LONDON - The WikiLeaks website appears close to releasing what the Pentagon fears is the largest cache of secret U.S. documents in history - hundreds of thousands of intelligence reports compiled after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
U.S. officials said Friday they were racing to contain the damage from the imminent release, while NATO top official told reporters he feared that lives could be put at risk by the mammoth disclosure.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any release would create "a very unfortunate situation."
"I can't comment on the details of the exact impact on security but in general I can tell you that such leaks ... may have a very negative security impact for people involved," he told reporters Friday in Berlin following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A team of more than a hundred analysts from across the U.S. military, lead by the Defense Intelligence Agency, has been combing through the Iraq documents they think will be released in anticipation of the leak.
Called the Information Review Task Force, its analysts have pored over the documents and used word searches to try to pull out names and other issues that would be particularly sensitive, officials have said.
The task force has informed the U.S. Central Command of some of the names of Iraqis and allies and other information they believe might be released that could present a danger, officials have said, noting that - unlike the WikiLeaks previous disclosure of some 77,000 documents from Afghanistan - in this case they had advance notice that names may be exposed.
Once officials see what is publicly released, the command "can quickly push the information down" to forces in Iraq, according to Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman.
"Centcom can jump into action and take whatever mitigating steps" might be needed, Lapan said Friday.
Wikileaks' previous release of secret war documents in July from Iraq and Afghanistan outraged the Pentagon, which accused the group of being irresponsible. Rasmussen said Friday that leaks of this nature "may put soldiers as well as civilians at risk."
But it appears that those fears - which the military has invoked in its appeal to WikiLeaks and the media not to publish the documents - have yet to materialize. A Pentagon letter obtained by The Associated Press reported that no U.S. intelligence sources or practices were compromised by the Afghan war logs' disclosure.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported the conclusions in an Aug. 16 letter to Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who had requested a Pentagon assessment.