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Leaks pose security concern for Afghans working with U.S.

By Mike Mount, CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some reports name Afghans who supply information or work with military
  • "Anyone whose name appears in those documents is potentially at risk," Pentagon says
  • Leaks might hinder future contacts who think U.S. can't protect sources
  • Naming insurgents could alert them that they are being watched

Washington (CNN) -- U.S. military officials are assessing what damage could be done to intelligence contacts in Afghanistan after a number of names of local Afghans working with the U.S. military appeared on documents leaked by the WikiLeaks website, according to a U.S. military official.

A CNN review of the documents found numerous situational reports from troops in the field who name local individuals who either come forth with information or work with the military on a regular basis. References to such documents in this article are in only general terms.

The Pentagon has a team of military and civilian workers sorting through the tens of thousands of pages of documents on a 24-hour basis to see what fallout this may have for U.S. forces and those who worked with them, according to a U.S. military official who declined to be named because of the ongoing investigation.

The list of Afghan contacts has been one of the initial concerns in the leaked documents, the source said.

"These are people whose lives could be at stake," the official said.

"Anyone whose name appears in those documents is potentially at risk one way or another," said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan. "It could compromise their position, their life; it could have an impact on their future conduct -- their willingness to continue or support those kinds of things."

"It is logical to think that the Taliban could go after the individuals who are named in these documents, because we know they already go after Afghans who they discover are working with the U.S. or coalition forces," according to the official.

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In an example of one of the leaked documents, a summary of a security meeting with residents in a district in eastern Afghanistan, a villager is named as somebody who had been willing to come forth and work with the local government and police to identify Taliban, the document said.

Another concern is over what the future holds for potential new contacts in the field because of the perception that the U.S. cannot protect sources.

"We are concerned about a chilling effect, if it is perceived the U.S. cannot protect the identification of people of information given what incentive do Afghans have if they think they cannot be protected if they help," the official said.

"A lot of this work is built on trust with the Afghans, and they may now be reticent if they are not protected," according to the source.

Lapan said there has been at least one Afghan who has approached the military with concerns about his name being on the list.

"I am aware that there have been communications with our folks in Afghanistan of displeasure that names are out there," he said.

Lapan said he was not aware of any cases since the leak of Afghans who had been killed or were in danger but pointed out that the documents have been out for only a few days.

Another problem facing the military are names that appear in some of the leaked reports that identify insurgents or insurgent facilitators, which could alert those individuals that the military is now watching them and how it is watching them.

In one example of a summary of a raid by coalition forces in March 2009, the name of a targeted insurgent is documented. The report goes on to detail other contacts the insurgent has and that he contacts a named al Qaeda figure via email.

"If insurgent names or the tactics of how the U.S. military operates in the field are shown in these documents, it could have the effect of causing additional damage to intelligence gathering," according to the official.

Many of the initial documents that have been reviewed have been assessed to be unit-level field reports that are at a "secret" classification level, according to Lapan. The "secret" designation is a relatively low-level one that is widely accessible to military members.

He declined to discuss the reports CNN found because they remain classified as "secret."

The official also said the Pentagon is still assessing whether the leaking of these documents will put U.S. troops at risk with the possible backlash from angry Afghans who have worked with the U.S. military who feel that they have been exposed and their lives endangered.

The military is trying to determine whether there is any information in the documents that could expose security measures around troops and facilities and offer insight to insurgents on more effectively attacking U.S. or coalition troops, the official said.

CNN's review of the document found a number of details about security procedures, but officials at the Pentagon would not comment on whether any of those documents are of concern.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the site has held back 15,000 documents because they contain sensitive data.

"We have withheld approximately 15,000 reports for a further minimization process, and we don't see anything here that is of tactical significance," Assange said on CNN's "Larry King Live" this week.

Lapan dismissed that judgment of the document's significance.

"I think we have been very clear publicly, these things present risk and that we don't believe WikiLeaks is an organization that has the relevant skills to determine one way or another what harm could come," Lapan said. "Obviously, our number one preference is that they don't provide classified documents to the public. But lacking that, they at least consider the Department of Defense determine before they release them if there is any potential harm."

 
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