WikiLeaks says Afghan document source unknown

WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief says his organization doesn't know who sent it tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents, adding the website was set up to hide the source.

WikiLeaks' editor-in-chief claims his organization doesn't know who sent it tens of thousands of secret U.S. military documents, telling journalists that the website was set up to hide the source of data from those who receive it.

Julian Assange, founder and chief editor of the WikiLeaks website, faces the media in London on Tuesday. ((Max Nash/Associated Press))

Julian Assange didn't say whether he meant he had no idea who leaked the nearly 92,000 documents or whether his organization simply could not be sure, but he did say the added layer of secrecy helps protect the site's sources from spy agencies and hostile corporations.

"We never know the source of the leak," he told journalists gathered at London's Frontline Club late Tuesday. "Our whole system is designed such that we don't have to keep that secret."

U.S. officials said American operatives inside Afghanistan and Pakistan may be in danger following the massive online disclosure Sunday.

In his first public comments, U.S. President Barack Obama said the leak of classified information from the battlefield "could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations." He spoke in Washington after meeting Tuesday with Congressional leaders from both parties on the topic.

U.S. to investigate leak

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said a Pentagon investigation will determine whether criminal charges will be filed in the leaking of Afghanistan war secrets. Holder, speaking during a visit Wednesday to Egypt, said the Justice Department is working with the Pentagon-led investigation to determine the source of the leak.

Canada in the war logs

Search our database of WikiLeaks documents with Canadian references.

In Baghdad, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was "appalled" by the leak.

"There is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk," he said.

While Assange acknowledged that the site's anonymous submissions raised concerns about the authenticity of its material, he said WikiLeaks had yet to be fooled by a bogus document.

"We do see wholly fabricated submissions, usually around election time," he said, but added that they were "quite rare."

Assange also said WikiLeaks used ex-military and former intelligence workers to help evaluate whether documents leaked from the armed forces or spy agencies were genuine.

The website's worst fear, he said, was not a complete forgery but a real document that had been subtly altered. Still, he said he had yet to see that happen.

U.S. officials are also worried that the raw data may prove useful not only to the Taliban but to hostile intelligence services in countries such as China and Russia who have the resources to make sense of such vast vaults of data, said Ellen McCarthy, former U.S. intelligence officer and president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden denounced the leak as a gift to America's enemies.

"If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al-Qaeda, I would have called it priceless," he said.

Irritated by question

Assange agreed that the files offered insight into U.S. tactics. But he said that was none of his concern, and his website already carried a copy of the U.S. Special Forces' 2006 Southern Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Manual, among other military documents.

"We put out that stuff all the time," he said.

He seemed irritated when a member of the audience pressed him on whether he believed there were ever any legitimate national security concerns that would prevent him from publishing a leaked document.

"It is not our role to play sides for states. States have national security concerns. We do not have national security concerns," he said.

"You often hear … that something may be a threat to U.S. national security," he went on. "This must be shot down, whenever this statement is made. A threat to U.S. national security? Is anyone serious? The security of the entire nation of the United States? It is ridiculous!"

But he admitted that individual cases were different.

"If we are talking a threat to individual soldiers … or citizens of the United States, then that is potentially a genuine concern," he said.

Assange cast a bit of light on the way his organization operates, describing an online submission system "like nothing else you've ever seen."

"We encrypt all the information, it is routed through protected legal jurisdictions, multiple servers," he said.

But, to the amusement of the audience, the former computer hacker said one of the best ways to submit classified material remained the international postal system.