U.S. Army worried about Wikileaks in secret report

Army intelligence worried that Wikileaks.org could harm military operations and speculates that criminal prosecution could deter disclosures, document posted Monday indicates.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
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A leaked U.S. Army intelligence report, classified as secret, says the Wikileaks Web site poses a significant "operational security and information security" threat to military operations.

Classified U.S. military information appearing on Wikileaks could "influence operations against the U.S. Army by a variety of domestic and foreign actors," says the report, prepared in 2008 by the Army Counterintelligence Center and apparently disclosed in its entirety on Monday.

The embarrassing twist: It was Wikileaks that published the 32-page document, but not before editor Julian Assange prepended a critique saying some details in the Army report were inaccurate and its recommendations flawed.

One section of the original document says "criminal prosecution" of anyone leaking sensitive information could "deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site." Another speculates that Wikileaks--which boasts that it is "uncensorable"--is "knowingly encouraging criminal activities," including violation of national security laws regarding sedition and espionage.

Lt. Col Lee Packnett, a spokesman for the U.S. Army on intelligence topics, said he was not familiar with the Wikileaks disclosure and would not immediately be able to comment. The National Ground Intelligence Center, which provides the Army with information about enemy weapons system and was mentioned in the report, did not immediately respond to a query from CNET.

Under the federal Espionage Act, it is a crime to disclose "information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States" (18 USC 793(e)). Another section says even indirect disclosures of national defense information to foreign citizens can be punished, in certain cases, by death (18 USC 794(a)).

Some First Amendment scholars have argued that those portions of the federal code cannot survive legal scrutiny--otherwise, as a few conservative commentators have claimed, The New York Times' disclosure of Bush-era warrantless wiretapping would have been a crime. In a since-abandoned prosecution of two former pro-Israel lobbyists charged with disclosing classified U.S. defense information, however, a federal judge had ruled that the balance struck by the Espionage Act "is constitutionally permissible."

Wikileaks has disclosed classified U.S. Defense Department information before. A 2004 report about Fallujah also marked secret was highlighted repeatedly as an example of damaging disclosure in the document released Monday.

The document no longer appears to exist on Wikileaks' Web site. A previous location now returns the error message: "The resource you are looking for has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable." (Wikileaks' Assange did not immediately reply when asked for an explanation.)

Wikileaks previously disclosed thousands of pages of pager logs from September 11, 2001, and won a case in federal court in San Francisco, after a Swiss bank attempted to pull the plug on the entire Web site. It shut down briefly last month because of lack of funds.

"While we will not comment on whether this is, in fact, an official document, we do consider the deliberate release of what Wikileaks believes to be a classified document is irresponsible and, if valid, could put U.S. military personnel at risk," Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a spokesman for American military command in Baghdad, told The New York Times after Wikileaks posted a classified 2005 document about rules of engagement in that country.