WASHINGTON The Pentagon said on Sunday it had a 120-member team prepared to review a massive leak of as many as 500,000 Iraq war documents, which are expected to be released by the WikiLeaks website sometime this month.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan told Reuters the timing of the leak remained unclear but the Defense Department was ready for a document dump as early as Monday or Tuesday, a possibility raised in previous WikiLeaks statements.
Still, people familiar with the upcoming leak told Reuters they do not expect WikiLeaks to release the classified files for at least another week.
If confirmed, the leak would be much larger than the record-breaking release of more than 70,000 Afghan war documents in July, which stoked debate about the 9-year-old conflict but did not contain major revelations.
It was the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history.
"It's the same team we put together after the publication of the (Afghan war documents)," Lapan said, adding it was unclear how many of the 120 personnel would be needed to contribute to the Iraq leak analysis.
Although the Iraq conflict has faded from public debate in the United States in recent years, the document dump threatens to revive memories of some of the most trying times in the war, including the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
It could also renew debate about foreign and domestic actors influencing Iraq, which has been wrestling with a political vacuum since an inconclusive election in March.
One source familiar with the Iraq documents said they are likely to contain revelations about civilian casualties, but expected them to cause less of a stir than the Afghan leak.
Lapan said the Pentagon team believed it knew which documents WikiLeaks may be releasing since it had already reviewed the Iraq war file. That could speed up its assessment about potential fallout.
NO INTEL SOURCES COMPROMISED
At the time of the Afghan war leak, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, warned that WikiLeaks may have the blood of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians on its hands because it had leaked documents naming U.S. collaborators.
Still, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a letter to the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, viewed by Reuters, that the leak had not revealed any "sensitive intelligence sources or methods."
Gates said disclosing the names of cooperating Afghans, who could become targets for the Taliban, could cause "significant harm or damage to national security interests of the United States." The letter was dated August 16.
WikiLeaks says it is a non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, journalists and the general public. But the Pentagon has demanded it return classified information and critics have questioned its perceived anti-war agenda.
So far the investigation into the Afghan war leak has focused on Bradley Manning, who worked as an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is already under arrest and charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
The Pentagon, citing the criminal investigation, has refused to discuss the Manning case.
(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Doina Chiacu)