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Wikileaks: Pentagon Was Given Access to Unpublished Documents

This post originally appeared on the Daily Kos.
When WikiLeaks released its massive trove of documents on the Afghanistan war, the Pentagon immediately responded that the release would endanger Afghans who were helping the Army. WikiLeaks countered that they had attempted, using the New York Times as an intermediary, to ask the administration for help in redacting those names. The Pentagon claimed that it had not had direct contact with WikiLeaks and had not had the opportunity to redact critical information in the release. A new report from Newsweek's Mark Hosenball puts that assertion into question.
A lawyer representing the whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks  says U.S. government officials have been given codes and passwords granting them online access to official U.S. government documents that WikiLeaks so far has not published. Timothy Matusheski, a lawyer from Hattiesburg, Miss., who says he represents whistle-blowers and has been in touch with both WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and at least one government official involved in investigations of WikiLeaks, said the site had set up a “secure channel” through which authorized users could access the unpublished material. He said credentials for using this channel had been forwarded to representatives of the U.S. government whom he did not identify. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Matusheski indicated that the reason WikiLeaks had taken these steps was to make good on its offer to try to work with U.S. authorities to remove from reports, published in the future by the Web site, sensitive information that could put innocent lives in jeopardy.... Earlier this week, Assange and Pentagon spokesmen indulged in a bout of long-distance name-calling, with Pentagon spokesmen denying that U.S. defense officials had “any direct contact with WikiLeaks," and Assange insisting, in an interview  with the Associated Press in Stockholm, that the U.S. had expressed a willingness to discuss a request from WikiLeaks that U.S. officials help the Web site redact Afghan war documents that it has in its possession but hasn’t yet published. In an e-mail to Declassified, Assange insisted: “We are correct, the Pentagon lies or misleads, as per usual.” Not long after the “liar, liar” accusations began flying between Assange and Pentagon spokesmen, WikiLeaks posted, via Twitter, a copy of an Aug. 16 letter that Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel, had sent to Matusheski. In the letter—which was sent out before the Pentagon spokesman gave us their denials of any “direct” contact with WikiLeaks—Johnson claimed that Matusheski, on behalf of WikiLeaks, had sought a conversation with someone in the U.S. government to discuss “harm minimization” with regard to 15,000 official Pentagon reports on the Afghan war that WikiLeaks has been threatening to make public. In the letter, however, Johnson reiterates the Defense Department’s position as it was stated by official spokesmen to Declassified: “The Department of Defense will not negotiate some ‘minimized’ or ‘sanitized’ version of a release by WikiLeaks of additional U.S. Government classified documents. The Department demands that nothing further be released by WikiLeaks, that all of the U.S. Government classified documents that WikiLeaks has obtained be returned immediately, and that WikiLeaks remove and destroy all of these records from its databases.”
So the Pentagon did have direct contact with WikiLeaks or a representative prior to the release of documents--the letter Johnson sent to Matusheski proves it. WikiLeaks should have redacted that information before releasing documents. This seriously undercuts, as Adam Serwer notes, the Pentagon's argument that WikiLeaks alone will have "blood on its hands" in this episode. The Pentagon might not like the fact that WikiLeaks is releasing these documents, but it and administration officials need to be honest in this debate.