us personally.

QUESTION: OK, well, and let me--and also on that--on the intelligence (inaudible), more so on a broader scope on intelligence, after 9/11, the Bush administration kept saying it was not about if, but a matter of when another attack would happen on U.S. soil. Is that still the case, as you deal with intelligence on a daily basis?

GIBBS: Well, without getting in to discussing the same type of material I've said I wouldn't discuss here, we are--there are a group of people within this government, within this White House, that work each day to make sure that doesn't happen.

...

QUESTION: ...and I get that--I get that most of this information predates the president's...

GIBBS: I think that--honestly, I think that most of the outreach was probably done less last week and more, quite honestly, over the course of the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: Well, the message that this--that most of this information predates the president's new strategy doesn't seem to have gotten through to people like Sen. [John] Kerry, who said today that this information raises serious questions.

Are you all trying to tamp it down and make sure that there's a real line drawn between...

GIBBS: No, no, let's--well, let's--let me first be clear about--I think it is hard--would be hard to identify anybody that has done as much as Senator Kerry has. He was obviously intimately involved in, met several times with President Karzai around the election and the aftermath on that.

He has been--he's traveled to both countries and, I think, has been an important--an important leader in--in ensuring that our policy is the right one.

QUESTION: Well, then he should know more than anybody that these are new concerns, but he's still saying it raises serious question.

GIBBS: Well, again, it--again, I'm not minimizing that this information is out there.

What I'm simply saying is, I think, if you asked this of Sen. Kerry; I think if you asked this of most on Capitol Hill--and this doesn't have to do with whether this stuff predates it. I will say that, again, our concern about the direction of the war, the funding and the resources that were being given to it--and, look, that--that is your strategy. If you're not going to fund your strategy, or if you're going--if your strategy is going to be predicated on 25,000 troops rather than 100,000 troops, that limits your ability to impact that strategy.

But, look, I think Sen. Kerry has--has been a leading voice on this, and I think our responsibility and his responsibility as the leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to do all that we can to get this right.

We have weekly--the president hears weekly from commanders on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have monthly meetings, as I said, that will happen just this Thursday in the Situation Room, to evaluate where are and to make adjustments.

Nobody is writing--nobody wrote anything in stone, and is then just hoping that it all happens. We will continually evaluate where we are, what needs to happen, how do we build Afghan capacity, how do we train up the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army as part of a comprehensive national security force that gives us the ability, once areas are cleared, to be able to transfer, again, both from a governance and a military perspective.

I think all of that is important and all of that will be continually evaluated.

###
 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments