Department of Defense
DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon on Wikileaks
August 5, 2010
MR. MORRELL: Hi, guys, good afternoon. I have a brief opening statement, and then we'll get to questions.
On Monday -- pardon me -- Tuesday, it was reported that WikiLeaks has asked the Department of Defense for help in reviewing approximately 15,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks obtained in an unauthorized and inappropriate manner, before WikiLeaks releases those classified documents to the public.
WikiLeaks has made no such request directly to the Department of Defense. These documents are the property of the U.S. government and contain classified and sensitive information.
The Defense Department demands that WikiLeaks return immediately to the U.S. government all versions of documents obtained directly or indirectly from the Department of Defense databases or records.
WikiLeaks's public disclosure last week of a large number of our documents has already threatened the safety of our troops, our allies and Afghan citizens who are working with us to help bring about peace and stability in that part of the world.
Public disclosure of additional Defense Department classified information can only make the damage worse. The only acceptable course is for WikiLeaks to take steps immediately to return all versions of all of these documents to the U.S. government and permanently delete them from its website, computers and records.
A final note. WikiLeaks's webpage constitutes a brazen solicitation to U.S. government officials, including our military, to break the law. WikiLeaks's public assertion that submitting confidential material to WikiLeaks is safe, easy and protected by law is materially false and misleading.
The Department of Defense therefore also demands that WikiLeaks discontinue any solicitation of this type.
Q Two things on that. Do you have any mechanism or authority to compel WikiLeaks to do as you say -- as you are demanding? And do you now consider Private Manning the prime suspect in your -- in the WikiLeaks leak?
MR. MORRELL: To the second part first, I think we have described Private Manning -- who is charged with leaking other classified information to this same organization -- as a person of interest. I know of no update to his status since our initial description of him as such.
With regards to the first part of your question, which gets to, beyond our demand, how do we intend to compel, what I would say there, Anne, is that at this point we are making a demand of them. We are asking them to do the right thing. This is the appropriate course of action, given the damage that has already been done, and we hope they will honor our demands and comply with our demands.
We will cross the next bridge when we come to it. If it requires them compelling to do anything -- if doing the right thing is not good enough for them, then we will figure out what other alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing. Let me leave it at that.
Q Well, as far as -- could it be -- could it involve legal action, as the next step?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I don't want to speculate as to what it could involve. Obviously, this is a matter that has gotten the attention not just of this department, but of the entire United States government. As we've talked about before, the secretary of Defense brought the FBI into this investigation very early on. The Department of Justice is also involved in this matter.
So those are two entities which have the authority, the wherewithal, should they choose to approach this through the legal system.
That is not what we -- what I am announcing here. What I am announcing here is a request, a demand of WikiLeaks, the organization, to do the right thing and to not further exacerbate the damage that has been done by them to date and return to us all the information that was illegally passed to them and to expunge it from their website and all their records.
Q Has DOD analyzed these 15,000 outstanding records and come to any conclusion on -- of how harmful it might be for them to be released?
MR. MORRELL: Well, obviously these 15,000 documents, which they claim to be withholding as part of a harm-minimization exercise, are not in our possession. We don't know for sure which 1,500 [sic; 15,000] documents they are referring to. We have some ideas and are doing some proactive work, some prophylactic work in the event that the documents we suspect they could be are indeed the documents that they are threatening to post. But that's where I'll leave it now.
Q Has there been any further discussion or even decisions on changing or tightening security rules in the field? The secretary has acknowledged it's important to have access to this information at the unit level, but clearly there are challenges and risks as well.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I mean, I think he addressed this last week, Tom, when he was asked about it when this first broke. I think fundamentally, as he said to you a few weeks ago, even before this most recent disclosure, he fundamentally still believes that one of the things that makes our military the envy of the world is that we instill an incredible degree of trust and responsibility in our most junior officers and our most junior enlisted, so that this organization is not top-heavy, it's effective from top to bottom.
And I think as troubling as this episode is, and again we don't know who is responsible for leaking this information -- as troubling as it is, I think he does not want to do anything to jeopardize the fundamental goodness of this trusting relationship that has existed for decades in the United States military.
That said, this is a problem. The fact that information like this gets out into the public domain is a serious breach. And we are taking measures internally to reinforce existing rules and guidelines and to make sure that people are aware of those rules and guidelines and are being even more vigilant about enforcing the existing rules and guidelines.
Q You have called on WikiLeaks to do the right thing. By your standards, they haven't done the right thing so far. What makes you think they'll suddenly have a change of heart?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that we're very confident they'll have a change of heart. They've shown no indication thus far that they appreciate the gravity, the seriousness of the situation they have caused -- the lives they have endangered, the operations they have potentially undermined, the innocent people who have potentially been put in harm's way as a result.
So I don't know that we have a high degree of confidence that this -- that this request, this demand unto itself will prevail upon them.
We certainly are hopeful of that being the case. But you know, I don't know what to expect of this organization. We've heard so many different things from so many different people purporting to represent them, I don't know what's the truth.
You know, they claimed initially to have, you know, reviewed these documents. Then we learn afterwards, they've only looked at 2,000 of them, so they don't really know what's in all of them. They claim to have reached out to -- you know, to the United States government to assist in -- you know, for assistance in harm minimization. Then we find out, no, it was through their partner, The New York Times. I don't know The New York Times would describe themselves as their partner.
There is -- there have been a lot of contradictory and conflicting statements along the way, which certainly cause us to question their motivation, their intent, their credibility.
This is an opportunity, it seems to me, for them to turn a new page; to recognize the situation that they have created, and to try to rectify it. If, indeed, these claims that they have made through these third parties -- these spokesmen -- communicated to us through the news media, are serious, if they are serious about engaging with us, they should reach out to us directly. And, you know -- and we will consider how to proceed once something like that happens.
The easiest way, however, to solve this -- I mean, we're not looking to have a conversation about harm minimization. We're looking to have a conversation about how to get these perilous documents off the website as soon as possible, return them to their rightful owners, and expunge them from their records. That will help minimize harm that has already been created.
Q Can I just make sure about something you just said? And it's a technical, cyber question, I guess. You said: return to their rightful owners.
So this --
MR. MORRELL: This is -- these documents belong to the United States government. They don't belong to WikiLeaks. They don't belong to anyone else.
Q Okay, my question --
MR. MORRELL: Please.
Q Right, I'm sorry, I just want to make sure I understood.
MR. MORRELL: Please.
Q I -- did they -- are they copies on the Internet? Or are these documents missing from U.S. military possession?
MR. MORRELL: Nothing is missing as far as we can tell. But they do not belong to anyone but us. We want whatever they have returned to us. And we want whatever copies they have expunged, erased, gone.
Q Some people --
MR. MORRELL: What? You're -- Tony, you're shaking your head.
Q Well, what about --
MR. MORRELL: I've caused some consternation to you.
Q What about asking The New York Times and the other papers to return them also?
MR. MORRELL: I don't know that The New York Times or the other publications are in possession of the documents. I think --
Q They had them for a month, Geoff.
MR. MORRELL: I think they were allowed to review the documents, is my understanding, Tony. I do not believe that they are currently in possession of those documents.
Q You said they should reach out to us directly. Your original statement sounded like an unqualified no.
MR. MORRELL: Well, we're not looking to have a conversation, David, as I said before about, can we help you redact them? That's not the conversation we are prepared to have. But if they want to have a conversation about how they return the documents to us, we're happy to have that conversation.
Q If you have no confidence that they're going to as you say do the right thing --
MR. MORRELL: I said I don't know that I have a whole lot of confidence.
Q Why don't you just go ahead with whatever legal remedies you have to compel, rather than make this appeal?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think that this is the appropriate first step. We'll see if it requires further steps.
Q Is it a first step or a bluff? Do you really have legal remedies?
MR. MORRELL: Well, this is the Department of Defense. I mean, we're not one who makes judgments about legal remedies and the appropriate recourse and all that kind of stuff.
But as I mentioned before, we're not alone in this endeavor. The FBI, the DOJ are also investigating this, are also involved in this matter. And they will obviously have to make judgments about how to proceed.
But this is our first step to try to compel them, to prevail upon them to do the right thing and return the documents and erase them from their website so that no more additional harm is done, so that this potential database for all of our enemies that now hangs on the Internet and provides an opportunity for them to mine, looking for -- looking for weaknesses in force protection; tactics, techniques and procedures; who we do business with; how we -- how we cultivate sources -- all this stuff is potentially out there for people who wish to do us harm to take advantage of. And so we're trying to prevail upon them to do the right thing here.
Q Number one, a couple of questions. It's been out there for some period of days if not weeks. Is it too late? Why didn't -- no disrespect -- why didn't the department do this before? What is this -- that's number one.
Number two, what is the status of you knowing exactly what's out there? Because we've heard that you're still going through all of it and you don't know.
And number three, are you now, for the first time, basically negotiating with cybercriminals?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think we're negotiating with anybody. I think we've made very clear an explicit demand. There wasn't any offer of anything in exchange. We are asking them to do the right thing. We are asking them to return stolen property and to no longer publish stolen property. That's what we're asking.
The first question was "Why not sooner?"
Q What about, is it too late? I mean --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I don't know if it's too late. I mean, it's never too late. I mean, the -- you know, there is always -- if we can get this off the Internet, if we can compel them to return it, that is a good thing.
The longer it hangs out there, the more potential damage it does, so that's why we're taking the step we're taking.
Q Why didn't you take this step days ago?
MR. MORRELL: I think there has been consideration being given internal to this building about how to proceed. They're now come to some resolution about taking this next step. This is the decided-upon course of action.
Q And my third question, very quickly, is you --
MR. MORRELL: Is she entitled to a third, Anne? (Laughter.)
Q: It's your call.
MR. MORRELL: Go ahead.
Q What is the status -- what do you now know about what they have? Do you know what they have? Because until now, you've said -- the department has said that the task force is looking at it and reviewing at it. As we sit here today, do you know what WikiLeaks has in totality?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think I've addressed this question.
We know what is on the website, and we have this -- the task force that we have set up to review the -- review this material has been working -- as I've described before, they have a 24-hour operation. They have roughly -- they're up to about 80 personnel. And they are -- they are reviewing it.
They've gone through, I think, the 70-odd thousand documents that are online. They've done about 400 keyword searches through the -- through the 70-odd thousand documents that are online, looking for areas that are of particular concern to us. They then take whatever they find, and whatever hits they find, they then create batches of those documents for further, more extensive review.
And eventually, once we have done that sort of first triage kind of operation, there will be a painstaking, deliberate, page-by-page, word-by-word evaluation of every single document. But right now this team of 80, working around the clock, is going through them.
And as we find things that are of concern, we are notifying appropriate entities -- be they foreign governments, when they come up; be they -- if there are Afghan citizens who are named or Afghan -- and in this case, if there are -- if there are Afghan citizens who are named, we are informing the command in Kabul, who is then sharing the information with the appropriate subordinate commands and units so that they can take appropriate action to safeguard those people.
Q But you haven't opened the 15,000 yet?
MR. MORRELL: What I've said is, the 15,000 -- the way I've described it is we have -- we believe we have some idea of what those 15,000 could be, and are reviewing what we believe to be, potentially, those 15,000. We do not know for sure if the 15,000 we believe they have and are waiting to post are indeed the same documents that they do indeed have and are waiting to post.
Q Can I -- can I --
MR. MORRELL: You seem -- Tony, I'm really concerned about you today.
Q I'm listening --
MR. MORRELL: You are laughing. You're scowling. You seem to be confused.
Q Well, yeah, but your last comment was hard to follow because it had so many different --
MR. MORRELL: Well, follow up. I'm happy -- I'm happy to -- I'm happy to hold your hand through this process.
Q I don't have -- (off mike) -- but her question is a good one. Why didn't you move sooner? And what --
MR. MORRELL: I think I've -- I think I've answered it. We've been evaluating appropriate courses of action. This is the one that was deemed appropriate at this time. We're moving out on it.
Q If Pandora's Box has been open for a week. Realistically, what purpose would be served by you getting back documents that the world have had -- has had access to for a week?
MR. MORRELL: Well, as I said before, Tony, the longer they hang out there, the more opportunity there is for those to wish us harm -- do us harm, to use those documents to their advantage. So we're trying to, as best we can, mitigate the damage caused by this and compel them to take those documents off the Internet and return them to their rightful owner, the United States government.
Q Can you say from these keyword searches how many Afghan citizens have been identified and what actions generally speaking have been taken to protect them?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'm not going to get into how many and what kinds of people. I mean, there clearly have been Afghan names, which have been found doing searches of these -- of these documents. And as such, they have -- that information has been shared with the command. And they will make judgments about how to proceed with it.
We have housed within this task force of 80-odd people, and it's still growing by the way -- I think, you know, it could grow as -- there are -- we have personnel on hand, they're flowing in, that could take it to about 120-125.
But they are going through this. The personnel they have are people steeped in -- largely they're intelligence analysts who we've gotten from DIA and from the PAC and CENTCOM and USD(I). The FBI and Army CID are also represented.
And then also there are counterintelligence experts, you know, as part of this organization as well, who are there to make determinations about whether or not any TTPs have been exposed and whether or not any adjustments need to be made, in light of that exposure.
Q I want to try Tony's question a slightly different way. Are you --
MR. MORRELL: Which was Barbara's question.
MR. MORRELL: So he stole it from Barbara, you're going to steal it from him. Okay. Let's try it.
Q (Off mike) -- on the third try we can -- we can get somewhere.
Are you -- are you demanding of WikiLeaks something that is -- that is functionally impossible? Can they -- they cannot pull back everything that's on the Internet, right? I mean, how could they do that? Every news organization, all kinds of other websites beyond theirs have taken the material, made their own databases and so forth out of it. It's generated a bazillion news stories. There's -- how, as a functional matter, is what you're asking them, demanding them to do even remotely possible?
MR. MORRELL: Well, the demands we are making of them are entirely possible. They have the ability to erase it from their website and to return whatever is in their possession. So this is a very simple demand which can very easily be complied with.
The second question, or the other part of your question, which is, it has hung out there for a while, it has been accessed by many other people, some of whom who have downloaded said material and are exploiting it for journalistic or perhaps criminal purposes, sir? -- obviously that's another problem that we have to deal with. What we are addressing is what we believe to be the culprit here in terms of soliciting people to share classified information illegally. And so our focus with this measure that I've announced here today is on them.
It is not the exclusive focus of all of our efforts, but that is what I am prepared to address here today.
Q Would it then extend to other --
MR. MORRELL: Well, again, this is a -- this is the step we are taking at this moment. We do not preclude taking other measures as well. But this is the step we are taking, in light particularly of this request that all of you have asked us so much about, that they want our help in trying to conduct harm minimization on the 15,000 documents they have yet to post.
Q So do you consider the news organizations that have taken these documents to be -- also to be in possession of stolen property?
MR. MORRELL: Well, the only rightful owner of this material is the United States government. No one else has any right, any legal reason -- any reason, period -- to have that material. So that is problematic, that others have it.
Our focus at this point, as you see here from this statement, is on WikiLeaks and what they have done and what they are doing to try to solicit people to break the law and share classified information. We are trying to put an end to the solicitation, and we are trying to get them to return other illegally obtained classified materials from the U.S. government.