WASHINGTON, July 26, 2010 -- The White House and its international partners today sharply condemned a whistle-blower website's publication of more than 90,000 top-secret U.S. military records on Afghanistan and braced for the release of as many as 15,000 more, as the leak reverberated around the world.
"Our reaction to this type of material -- a breach of federal law -- is always the same," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today. "It has the potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military and those who are working to keep us safe."
Gibbs said President Obama had been aware of the impending release as recently as one week ago and found it "alarming," adding that the administration believes much of what is contained in the documents has already been publicly known or discussed.
"It's not the content as much as it is the names, operations, logistics, sources -- all of that information out in the public has the potential to do harm," Gibbs said.
"These are raw intelligence reports being filed by commanders on the ground, intelligence analysts, as events are breaking whether they be firefights, drone attacks, secret commando operations," said New York Times reporter Eric Schmidt, who previewed the documents weeks before their publication but delayed reporting on the release to consult with U.S. officials on security concerns and to confirm their authenticity.
The "war logs" also provide startling revelations about everything from civilian casualties to enemy missile strikes, and they expose previously unseen reports that Pakistan's military spy agency, ISI, is guiding the very insurgent network in Afghanistan that the Americans are trying to defeat.
WikiLeaks, which first posted the unprecedented cache of classified records Sunday, said it would release additional records it initially withheld because of a "harm minimization process demanded by our source."
"This is the equivalent to opening the Stasi archives," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, comparing the revelations to the release of files on the repressive East German Ministry of State Security after the Cold War.
Assange has said that the Afghan records reveal possible U.S. war crimes and suggest internal military investigations of incidents involving civilian casualties are "like a cop investigating his own shooting.
"We would like to see new policies put in place as a result and possibly prosecutions," he said.
No Abu Ghraib but Politically Challenging
Michael Clarke, director of the U.K. Royal United Services Institute think-tank, described the leak as less damaging than the Abu Ghraib Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal but said it would pose political challenges.
"ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the Obama administration do have a credible defence when they say these papers were from 2004 and 2009, a time when the situations in both Washington and Afghanistan were different to today," he said. "But they are also appearing at the worst possible time, particularly in the United States, because people are looking for an exit strategy. This is old bad news at a new bad time."
Support for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low and Obama's approval rating for handling it has declined sharply since spring, according to the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll.
The number of Americans who said the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting has declined from 52 percent in December to 43 percent. And Obama's approval rating for handling it, 56 percent in April, is down to 45 percent.
Alleged Leaker in U.S. Custody
The Army specialist allegedly behind the intelligence breach -- Bradley Manning -- is in U.S. custody after his arrest in May outside Baghdad on charges of releasing classified information.
As national security experts examine how the breach occurred, some observers say Manning could not have acted alone.
"I do not believe private Manning had the technical expertise necessary to communicate this amount of information to the outside world without being detected and I don't believe that he operated without guidance," computer hacker Adrian Lamo told "Good Morning America."
Lamo said he was contacted in May by someone calling himself 'Bradass87' -- believed to be U.S. Army Spc. Brad Manning -- who claimed to be an Army intelligence analyst with access to classified networks that showed "incredible things, awful things ... that belong in the public domain."
Lamo turned the online conversations over to Pentagon investigators because he believed there could be potential harm if the classified information came out.
"[Manning] misused a tool that was intended to help protect, defend, save American lives and the lives of really everybody in the coalition," he told ABC News Sacramento, Calif., affiliate KXTV.
Lamo added that he'd do the same thing again -- though he claimed he's received death threats.
"There has been a backlash, as I knew there would be," Lamo told KXTV. "I didn't really expect the raw hatred, the vitriol."
But Manning, or whoever contacted Lamo, apparently made the same pitch to Wikileaks.org founder Assange.
Assange refused to confirm Manning supplied the material today, saying, "We still don't know who the source is."
If it were Manning, he added, "He's a hero."
Leaked Logs Offer Fresh Details of Afghan War Effort
Witnesses report the Taliban has used heat-seeking missiles against aircraft, something U.S. officials have never acknowledged, according to the documents. Secret commando raids, such as those made by the secretive Task Force 373, have been increased under the Obama administration but, despite successes, the leaks now reveal some "high-value" targets have not been there when the U.S. was striking. Instead, children have been killed in some instances.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the reports for U.S. officials are those that strongly suggest the ISI was double-crossing the United States. A report suggested last year that the former head of ISI was encouraging insurgents to focus their operations in Afghanistan "in exchange for the government of Pakistan's security forces turning a blind eye" to insurgents in Pakistan.
"While we and others have reported on this in broad themes over the past couple of years, the reports are voluminous. Even if you toss out ones that are perhaps disinformation or the bias of the Afghan intelligence service, they are generally consistent with other classified reporting by American intelligence analysts that the ISI still does have connections with many of these groups that are conducting attacks in Afghanistan," Schmidt of the New York Times said.
Speaking on the condition on anonymity, a senior ISI official told ABC News today the documents amounted to "the usual rhetoric and nothing new."
"It seems to be all rubbish and maybe not worth commenting," the official said, emphasizing that the agency was still shifting through the documents.
ABC News' Nick Schifrin and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.