Army private charged in earlier leak had access to latest WikiLeak papers


A criminal investigation into the leaking of thousands of secret reports about the Afghanistan war is focused on an Army intelligence analyst already charged with disclosing classified information, two Defense Department officials said.

WikiLeaks investigation: An article in Wednesday’s Section A about the criminal investigation of the leaking of secret reports about the Afghan war carried an erroneous headline. The Army intelligence analyst reported to be a focus of the inquiry, Bradley E. Manning, is not an Army officer, as the headline described him, but a private first class, as the article correctly noted. —

Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, 22, who was charged in May with illegally downloading classified material, is believed to have had access to the leaked Afghan reports that were posted on the WikiLeaks website Sunday, one of the officials said.

An ongoing investigation of Manning by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command has been expanded to examine whether he was the source of the reports, the officials said. They spoke anonymously because they were discussing details of a continuing investigation.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary, described Manning as a “person of interest” in the most recent WikiLeaks disclosures.

Another Pentagon spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, told reporters that it remained unclear whether the recent leaks had come from Manning. The Army can investigate members of other military branches as well, he added.

As an intelligence analyst with high-level security clearances, Manning was not restricted to looking only at classified information about Iraq, though his unit, a brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, was deployed there.

The design of the military’s classified computer system allows analysts to examine a wide range of secret information stored on servers maintained by U.S. Central Command, which oversees forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The more than 76,000 reports published by WikiLeaks, many of them brief and routine, provide new details about Pakistani intelligence agencies’ assistance to Afghan insurgents, corruption in the U.S.-backed Kabul government, and numerous incidents of U.S. troops accidentally killing civilians. WikiLeaks says it is still vetting an additional 15,000 classified documents.

Among other questions, the Army investigation is determining how such a large volume of information was transferred out of the classified network. One official familiar with the probe said it was possible to download classified files onto a compact disc.

Most of the leaked material covers events during the Bush administration and before December 2009, when President Obama ordered more than 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and instituted a new strategy aimed at turning around the war.

At the White House, Obama warned about the dangers of leaking classified information but asserted that the public would learn little new from the reports.

“While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is, these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan. Indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall,” Obama said.

Manning remains in custody at Camp Arifjan, a U.S. military base in Kuwait, awaiting a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence against him to justify a court-martial. His lawyer, Capt. Paul R. Bouchard, didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment. The charges against Manning accuse him of illegally transferring to his personal computer video of a deadly U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 and more than 150,000 State Department messages.

There is no mention of WikiLeaks in the charging documents, though it posted the video of the Baghdad attack online this year.

The leak of the military’s unfiltered files focused new attention on the progress of the Afghan war and provided fodder for critics of the U.S. effort.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will testify on Wednesday before a House panel and could face sharp questions from chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who said in June that she would cut billions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan because of reports of corruption.

Even so, Congress gave final approval Tuesday to $58.8 billion in additional funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other purposes; Obama was expected to sign the measure.

Some lawmakers who have voiced doubts about the war’s current course seemed eager to play down the significance of the leaked documents.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Monday said the documents raised important questions about the administration’s Afghan policy.

“These documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent,” he said then.

But at a committee hearing Tuesday, Kerry said that it was “important not to overhype or get excessively excited about the meaning of those documents.”

There also was little discussion of what the WikiLeaks disclosures revealed about the progress of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan at a confirmation hearing for Marine Gen. James Mattis, who has been nominated to be commander of the U.S. Central Command.

Mattis called the posting of the documents by WikiLeaks “an appallingly irresponsible act.”

Paul Richter and Lisa Mascaro of the Washington bureau and Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.