Wikileaks released another enormous trove of classified military records on Friday, thumbing its nose at an outraged Pentagon and seeming to stand bravely for freedom of information. But this time they agreed to self-censor some information, and they overdid it.
When Wikileaks released its classified database of intelligence reports from the Afghan war last summer, one of the many outraged charges hurled against the group and its elfin leader Julian Assange was that its failure to redact the names of confidential informants and other Afghan civilians mentioned in the reports provided a roadmap for the Taliban to begin purging collaborators. A few days after the leak, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed (ludicrously) that Assange and his crew "might already have on their hands the blood" of civilians named in the data dump. On the other side of the spectrum, human rights groups including Amnesty International also criticized Assange for naming names, and requested that he remove identifying information from the documents.
The blowback clearly spooked Assange, because the latest release of so-called SIGACT reports from the Iraq war isn't just redacted to protect the innocent—it's redacted to the point of incoherence. Take this March 2007 report mentioning the involvement of Iranian intelligence operatives in attacks on Iraqi officials. It was published in full both by the New York Times, which got advance access to the database from Wikileaks, and by Wikileaks itself.
So why is buccaneering misanthrope Julian Assange afraid of revealing such basic info as the identity of a foreign intelligence agency mentioned in the reports when the old guard at the New York Times isn't? Other senseless redactions we've spotted include a reference to a "A BLUE [redacted] WAS ON THE SIDE OF THE MSR. [redacted] WERE NO OCCUPANTS IN THE VEHICLE" and a humvee that "FIRED TWO WARNING SHOTS FROM ITS [redacted] CAL MACHINE GUN." It's unclear why the Assange is OK with mentioning that an object was blue, but sought to keep hidden the obvious fact that the object was also a vehicle. Likewise, we can't figure out where in Wikileaks' transparency-minded rhetoric we might find a justification for withholding the caliber of a machine gun.
It seems likely that, given the massive size of the database this time around—nearly 400,000 entries—some sort of algorithm was applied, as opposed to a human being going through each report. The problem is, Assange seems to have erred on the side of caution, peppering his prize leak with holes and lacunae in order to avoid being attacked for endangering Iraqi collaborators. It's his choice to make, obviously, but as Forbes' Jeff Bercovici notes, the decision is at odds with his "chaotic neutral" persona. Oh, and the Pentagon says the Afghan leak caused no intelligence harm, didn't reveal the identities of any intelligence sources, and has no evidence that any civilians named in the leak were harmed.