Wikileaks / Afghan logs
I'm doing some thinking on Wikileaks. I'll update this page with links throughout the next few days as they come up.
Best take on the Wikileak of the Afghan logs I've seen so far, by the New Yorker's Amy Davidson:
While [The New York Times] did find “misleading statements” on matters such as the Taliban’s use of heat-seeking missiles, and much that had been “hidden from the public eye,” the Times decided that
Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war.
One should pause there. What does it mean to tell the truth about a war? Is it a lie, technically speaking, for the Administration to say that it has faith in Hamid Karzai’s government and regards him as a legitimate leader—or is it just absurd? Is it a lie to say that we have a plan for Afghanistan that makes any sense at all? If you put it that way, each of the WikiLeaks documents—from an account of an armed showdown between the Afghan police and the Afghan Army, to a few lines about a local interdiction official taking seventy-five-dollar bribes, to a sad exchange about an aid scam involving orphans—is a pixel in a picture that does, indeed, contradict official accounts of the war, and rather drastically so.
Great analysis from Jay Rosen, also taking into account the state of journalism. Many good points.
Ask yourself: Why didn’t Wikileaks just publish the Afghanistan war logs and let journalists ‘round the world have at them? Why hand them over to The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel first? Because as Julien Assange, founder of Wikileaks, explained last October, if a big story is available to everyone equally, journalists will pass on it.
“It’s counterintuitive,” he said then. “You’d think the bigger and more important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but that’s absolutely not true. It’s about supply and demand. Zero supply equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero.”
The most extensive piece of journalism on Wikileaks so far is the New Yorker's profile of Julian Assange, the editor.
Interesting analysis of the incident reports using some very detailed operational knowledge, by Marc Armbinder, political editor of The Atlantic:
From the perspective of the government, it's helpful that information about the links between Hamid Gul and the ISI have come out; it is another lever that can be used to ratchet up the pressure against dissenting elements in Pakistan's government. Virtually all of the information contained in the database predates the President's announcement of his new Afghanistan strategy, as well as sustained, significant, and potentially (though not obviously) effective diplomacy with coalitions spanning the border.
On a tactical level, did Wikileaks reveal anything that compromises the mission? There are lots of details and names that, out of context, provide no help for an enemy, but Wikileaks published data about numerous base names, call signs, and even soldier identities.
Noah Schactman of Wired experienced a dramatic combat situation in Afghanistan where he was pinned down for days with a company of soldiers named Echo Company. The battle logs describe a much tamer reality. This may be true of many situations as well: that there is a discrepancy either because of soldiers exaggerating the number of enemies or pretending the situation wasn't as big as it was.
What you won’t learn is that a marine sniper team sparked the shoot-out with a surprise assault on the insurgents; that every member of that team was nearly killed in the battle; that the incident would kick off a three-day siege in which the Taliban nearly had the Echo company squad surrounded; that this spot eventually became an Echo company base; or that, while this extended gun fight was going on, British and Afghan troops were nearby, waging a more gentle form of counterinsurgency as they sat cross-legged under shady patches of farmland and talked with village elders.
I happen to know this because I was there with Echo company, reporting for WIRED magazine. And the wide difference between what actually happened at the Moba Khan compound and what the report says happened there should give caution to those who think they can discover the capital-T truth about the Afghanistan conflict solely through the WikiLeaks war logs.