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Military investigates leak of secret documents from Kandahar base

Call it WikiLeaks, Canadian-style.

The Canadian military investigated what appears to be the inadvertent leak of a trove of secret documents from a secure work station at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

The electronic records, containing "specifics of Canadian capabilities and Canadian objectives or targets" in the war, were forwarded to an undisclosed number of "unauthorized recipients," say military police records obtained by The Canadian Press.

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The work station was located at the sensitive All Source Intelligence Centre, a critical hub at the Canadian headquarters that supplies intelligence to troops in the field as well as Ottawa.

Military police were alerted on May 14 last year by a soldier working at the centre.

The incident took place months before whistleblowing website WikiLeaks began releasing hundreds of thousands of classified - often embarrassing - U.S. military and diplomatic cables.

None of the Canadian documents in the Kandahar leak are reported to have made their way into the public domain or to Julian Assange's WikiLeaks group.

But defence observers, such as Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, said the leak is disturbing because it happened at a front-line headquarters.

He said just because the documents haven't surfaced doesn't mean the risk has ended.

"It's a concern whenever information gets out there that might have a negative impact on our people and our position in Afghanistan," said Mr. Kenny, former chairman of the Senate committee on security and defence.

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At the time, military cops were quick to play down the impact of the lapse, but recommended the Defence Department conduct a detailed investigation to determine any operational security damage that may have occurred.

"There exists several areas of concern. Firstly due to the magnitude of classified materials that has been forwarded out over unauthorized networks, a more in-depth investigation should be conducted to ascertain a more definitive impact on Canadian (operational security)."

A spokesman for Canada's overseas command would not comment on the incident, nor could anyone in the military say whether a followup investigation took place.

In the case of WikiLeaks, files were allegedly downloaded on to CDs by U.S. Army intelligence analyst, PFC Bradley Manning. Mr. Kenny said the Canadian military has a duty to probe further into own security lapse.

According to an incident summary compiled by investigators, the leak at the Canadian all-source centre had been going on for some time, although the precise dates were censored in the documents.

Once plugged, intelligence officers said they traced the emails, identified the receiving accounts and there was "a request made for the deletion of the classified material," said the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service briefing.

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Mr. Kenny said it's possible some documents could have been forwarded beyond the first chain.

The initial damage assessment came back as benign and investigators took recipients at their word that the documents had been "immediately" erased from their email and hard drives. But the report sounded a warning.

"There exists a potential risk that NATO allies outside the SECRET (sic) and SECRET (censored) communities, may have been aware of specific Canadian capabilities and Canadian objectives or targets whose details were only intended for the SECRET (censored) and SECRET (censored) communities," said the summary, written May 22, 2010."

That paragraph caught the attention of Mr. Kenny, who said the documents may contain unflattering or embarrassing assessments of allies who would normally not be cut out of the information loop.

The workstation had several users, a source of frustration for military police who said the access policy made it "difficult to determine whom over the duration of the incident would have been responsible for disseminating" the reports.

"Additionally, the identity of the person(s) responsible ... would be difficult to determine as it too was created some time ago."

With no one to charge, military police closed the file and left intelligence staff to determine the extent of the damage.

The document dump came at a critical time in NATO's campaign to pacify Kandahar. Operation Hamkari, the months-long offensive to drive the Taliban from enclaves around the provincial capital, was about to get underway.

An information technology specialist at the country's Ottawa-based overseas headquarters said about half a dozen security lapses happen every year, mostly when classified data is transferred to the military's unclassified network.

"I'm not leaking national secrets by saying we have human failings," said Lieutenant-Colonel Sandy Schwab, who is charge of signals traffic coming from overseas.

"It's important. We do follow up on it and we have rigorous processes to make sure we react to it."

Lt.-Col. Schwab said the impact of WikiLeaks among allies and foreign governments has been huge and it will eventually lead to a drying up of information-sharing.

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