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Friday, 30 July 2010

The Afghan "war logs" have yet to be fully exploited, says Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, talking with Tony Jones on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline last night.

"Yeah, that is true," answered Assange when Jones asked him if only a couple of thousand of the documents had been read by WikiLeaks and his coopted news organisations (The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel). "To read them and to read them in detail."

There's just so much material. We maybe had 20 people across the four organisations working on this full-time, and only [for] about a month for the other organisations and [for] about six weeks for us.

This naturally begs the questions as to how many of the documents were published without knowing the detail they contained. Jones obliged promptly and was, as usual, promptly answered by Assange.

It's fair to say that only two percent have been read in precise detail and the rest have been hived off using these classification systems. Now I presume what you're getting to is how did we split off the 15,000 that we have not yet released because we think they need further review to understand whether there might be innocent informers' names in there. After reviewing several different types of material, we saw that it was really these threat reports and some other classifications that contained information about informers. So those were all hived off.

WikiLeaks, it seems, additionally attempted to perform due diligence for the purposes of harm minimisation on the documents prior to releasing them. They contacted the White House to ask them to assist in vetting the documents for potentially damaging material in terms of individuals who had collaborated with coalition forces in Afghanistan. Their request was refused by the administration.

This process was mediated by The New York Times.

Dan Kennedy, assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, a private university in Massachusetts, told Northeastern's news website recently that due to its having brought journalists into the story pre-release for the Afghan "war logs" WikiLeaks "is now seen [by the mainstream media] as a more credible source of information than had previously been the case". Earlier it had been "heavily criticized" in the press, says Kennedy, for a leak.

But Jones asked Assange about the continuing desire of the NYT to distance itself from WikiLeaks which I reported yesterday.

It's quite interesting. Der Spiegel and The Guardian were not really like that. They really did come properly to the table. But the environment in the United States, the publishing environment, I presume, is really quite difficult when saying anything strongly against the war. In previous cases what we've seen is you can actually get important stories into The New York Times and into other mainstream press outlets like CNN. We did that with the collateral murder tape, which exposed the murders of two Reuters journalists in Baghdad and the slaying of 16 to 24 other people. But then what happens is editorial space is opened up for apologists who simply have opinion. So to get a story in about the war it has to be hard fact, you have to have the hard facts. But to get a pro-war story in all you need is opinion. I think that really represents just the sheer scope of the war industry in the United States.

It is just possible that the US press will be less likely to allow stories criticising WikiLeaks to have room in the public sphere by denying them access to opinion pages, but I doubt it.

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