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Returning from Hawaii. (Photo/WWR)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Wikileaks: Big Deal - or Big Yawn?

The White House this morning is trying to downplay the significance of the nearly 92,000 page Wikileaks report on U.S. involvement in the Afghan war. But if it’s so insignificant, then why yesterday's angry statement by National Security Advisor Jim Jones? Here's what he said:

"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security. Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted. These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."

Pretty strong stuff for something that others in the West Wing are spinning as "insignificant."

What does the President think? Mr. Obama so far has not ordered an investigation into who's behind the leaks - perhaps the largest of its kind in history. Wikileaks, not surprisingly, isn't saying. It may not even know for sure. Its founder, Julian Assange, has said the names of leakers are generally unknown, even to his organization.

Meantime, WWR isn't sure that we're learning much that is truly new. For example, the Wikileaks report says that elements within Pakistan’s spy service – the ISI – have been helping the Taliban for years. This has been widely known and reported for quite some time. Also: U.S. special ops have been targeting insurgent leaders and that civilians have been killed in such missions. There is fresh information on the number of civilians allegedly killed during such raids, however.

One thing that apparently is disclosed for the first time: the Taliban appears to have surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down American helicopters, though not in large numbers.

Leaks related to the nearly decade-long U.S. war in Afghanistan are hardly new. Last year someone leaked a report from the former commander of the Afghan war – Gen. Stanley McChrystal – angering Obama and forcing a three-month review of the war, that culminated in the President's decision to double down on the conflict.

We'll get more from this afternoon's White House briefing, slated to begin at 1:00.

- Paul Brandus at the White House

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