July 26th, 2010
09:24 PM ET

Q&A: Tip of the iceberg in documents digging

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson analyzes the fallout from the publication of tens of thousands of U.S. military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

Q: What do these documents tell us about the war in Afghanistan?

A: It's more detail than we've ever seen before about the war. The newspapers - the New York Times, the Guardian in the UK and others - have had access to the documents for several weeks and have had the chance to do the most digging.

What they've been able to do - and this is just the tip of the iceberg because nobody has had time top go through all 92,000 of them - is to make a comparison with some of these individual documents and then the information and reporting that came out in the subsequent days after those documents were filed.

What they're able to show is that there is sometimes a discrepancy, or there is sometimes some very revealing information. So it's in those small details that you really see how the war is being played out. That's what WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange wants to do. He wants to put that out in the public domain.

Q: So what have we learned that we didn't know before?

A: I think what we're hearing here is what a lot of people have suspected about many situations. For instance, this allegation that the Pakistani intelligence service - the Inter-Services Intelligence - has been supporting the Taliban fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. We've known for a long time that Pakistan sees huge importance in having a government that supports it in Afghanistan. They fear India on the other side of the border and therefore they want a friendly government on the other side of the country.

These are things that have been discussed before and that's the tone of what you are seeing. These are things that have been suspected; now you have some factual evidence about them.

Q: Just how sensitive is this information?

A: All of these documents that we're seeing at the moment are, at their most sensitive, "secret," as opposed to "top secret." Some of them do say "not for foreign eyes," so perhaps there is an indication there that they're not for coalition partners inside Afghanistan. So they're clearly very sensitive, but not at the most senior level.

Q: How damaging are these documents to the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan?

A: They're absolutely damaging, the military says, because it puts troops in harm's way, it gives away factual details about how troops operate; for instance, the fact U.S. troops know heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles are being used against them is something they didn't want to put in the Taliban's domain. They say the Taliban will use this against U.S. troops, they will look at all the analysis and they will use that to their advantage in the field; they will use these details of civilian casualties in their own propaganda.

Of course, the people who are putting this out are saying: "Look, if you're going to fight a war everyone really needs to know the details of what is happening." We are learning here details of things that we haven't found out and wouldn't have been able to find out on the ground.

It is revealing information and it is only when you can go through all of these documents that you can really fit it all together into a bigger analysis and really frame it, rather than just seeing this snapshot that we're getting so far.

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