Expert Found Scant al-Qaida Mentions of Leaks

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – If not for the WikiLeaks disclosures, al-Qaida propagandists would have used other news stories to demonize the United States and the West, the government’s expert in militant Islam conceded Thursday.
     Manning could face up to 90 years in prison for uploading more than 700,000 files, including diplomatic cables, incident reports from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, profiles of Guantanamo detainees, and a video of an airstrike in Baghdad that WikiLeaks titled “Collateral Murder.”
     A clip from that airstrike, which killed two Reuters journalists and several other civilians, found its way on a video segment disseminated by al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn. The winter 2010 issue of Inspire, the group’s English-language magazine, asked readers to help them sift through WikiLeaks releases.
     Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein, an officer for the Navy Medical Services Corp, called the leaked trove a propaganda boon for the terror group on Thursday. Nonetheless, he could not point to another example other than two previously cited of al-Qaida’s reliance on the hundreds of thousands of leaked files. He said he was not aware of any al-Qaida chatter about WikiLeaks in 2012 or 2013.
     Manning’s military defender, Maj. Thomas Hurley, pressed him on the issue during cross-examination.
     “If it wasn’t WikiLeaks, it would be something else?” Hurley said.
     “Absolutely,” the commander replied.
     Prosecutors claim that the Iraq and Afghanistan “war logs,” as the battlefield reports are known, represent the U.S. military’s “playbook” in detailing how the armed forces respond to “significant activities,” or SigActs.
     A stash of these reports were found in the raid on Osama bin-Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
     Hypothesizing on how al-Qaida may have used the SigActs, Aboul-Enein said: “They could possibly, potentially deduce a pattern of behavior from U.S. combat forces.” He supported this theory with the so-called “Manchester documents,” a collection of U.S. Special Forces manuals stitched together by al-Qaida operatives. He said that al-Qaida could exploit the WikiLeaks-released battlefield reports just as it used military instruction manuals.
     When pressed, however, the commander admitted that this was speculation.
     “You have not seen any reporting that indicates that that has happened,” Hurley said.
     “No,” Aboul-Enein said. “No, I have not.”
     The witness noted that the Manchester documents were originally compiled by 2003 World Trade Center bombing plotter Ali Mohamed, who gleaned the documents from his own stint in the U.S. Army.
     Essentially a handbook for al-Qaida operatives, the Manchester documents were first created in 1989, but they were mostly unnoticed in the United States until 2000, two years after the bombing of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa put Islamic extremism on the radar of intelligence agencies.
     Aboul-Enein also agreed that al-Qaida members tend to brag about their strategic victories, and never said a word about making tactical gains from the WikiLeaks disclosures.
     Acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” Manning said that he wanted that he wanted to spark worldwide debate, discussion and reforms on the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and warfare. The defense’s sentencing case is expected to begin next week, and he will be allowed to present evidence related to his motive to inform the public for the first time in military court.

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