Pentagon is conducting an aggressive investigation into the source behind the leaking of tens of thousands of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan to the internet whistle-blower WikiLeaks, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, dpa reported.
"This department is conducting a thorough, aggressive investigation to determine how this leak occurred, to identify the person or persons responsible, and to assess the content of the information compromised," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon. The leaking of classified information is a violation of US law.
Gates said he has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help in the investigation, and didn't rule out the possibility it could expand to the activities of WikiLeaks or the media.
The 91,000 classified documents leaked to WikiLeaks emerged in press reports on Sunday, prompting outrage from the White House and the Pentagon over worries they could expose sources and methods about operations in Afghanistan and put lives in danger.
The documents are largely old, covering the period from 2004 to 2009, and contain material that has already been in the public domain. But they also reveal details about the nature of military and intelligence operations.
The information provided in the documents outline concerns, among others, about the lack of resources in the war, civilian casualties and that elements of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, were collaborating with the Taliban.
"The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world," Gates said.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lashed out a WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for failing to appreciate the importance of the information he was making public.
"The sheer size and scope of the collection now demands a careful review to determine the degree to which future tactical operations may be impacted and the degree to which the lives of our troops and Afghan partners may be at risk," Mullen said.
Mullen also suggested that WikiLeaks may already have on its "hands the blood" of a young soldier or an Afghan family exposed to retribution. He did not provide any examples.
"Disagree with the war all you want, take issue with the policy, challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we've been given," he said. "But don't put those who willingly go into harm's way even further in harm's way just to satisfy your need to make a point."
Assange has said in television interviews that he was merely trying to facilitate the truth about the conflict.
The White House said the problems the documents outline about the war were largely incorporated into his revised strategy that includes a massive buildup of forces and was announced in December.