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'It's Time To Open The Archives' -- WikiLeaks And The Pentagon Battle On Twitter


"We are not interested in negotiating." So tweeted the U.S. Department of Defense on August 19 in an apparent message to WikiLeaks, which has been promising to release 15,000 more secret Afghan war documents.

The whistle-blower organization, which maintains an aggressive presence on Twitter, has been using its feed to publicize their conflict. Watching the "conversation" unfold has been a textbook case of how media, in this case new media, can be used by two organizations to jostle for position in public opinion

For example, only a few minutes later on August 19, WikiLeaks tweeted, "DoD's General Counsel is apparently an 'incompetent authority.'" The tweet included two links:

-- The first is to an article from the American Forces Press Service in which Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says the 15,000 documents "should be returned" and "the Defense Department has had no direct contract with WikiLeaks."

-- The second is to a letter from Jeh Charles Johnson, the general counsel for the Department of Defense, to Timothy Matusheski, an American lawyer representing WikiLeaks. In the letter, Johnson explains that leaking the 15,000 documents would "add to the damage" the government believes has been done to U.S. national security by the previous leak of war logs from Afghanistan.

It doesn't take a spy genius to understand what's happening here: the Pentagon can legitimately say that they haven't directly contacted WikiLeaks, i.e., the masterminds themselves, nor do they intend to, while WikiLeaks can legitimately counter that the Pentagon has, in fact, effectively done precisely that.

But what's more interesting is the scope of the tit-for-tat, especially from WikiLeaks' side (the Department of Defense has been pretty demur on Twitter). WikiLeaks has spent a lot of digital ink trying to cast doubt upon the integrity of Defense officials: "Pentagon: The free press trying to do the right thing are worse than Iran," reads one tweet, "Are Pentagon lawyers who believe WikiLeaks acted illegally same ones who were OK with torture of prisoners?" reads another.

Sometimes the tweets have been downright personal, as when WikiLeaks called Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell "obnoxious." Other times, it's been very strident, as when it decries the Pentagon for "total censorship," adding that it "doesn't give a damn about Afghans."

So far, though, the most potentially damning tweet links back to a leak on the WikiLeaks website of a 2008 classified counterintelligence investigation into the whistle-blower organization. The investigation's report recommends the "identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers [to] potentially damage or destroy [WikiLeaks] and deter others considering similar actions [from using the website]." Oddly, the authors cite the fact that China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe "denounce or block access" to WikiLeaks as further justification.

Anyway, these tweets, although interesting, are still only the prologue to the real fight -- namely, when the remaining documents are released. And it seems that moment is drawing closer, as WikiLeaks tweeted last week, "It is time to open the archives."

-- Christopher Schwartz

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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