US officials worked around the clock to contain the fallout from the WikiLeaks scandal, a colossal leak of confidential information blamed on an US soldier, State Department personnel said on Thursday.
The comments came on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Army Private Bradley Manning, aged 24, who faces a court-martial for allegedly transferring a trove of classified documents – including military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan – to the WikiLeaks whistleblower website.
The junior intelligence analyst, whose trial is set to begin on 21 September, could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of “aiding the enemy”.
The controversy caused a diplomatic firestorm and left US officials red-faced.
Rena Bitter, director of the State Department’s operations centre, told the court at the Fort Meade military base how working groups, consisting of 25 people each, toiled day and night to “stay ahead of public disclosure” between November 2010, when the scandal broke, and July 2011.
While one was called the “potential risks on individuals group” another was dubbed the “WikiLeaks group”.
“At some point, we worked 18 or 20 hours a day,” Bitter said.
“Our office co-ordinated, we did what we typically do in a crisis,” she added. “When there’s a crisis, everybody has to speak with one voice.”
Marguerite Coffey, former director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation, was tasked with supervising a “mitigation team”.
In her testimony, she described how her group focused on the State Department’s security system and conducted a complete review of the agency’s network.
Despite the damage control efforts, Catherine Brown, US deputy assistant secretary of intelligence policy and co-ordination, predicted that fallout from the leak would be felt far into the future.
“I think we will continue to see reporting of damage from WikiLeaks for many years to come,” Brown told the court by phone.
US officials say the massive leak put national security at risk, although no damage assessment has yet been made public.
During Thursday’s hearing, set to continue on Friday, defence lawyers also asked the court to drop 10 of 22 charges against Manning.
While opponents see Manning as a traitor for his alleged role in the worst ever breach of US intelligence, his supporters view him as a political prisoner.
Read @News24/AFPRelated: Popular: