Pentagon: Leak site may have blood on its hands

THE whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks may have blood on its hands, the Pentagon has said, warning its unprecedented leak of secret US military files could cost lives and damage trust of allies.

An army intelligence officer, already under arrest, is at the centre of an investigation into the leak of more than 90,000 secret records to WikiLeaks, one of the biggest security breaches in US military history, officials have said.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates declined to comment on the probe but said he could not rule out more leaks of classified information.

He also announced plans to tighten access to sensitive intelligence data.

“I don’t know whether there is anyone else out there that is a party to this,” Gates said at the Pentagon in his first public comments since Sunday’s publication of the documents.

Admiral Mike Mullen, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the top US military officer, lashed out at WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who says he aims to expose corporate and government corruption.

“Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing,” Mullen said. “But the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.”

Gates said he did not know whether Assange should face criminal prosecution or whether WikiLeaks should be treated like a media organisation protected by free speech rights under the US Constitution.

“I think that’s a question for people who are more expert in the law than I am,” he said.

But asked about a possible broadening of the criminal investigation to include WikiLeaks, Gates said he had asked the FBI to assist the Army’s probe to ensure the investigation “can go wherever it needs to go”.

US President Barack Obama and military top brass have played down any revelations from the leaked documents, which have fanned doubts in Washington about the unpopular and costly nine-year-old war.

June was the deadliest month for foreign troops since the start of the conflict in 2001 and US officials warn they expect casualties will keep rising over the summer.

Obama met his national security team at the White House on Thursday and officials said the WikiLeaks case was discussed.

Gates, a former CIA director, told reporters his biggest concern was that Afghans and other allies would no longer trust the United States to keep their secrets safe. The documents include intelligence reports and expose names of contacts.

“It seems to me that, as a result of this massive breach of security, we have considerable repair work to do in terms of reassuring people and rebuilding trust.”

The army investigation has focused on Army specialist Bradley Manning, who was already charged earlier this month with leaking information previously published by WikiLeaks, US defense officials say.

Neither Manning nor anyone else has been named as a suspect in the latest leak and investigators are not ruling out the involvement of multiple individuals.


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