After days of anticipation and unheeded warnings from the Obama administration, the huge and controversial data dump from whistle-blower website WikiLeaks is being published and broadcast.
As reported by The New York Times (which, along with the British newspaper The Guardian and the German news magazine Der Spiegel, began revealing the data Sunday afternoon), the cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables “provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders, and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.”
The Guardian reports the leaked information as including: Arab leaders privately urging an air strike on Iran, US officials being instructed to spy on the United Nation’s leadership, alleged links between the Russian government and organized crime, “devastating criticism” of British military operations in Afghanistan, and claims of “inappropriate behavior” by a member of the British royal family.
“The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near ‘environmental disaster’ last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium,” reports the Guardian. “They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a ‘voluptuous blonde’ Ukrainian nurse.”
According to The New York Times, the cables include: “A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel … gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea … bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison … suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government … and a global computer hacking effort” directed by the Chinese Politburo.
The “intriguing alliance” between Putin and Berlusconi
The New York Times reports leaked diplomatic message traffic indicating that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda,” “clashes with Europe over human rights,” and an “intriguing alliance” between Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi involving “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts, and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between.
As the information was being released, the White House called the publication of confidential diplomatic cables “reckless and dangerous,” warning that it could “deeply impact” US interests as well as those of allies and friends.
“To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,” presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday. “These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies.”
“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,” Gibbs said. “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”
Secretary Clinton tried to soften the blow
Late last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to soften the potentially embarrassing impact of the leaks by contacting government officials in China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, and Afghanistan. Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Poland were also warned.
In a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange Saturday, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said the publication of secret diplomatic cables would “place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals,” ”place at risk on-going military operations,” and “place at risk on-going cooperation between countries.”
US officials have known for some time that WikiLeaks held the diplomatic cables. No one has been charged with passing them to the website, but suspicion focuses on US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in June and charged regarding an earlier leak of some 400,000 documents related to the war in Iraq.
Most of the current batch of leaked diplomatic cables go back to 2007, including message traffic from both the Obama and Bush administrations.