[For more on the WikiLeaks Afghan document dump, read posts by Kevin Drum here and senior editor Dave Gilson here.]
Here's a cliche for you: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And here's a fact: A little knowledge is precisely what Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks cohorts have given us in the "Afghan War Diary." The intimation by Assange (and the media outlets he cherry-picked to preview the data) is that these are the Pentagon Papers of the Afghan war. Certainly there are a few eyebrow-raising details in the bunch, as Mark Mazzetti, Chris Chivers & Co. at the New York Times point out. But in truth, there's not much there. I know, because I've seen many of these reports before—at least, thousands of similar ones from Iraq, when I was a contractor there last year.
I haven't been through everything yet, but most of what you see on WikiLeaks are military SIGACTS (significant activity reports). These are theoretically accessible by anyone in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Tampa, Florida-based US Central Command—soldiers and contractors—who have access to the military's most basic intranet for sensitive data, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). Literally thousands of people in hundreds of locations could read them, and any one of them could be the source for WikiLeaks' data. I regularly went through the daily SIGACT reports in Iraq, not because my job required it, but because my colleagues and I were curious. We heard mortars or car bombs explode in the distance at night, and we couldn't help but wonder: What the hell was that? Every time a US unit engaged the enemy, encountered munitions, saw or heard something go boom, caught a criminal, or located a weapons cache, a report was filed. So, each morning when I entered my office on Camp Victory, I fired up my SIPR terminal and checked the SIGACTS for interesting stuff.
The first time I did it, my pupils dilated. A vein in my throat warmed. The reporter in me did backflips. I was about to breathe pure oxygen.
By day three or four, I was bored to tears. Here's what I learned: