The Times: 'Wikileaks release will cost Afghan lives'

The Times in London reports today that hundreds of Afghan lives have been put at risk by the leaking of 92,000 intelligence documents on the website Wikileaks.

It claims that in just two hours of searching through the data its reporters found the names of dozens of Afghans “credited with providing detailed intelligence to US forces.”

An unnamed senior Afghan Foreign Ministry official told The Times: “The leaks certainly have put in danger the lives and integrity of many Afghans.”

A former US senior intelligence officer told The Times: “It’s possible someone could get killed in the next few days.”

The Times points out that among the documents leaked is the transcript of a 2008 interview with a named Taliban fighter considering defection.

The documents were released on Wikileaks on Monday, the same day The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times all published extensive reports based on them.

Simon Rogers, a news editor at The Guardian, said in a blog post that his team took care not to publish information which would put lives at risk.

He said: “It was central to what we would do quite early on that we would not publish the full database. Wikileaks was already going to do that and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t reveal the names of informants or unnecessarily endanger Nato troops.”

In a webchat carried yesterday on the New York Times website, its executive editor Bill Keller responded to the same question.

He said: “The decision to post this secret military archive on a website accessible to the public was Wikileaks’, not ours.

“Wikileaks was going to post the material even if The Times decided to ignore it. We, along with the Guardian newspaper in London and the German magazine Der Spiegel, were offered access to the material for about a month before its release; that was the extent of our connection.

“We used that month to study the material, try to assess its value and credibility, weigh it against our own reporters’ experience of the war and against other sources, and then tell our readers what it all meant.

“In doing so, we took great care both to put the information in context and to excise anything that would put lives at risk or jeopardise ongoing military missions.

“Obviously we did not disclose the names of Afghans, except for public officials, who have co-operated with the war effort, either in our articles or in the selection of documents we posted on our own website.

“We did not disclose anything that would compromise intelligence-gathering methods. We erred, if at all, on the side of prudence.

“For example, when a document reported that a certain aircraft left a certain place at a certain time and arrived at another place at a certain time, we omitted those details on the off-chance that an enemy could gain some small tactical advantage by knowing the response time of military aircraft.”

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