Nearly 92,000 classified documents illustrating the realities of the war in Afghanistan over the last six years were published yesterday by The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian, immediately drawing comparison to the Pentagon Papers, which changed the course of the Vietnam War when they ran on the frontpage of The New York Times in 1971. The Afghanistan war logs came to the American and European press through Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, which embargoed the documents for over a month until July 25th. The news companies do not know the original source of the materials.
Soliders, mainly seargeants, in the field in Afghanistan generated the documents, which detail everything from previously unreported instances of civilian casualty to mishaps involving drone aircrafts. Reports of this nature exist for use by desk officers in the Pentagon and soldiers in the field when preparing briefings. The freshest document in the leak was generated in December 2009, before President Obama announced his new strategy in Afghanistan.
The three news organizations agreed to publish simultaneously on Sunday evening, independently preparing their own analyses and framing of the documents. The news companies also did their best to verify the authenticity of the documents.
The New York Times coordinated with the White House around the publication of the docments. In an editor’s note, The Times wrote that it was working on behalf of the White House to make sure that WikiLeaks did not allow any potentially endangering information to be published in its archives online, and the paper’s website will not link to the complete archive of the documents posted by WikiLeaks.
While White House National Securty adviser James Jones released a statement Sunday night condemning the leak, Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet told Michael Calderone that the White House has been very pleased with the way the paper has handled the materials. “I did in fact go the White House and lay out for them what we had,” Mr. Baquet told Mr. Calderone. “We did it to give them the opportunity to comment and react. They did. They also praised us for the way we handled it, for giving them a chance to discuss it, and for handling the information with care. And for being responsible.”