The US state department has warned Congress it expects a damaging release of sensitive diplomatic documents by theWikiLeaksanti-secrecy website. The department said the release may create tensions with other governments. Congressional committees were notified of the likelihood of a damaging release of diplomatic cables in coming days, a spokesman said. The Pentagon has also told the US Senate and House armed services committees that the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel “are each currently working with WikiLeaks to co-ordinate the release of the documents”.
Sunday 28 November 2010 18.13 GMT
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year. At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN leadership. These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistleblowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues. These include a shift in relations between China and North Korea, high level concerns over Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material. Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA. The most controversial target was the UN leadership. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”. PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman in Washington, said: “Let me assure you: our diplomats are just that, diplomats. They do not engage in intelligence activities.
They represent our country around the world, maintain open and transparent contact with other governments as well as public and private figures, and report home. That’s what diplomats have done for hundreds of years.” The acting deputy spokesman for Ban Ki Moon, Farhan Haq, said the UN chief had no immediate comment: “We are aware of the reports.” The dispatches also shed light on older diplomatic issues. One cable, for example, reveals, that Nelson Mandela was “furious” when a top adviser stopped him meeting Margaret Thatcher shortly after his release from prison to explain why the ANC objected to her policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid regime. “We understand Mandela was keen for a Thatcher meeting but that [appointments secretary Zwelakhe] Sisulu argued successfully against it,” according to the cable. It continues: “Mandela has on several occasions expressed his eagerness for an early meeting with Thatcher to express the ANC’s objections to her policy. We were consequently surprised when the meeting didn’t materialise on his mid-April visit to London and suspected that ANC hardliners had nixed Mandela’s plans.”
The US embassy cables are marked “Sipdis” – secret internet protocol distribution. They were compiled as part of a programme under which selected dispatches, considered moderately secret but suitable for sharing with other agencies, would be automatically loaded on to secure embassy websites, and linked with the military’s Siprnet internet system. They are classified at various levels up to “secret noforn” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. Some are marked “protect” or “strictly protect”. Last spring, 22-year-old intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was charged with leaking many of these cables, along with a gun-camera video of an Apache helicopter crew mistakenly killing two Reuters news agency employees in Baghdad in 2007, which was subsequently posted by WikiLeaks. Manning is facing a court martial.
In July and October WikiLeaks also published thousands of leaked military reports from Afghanistan and Iraq. These were made available for analysis beforehand to the Guardian, along with Der Spiegel and the New York Times. A former hacker, Adrian Lamo, who reported Manning to the US authorities, said the soldier had told him in chat messages that the cables revealed “how the first world exploits the third, in detail”. He also said, according to Lamo, that Clinton “and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available in searchable format to the public … everywhere there’s a US post … there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed”. Asked why such sensitive material was posted on a network accessible to thousands of government employees, the state department spokesman told the Guardian: “The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing.
Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs.” He added: “We have been taking aggressive action in recent weeks and months to enhance the security of our systems and to prevent the leak of information.”
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