Extremists in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the U.S. Exploit WikiLeaks Documents


Raw intelligence is ugly stuff, perverse and treacherous. "A little learning is a dangerous thing," wrote the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope, who had a keen ear for political posturing. How much more dangerous is a little learning based on an inassimilable pile of hundreds of thousands of documents dumped on the public by WikiLeaks? Inevitably, these war logs written in haste from the field by hard-pressed and ill-informed Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq are cherry-picked by people looking to bolster their own causes, make their own cases. And while the whole process of leaking and disseminating them has been widely (if warily) endorsed by antiwar liberals and moderates, there is plenty of material ready to be exploited by extremists.

The Taliban already are hard at work on the earlier leaks, looking to sniff out—and snuff out—those they deem informers and collaborators But the most volatile trove in the more heavily redacted Iraq collection is, in fact, about Iran—and it's likely to benefit the extremists in both Iran and the United States who are pushing those countries toward war.

Reporters of the old school believe that you put the facts out there without fear or favor and that the truth will win in the end. "Tell the truth and raise hell," some say. And that philosophy can serve the public well if the facts are checked first. But we should not be naive about the implications of wholesale information dumps like those of Wiki­Leaks, especially when we're talking about war and peace in places like Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Reading the WikiLeaks documents on Iranian support for attacks in Iraq, even an arrant pacifist would have to wonder just how much provocation is necessary before the United States decides to strike back with a vengeance. Extensive reports in the Iraq War Logs describe the Iranian role working with members of Lebanon's Hizbullah to train Iraqi guerrillas to ambush American soldiers. Iran also supplied its favored Iraqi militias with lethal, low-level technology like the roadside bombs known as EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators, able to blast through the armor of a Humvee and kill the Americans inside. (The press has reported this before, of course, but when the revelations come in "secret" papers suddenly made public they tend to carry more weight.)

For more than 30 years the Iranians and their Hizbullah cronies have made a specialty of what one of the WikiLeaks documents describes as "precision, military style kidnappings," and their Iraqi clients picked up the techniques quickly. In 2006, one Iraqi who trained in Iran plotted to attack American troops in a Baghdad tunnel, but the intelligence apparently was good enough to prevent that. A month later, a similar attack hit U.S. soldiers in Karbala; one of whom died at the scene, and four were kidnapped, then killed.

A dispatch from last year, meanwhile, strongly suggests that three American hikers imprisoned in Iran for allegedly straying across its border with the mountainous Kurdish area of northern Iraq were in fact almost five kilometers from the frontier, possibly inside a small village—and still inside Iraq—when the Iranians or their clients picked them up. The woman among the hikers, Sarah Shourd, was recently released and is now back in the U.S., but her two companions, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, are still in a Tehran prison.

The record of Iranian bombings, ambushes, and abductions is stunning. Throughout history, wars have been launched with much less provocation, and while none of these general allegations is new, they're now being recounted at a critical time. Iran already is firing up one of its nuclear reactors, and if Americans were not so distracted by their own domestic politics right now, they would see that a violent showdown grows more likely every day, with WikiLeaks helping the hawks in the U.S.

And then, almost out of the blue, there's a Wiki gift to the Iranian prosecutors who reportedly have determined to put Fattal and Bauer on trial for spying. The charges brought against other victims of the regime and its courts in the past have centered around alleged plots to create propaganda undermining the militarized theocracy in Iran so it could be overthrown by a mass movement. In July 2009, when the hikers were picked up, the regime was still reeling from enormous protests against the evident fraud of the presidential elections in June that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office.

The hikers are journalists and bloggers, but their families have always maintained that they were merely in those particular mountains at that time to do a little rock-climbing. The author of the relevant war log published by The New York Times with fewer omissions than the one on the WikiLeaks site, apparently saw the Americans' actions in a different light. The analysis at the end of the log concludes "the lack of coordination on the part of these hikers, particularly after being forewarned, indicates an intent to agitate and create publicity regarding international policies on Iran." That is just the kind of thing the prosecutors in Tehran will want to try to establish.

Sometimes it's possible to print something called "the truth" and create hell.