Stanford Progressive

WikiLeaks: Alleviating the Pentagon’s Bad Case of Overclassification

By Ilias Karim, published October, 2010

Discontent with the US military’s war in Afghanistan was recently accentuated by the publication of over 70,000 leaked war documents that chronicle our military’s blunders over the past five years. The documents, publicized by WikiLeaks to The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel, have stirred up a lot of controversy and raise important questions about military transparency in the information age.

(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

But the leak has helped to suggest some possible answers to one pressing question: Why is the war in Afghanistan failing? America spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world spends on its defenses combined, yet we can’t make lasting progress towards peace in an impoverished, war-torn country. The leaked reports show that the incidents that are costing lives and draining resources are issues of friendly fire, civilian casualties from miscommunication at checkpoints, corruption, and expensive mistakes like multi-million dollar Predator drones being flown into the sides of mountains because of lost signals.

The Pentagon and various pundits have condemned the leak of the confidential documents, claiming that the information disclosed puts our soldiers and Afghan informants at risk. But this claim is bogus and impossible to back up. WikiLeaks has in fact approached the Pentagon and offered to redact information that puts our allies at risk. The Pentagon refuses to cooperate, even though they claim that the lives of our soldiers are at stake. They demand that WikiLeaks “return all versions of all of these documents to the U.S. government.” Unfortunately for them that’s not how the internet works.

The Pentagon is no stranger to putting the lives of our soldiers, Afghani informants, and Afghani civilians at risk. That is what the US military has been doing for nearly nine years now. And it hasn’t been honest with the taxpaying public, classifying hundreds of thousands  of war documents that could potentially undermine support for the war. The Pentagon has a problem with over-classification because they have a vested interest: As long as they don’t admit the extent of the failures in the war, they will continue to find funding and government support.

The recent leak is only the tip of the  Pentagon’s metaphorical iceberg of war documents. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has promised that his organization will release another set of war documents within a month, and WikiLeaks has uploaded an encrypted 1.4 terabyte file (20 times the size of the first Afghan war diaries leak) to its servers, which it is calling insurance—possibly in case the Pentagon attempts legal prosecution. The great tragedy of all the war documents being released now is that the violence they describe has already been committed. But if heeded by the public, the leaked documents have the potential to save tens of thousands more lives in the future.

If you have ever wanted to inform yourself about the war, this is your chance for an unbiased perspective. Please take the time to browse some of the highlighted reports in major news publications, if you haven’t done so already. President Obama’s response to the failing war in Afghanistan last year was to commit 30,000 more troops. But the problems outlined by the Afghan war diaries clearly show a qualitative rather than quantitative problem with our war efforts. Sending more troops is not going to ease communication at checkpoints, it will only make it more tense. It will not loosen corruption’s grip on everyday life in Afghanistan

The issue of corruption in Afghanistan is one that shows that the American strategy was wrong from day one. Our forces went into Afghanistan thinking they could hand out paychecks and Ford pickup trucks to win over “hearts and minds.” Our military leaders should have expected the result: Afghan officials learn how to falsify reports and pass the pickup trucks on, often into the hands of insurgents. Corruption is a notoriously hard problem to solve, and is less a symptom of insecurity (though we haven’t made Afghanistan much more secure, anyways) than it is of a generally impoverished country. Corruption is not solved with guns, bullets, paychecks, or Ford pickup trucks. It requires a much more substantial international involvement that focuses on human development.

Polls have shown that the majority of Americans no longer support the war, and only the smallest percentage group believes that the war effort will become more successful in the near future. Instead, we are headed further in the wrong direction: 2010 is the most insecure year in the Afghanistan war yet. The realization that we have been making grave mistakes in our conduct in Afghanistan for the last nine years is a difficult one to come to terms with. If the public had had objective data from on the ground sooner, the war may have taken a different turn sooner. Here’s to hoping that now, with this information available, our war in Afghanistan does take a turn for the better.


  1.  Dave Manchester, October 22, 2010 @ 6:09 am

    Do more than just read the papers. The mainstream papers will only give small slices of this enormous data store. Dig right into the data Yourself. Wikileaks has provided some tools for research at DiaryDig, linked below. It might look daunting, but is surprisingly easy. Consider it a baptism in Data Journalism.

    Here are some related links, from my post “Promise Kept: Wikileaks gets Maximum Impact for Manning” at

    Related Links:

    Icerocket Trend
    Wikileaks Mirror
    Pentagon Plan to destroy Wikileaks
    War Diaries Release & Download
    War Diary Tools


  2.  Agustin, November 26, 2010 @ 2:07 am

    You say here that the “insurance” file is 1.4 terabytes, that’s about a thousand and twenty-four times too much, it is actually 1.4 Gigabytes.

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