|The US state department has worked to contain the potential fallout from the secret diplomatic cables [Reuters]|
Documents detail calls for an attack on Iran, claims of US spying at the UN and widespread criticisms of world leaders, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, referred to as an "alpha-dog."Secret US embassy cables revealed
The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has released a massive trove of leaked US diplomatic cables detailing candid opinions of various world leaders, repeated calls for a US attack on Iran, and requests for US diplomats to spy on officials of other countries.WikiLeaks started publishing the 251,287 cables - 15,652 of which are classified "secret" - from 274 US missions around the world on Sunday, even after its website apparently came under a denial of service attack before the release.
The cables, communications between diplomatic missions abroad and the US state department in Washington, were mostly sent between 2007 and last February and could embarrass both the US administration and foreign governments. Some of the diplomatic notes detailed how Arab leaders in the Gulf have been urging an attack on "evil" Iran, while others reveal serious fears in Washington over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. They also detail advice given to US diplomats on how to gather intelligence and pass information of interest over to the country's spy agencies. According to documents, senior UN figures were the target of intelligence gathering by US diplomats.'US contradictions'
In an introduction to the documents on its website, WikiLeaks attacked "the contradictions between the US' public persona and what it says behind closed doors". "The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in 'client states'; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them." "As far as we are aware, and as far as anyone has ever alleged in any credible manner whatsoever, no single individual has ever come to harm as a result of anything that we have ever published," he said on Sunday. "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," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. But Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, denied that any of the documents placed individuals at risk.The New York Times newspaper, which received the documents before their release, explained its decision to publish the cables by saying they "serve an important public interest".The newspaper said it had "taken care to exclude... information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security."It said it had notified White House officials of the cables and asked if other information should be redacted, adding that it "agreed to some, but not all" of their suggestions.The UK's Guardian newspaper said all five papers had decided "neither to 'dump' the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals". US officials took the unusual step on Saturday of sending a letter to WikiLeaks to warn against the release of the secret government documents, which it says will put "countless" lives at risk. The letter, from Harold Hongju Koh, the US state department's most-senior lawyer, argued that publishing the classified files would threaten counterterrorism operations and jeopardise US relations with its allies.Leaders criticised
The cache of documents contains allegations of corruption against foreign leaders, who are subjected to stinging criticism in the cables, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, referred to as an "alpha-dog." Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, "avoids risk and is rarely creative", and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is described as being "driven by paranoia", in comments contained within diplomatic dispatches.
Advisers to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, also come in for criticism for having "little understanding of politics beyond Ankara".US diplomats visited foreign ministries in the days before the release hoping to stave off anger over the cables, which are internal messages that often lack the niceties diplomats voice in public.
Steve Clemons, a political strategist and director of the American Strategy Programme at New America Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the US reaction to this latest round of leaks has been stronger than in the past because of mainly diplomatic concerns."Certainly I wouldn't take it to the level of lives lost on the battlefield. This is essentially diplomatic brouhaha," he said."I think also that the content of these documents is a lot about the gossip and innuendo and the nuance ... and there are going to be a lot of embarrassing things that come out of these documents."There are be political repercussions of the way foreign leaders are going to read these documents. And in that sense, you're going to see people, ranging from [Asif Ali] Zardari in Pakistan, to, I understand, Nelson Mandela of South Africa has had some bad swipes taken at him in these cables."WikiLeaks previously published 400,000 Iraq war documentsin October, the biggest leak to date in US intelligence history, and 77,000 classified US files on the Afghan conflict in July.
According to The New York Times, the leak is "already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict."The U.S. newspaper also disclosed that American and South Korean officials have discussed "prospects for a unified Korea, should the North's economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode."The leaked materials also reveal how a senior member of China's Politburo directed the intrusion into Google's computer systems, and touch upon the "extraordinarily close relationship" between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi, which is "causing intense US suspicion," according to The Guardian.The White House said in a statement on Sunday: "We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."In July WikiLeaks published some 400,000 secret U.S. military files ("Iraq War Logs") on the conflict in Iraq. The documents suggest U.S. forces turned a blind eye to evidence of torture by the Iraqi authorities. Other files reveal that the number of civilian casualties was far greater than Washington admitted.
General George Casey, who was in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, rebutted the allegations of torture.The main suspect in the leak of secret documents to WikiLeaks is jailed U.S. Private Bradley Manning, who had top-secret clearance as an intelligence analyst for the Army when he was stationed in Iraq. The WikiLeaks website does not have a central office or any paid staff and its operations are run only by a small dedicated team and some 800 volunteers.WikiLeaks' founder, Australian activist Julian Assange, has no home address but he often pops up in Sweden and Iceland, where Internet anonymity is protected by laws. He is being hunted by Pentagon investigators and is suspected of releasing confidential U.S. State Department documents.A Swedish court recently issued a warrant for the arrest of Assange on suspicions of rape and sexual molestation.