WikiLeaks is now promising to release the remaining 15,000 classified Afghan war documents it has in its possession. The Pentagon is asserting that grave harm will result. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell is calling the prospective publication the "height of irresponsibility."
One important question is whether, as in its previous dump last month of some 76,000 secret field reports, WikiLeaks will provide—or has already provided--the electronic archive in advance to news outlets like the New York Times, extracting a promise to embargo them to ensure their simultaneous publication. “Flying in formation” with WikiLeaks is how a Wall Street Journal editorial aptly put the publicity-generating arrangement.
What are the obligations of journalists in a case like this? Should the Times, which regards WikiLeaks as a source, agree to the organization’s restrictions? If the Times had advance word from a source that a terrorist attack was imminent, but the information was given to it subject to embargo until after the attack took place, would it oblige? One hopes, one prays, the answer would be no.
But the answer was yes in the previous WikiLeaks dump. The lives of Afghan civilians were put on the line. American operational techniques were compromised. The Times had enough time to analyze the documents extensively and see this possibility coming. It conveyed a request from the White House to WikiLeaks to redact sensitive information. But it kept the story from the public for a month to fulfill a promise to its source. Is the New York Times now poised to do so again with documents that are even more sensitive?