Journalist with access to Wikileaks documents

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For the past few weeks a handful of journalists have had access to the Wikileaks documents. The Guardian newspaper's Nick Davies is one of those reporters. He tells anchor Jeb Sharp it was an extraordinary chance to look at the reality of a war that's still being fought.

JEB SHARP: Of course, even without more to come, there's already been a mountain of material to sift through. The job of doing that fell to, among others, Nick Davies of the London-based Guardian newspaper.

NICK DAVIES: It's like you've got this massive deluge of fragments of information. Intelligence reports, incident reports, meetings with politicians. All this different stuff and you're looking for the patterns, the themes, what will become stories.

SHARP: And eventually you make sense of those patterns and themes.

DAVIES: It was actually quite difficult to begin with cause it is such a lot of it, and it's so unwieldy. We were finding it very frustrating, but we got it converted by our technical people into a form where we could search it by keywords. And so then you're just using your imagination to guess what might be in there and some of it you're finding deliberately, some of it you're stumbling across.

SHARP: What were your questions then? What words did you put in?

DAVIES: Well, it's funny because some of it is deliberate, so you think, well, what about the civilian casualties. So you start putting in ?civ cas,? and ?civilian casualty,? and that gets you onto the trail. Others of it comes by fluke really. For example, we research ? most of the material is classified SECRET, but there's one or two that is secret, and then they put NOFORN, meaning this mustn't be shown to any other foreign member of the coalition, only the Americans. So searching through the few documents that were NOFORN there was a description of an incident in which they had been trying to kill an alleged leader of the Taliban and had launched a bunch of rockets at a house, and then when they went into the rubble, there was no Taliban leader in there, but there were seven children, one of whom stayed alive for twenty minutes. Very graphic and upsetting. Now, what that told us was that the squad, the task force that were trying to kill the Taliban leader was a thing called Task Force 373 which has had a little bit of publicity in the past, precisely because it has this role, very controversial. So then, based on that, we started searching specifically for TF373 and came up with numerous episodes in which they had been involved. That, in turn, told us that they were holding a list known as the Joint Prioritized Effects list, which is a list of more than 2,000 alleged senior Taliban and al-Qaeda people who have been marked out for death or detention. So then we started searching that list, references to it, and found even more. It's like data mining and following clues and developing them.

SHARP: Give us a sense of what it felt like to do that. I mean, did you feel you were on a journalistic trail the way you would be for a story of your own? Did it become obsessive? I mean how adrenaline-filled was this process?

DAVIES: It is slightly addictive doing it. And as everybody may now discover because this stuff is published on a website. You look and you look and you don't find anything, you don't anything, and then suddenly you do. So then you carry on looking and my God there's another thing. And people say well, what does this material tell you? And actually it doesn't produce some big headline of some devastating revelation we didn't know about before. We knew, for example, that the Pakistani intelligence agency had thought to have been colluding with the Taliban. Lots of examples. And that's what it's about. This extraordinary chance to look in detail, in graphic, graphic detail, almost live detail at the reality of a war that's still being fought. That's what's so effectively addictive about dealing with it.

SHARP: Now, as you say, its texture we're getting and an overall picture more than specific scoops and revelations. Is there any sense in which we the media are making too much of a big deal of this WikiLeaks action?

DAVIES: No, I think not. It's been really interesting. The reaction from those groups who might have wanted to attack us since this was published nearly 24 hours ago, the White House, for example, has been extremely level-headed and calm about it. They've picked up, for example, on the revelations about the links between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban, some of which are fabricated, but some of which appear to be reliable, and they said, look, this is a serious problem. We've got to deal with this. And they've sort of seen it as being something serious and important that at worst they can build on it, in terms of putting diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani government. And I've been in radio stations in London today where I've been put up against senior members of the British military in the expectation that we would have a tremendous fight, but in fact the senior military people are saying, well, it's about time people understood the chaos and confusion within which we're trying to do our job out there.

SHARP: And did your newspaper, The Guardian, communicate with the British government or the US government before the documents went public?

DAVIES: We in Britain work within a particularly hostile legal environment and it is alarmingly easy to go to court and get a court order to prevent us publishing. So because we had set up this operation, The Guardian started all this and we brought in the New York Times and Der Spiegel. Our colleagues on the New York Times went to the White House two or three days before publication and said, we in the New York Times have got this material, here's what we think about it, what do you say? And so the White House came back with a really very level-headed and considered response and the New York Times could then pass that on to us without placing us in jeopardy just in case anybody wanted to get aggressive and bring out a court order.

SHARP: Nick Davies is a special correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. He and a handful of colleagues at The Guardian have spent weeks sifting through the documents from WikiLeaks. Nick, thanks so much.

DAVIES: Okay, thank you.