Exclusive: WikiLeaks Collaborating With Media Outlets on Release of Iraq Documents

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A London-based journalism nonprofit is working with the WikiLeaks Web site and TV and print media in several countries on programs and stories based on what is described as massive cache of classified U.S. military field reports related to the Iraq War. Iain Overton, editor of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, tells Declassified that his organization has teamed up with media organizations—including major television networks and one or more American media outlets—in an unspecified number of countries to produce a set of documentaries and stories based on the cache of Iraq War documents in the possession of WikiLeaks. As happened with a similar WikiLeaks collection of tens of thousands of U.S. military field reports on the Afghan war, the unidentified media organizations involved with the London group in the Iraq documents project will all be releasing their stories on the same day, which Overton says would be several weeks from now. He declined to identify any of the media organizations participating in the project.

Overton acknowledges that the volume of Iraq War reports that WikiLeaks has made available for the project is massive, and almost certainly more than the 92,000 Afghan field reports the organization made available for advance review to The New York Times, Britain's Guardian, and Germany's Der Spiegel. The material is the "biggest leak of military intelligence" that has ever occurred, Overton says. As we reported when stories on WikiLeaks' Afghan holdings first appeared, the site's stash of Iraq documents is believed to be about three times as large as its Afghanistan collection. After the Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel published their stories based on the Afghan war documents, the site itself posted 76,000 of the papers. But after coming under criticism from both Pentagon spokesmen and human-rights activists for publishing information that could jeopardize the lives of Afghans cooperating with American and allied forces, WikiLeaks said it would not itself post the remaining 15,000 Afghan war documents until activists had taken some time to review, and, if necessary, edit sensitive information from the material.

WikiLeaks had signaled that the Afghan war documents might be posted on the site in the near future; its plans for the release of those documents are currently unclear. Overton says that in their work on the Iraq War documents, his organization and its media partners have "significantly learned from past experiences" regarding disclosure of material that could put lives in jeopardy. "We are hugely aware that this is an issue, and we're taking it very seriously," Overton says. He says that his organization itself would not be posting raw U.S. government reports on the Web, adding that he sees his group's job as digging stories out of the raw material, not simply publishing it in its original form. Overton says that his bureau's media partners are also "aware of the need to ensure that information is properly redacted."

Overton says that media organizations participating in the project will be making financial contributions to "help meet production costs" and that each media organization will likely come up with its own, at least partly original, take on the material because "everyone wants their exclusive." He declined to discuss in any detail what specific revelations the Iraq documents might contain. Declassified has previously reported that the Iraq material portrays U.S. forces being involved in a "bloodbath," but some of the most disturbing material relates to the abusive treatment of detainees, not by Americans but by Iraqi security forces.

It is unclear what role WikiLeaks frontman and cofounder Julian Assange is playing in the current project. Assange is currently facing an investigation by Swedish authorities related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation. Pentagon officials have condemned WikiLeaks' handling of classified defense files and have demanded that the Web site hand back all its holdings to U.S. authorities and destroy all its copies of the material.