Leak of State Dept Cables Could Impact Friends and Allies Around the World, White House Says

November 29, 2010 - 5:42 AM

wikileaks

This Aug. 14, 2010 file photo shows WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Stockholm, Sweden. (AP File Photo/Scanpix/Bertil Ericson)

(CNSNews.com) – Sunday’s release by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. State Department cables provides a glimpse into the world where views are delivered directly and sometimes bluntly, far removed from bland diplomatic statements reserved for the cameras.

The controversial whistleblower Web site on Sunday released the first batch of what it says will eventually total 251,287 cables, originating from 274 U.S. embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions. Most of the several hundred documents released so far are dated between 2005 and as recently as last February.

Earlier in the day news outlets used in the past by WikiLeaks – the New York Times, the Guardian of London, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde and El Pais of Spain – began running stories prepared after getting an advance look at the documents.

The cables reveal frank evaluations of a range of issues and political leaders, offered not just by American officials but also by their foreign interlocutors speaking on the assumption of confidentiality.

With that assumption now having been proven wrong, the diplomatic fallout is likely to be widespread, and lasting. Not only are U.S. interactions with foreign governments compromised, but also exposed are foreign governments’ assessments of other foreign governments.

Pakistan's government, army and at least some of its people may react strongly, for instance, to learning that Saudi King Abdullah views President Asif Ali Zardari as “rotten” and the greatest obstacle to Pakistan making progress in ending terrorist safe havens there.

Abdullah-Ahmadinejad

In this Nov. 17, 2007 file photo, Saudi King Abdullah shakes hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was visiting the kingdom for an OPEC summit in Riyadh.. According to U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, urged the U.S. to use force to end the Iranian nuclear threat. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian, File)

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are two of the most important countries in the Islamic world, both with close security ties to the U.S.

Possibly more dangerous could be an unpredictable Iran’s response to the forthright views of Gulf state leaders about how best to deal with their powerful Shi’ite neighbor and its nuclear ambitions:

-- Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed asked a U.S. general in 2005 whether it would be possible to use air power to “take out” all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Told this was unlikely as they were widely dispersed, the prince was reported to have responded, “Then it will take ground forces!”

-- A Saudi envoy told a U.S. diplomat in April 2008 that King Abdullah had frequently exhorted “the U.S. to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said. “He told you to cut off the head of the snake,” the ambassador recalled.

-- Bahrain’s King Hamad’s warned Gen. David  Petraeus in 2009 that “the danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”

-- King Abdullah, during a visit by then National Security Adviser Gen James Jones early this year, reportedly encouraged the use of covert ways to weaken the regime in Tehran by exploiting the opportunity provided by the post-election turmoil.

-- Kuwaiti Interior Minister Jaber Al-Khaled Al Sabah’s told a U.S. envoy last February that Iran “will only be deterred from achieving its objectives – including a nuclear weapons capability – by force.”

Humint collection

Potentially damaging for the Obama administration’s engagement with the United Nations is a July 2009 request to U.S. missions to collect information ranging from government stances on “priority issues” to personal data of senior U.N. officials (including credit card numbers, online passwords and Internet “handles).

Sent under the name of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the “national HUMINT collection directive” was addressed to U.S. missions to the U.N. in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Rome, as well as to 32 embassies and consuls around the world. (Humint refers to “human intelligence.)

Among the information sought was the view of U.N. member states – especially those on the Security Council – on everything from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “management and decision-making style” to attempts by countries to block U.S. initiatives or “plans by developing countries to stymie criticism of their human rights records through procedural motions or influencing votes” at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley last week decried the looming dump of the data, calling it “harmful to the United States and our interests. They are going to create tension in our relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world.”

On Friday, Crowley in a Twitter message said Clinton had been in touch with Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and Afghanistan, and that other “senior officials are reaching out to countries and warning them about a possible release of documents.”

The White House in a statement Sunday condemned the release, saying that “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.”

“By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions,” the statement said.

“Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.”

WikiLeaks in July released more than 90,000 documents relating to the conflict  in Afghanistan and in October dumped some 400,000 documents dealing with the Iraq war.

A U.S. Army intelligence analyst based in Baghdad, Bradley Manning, is in custody on suspicion of leaking documents to the Web site.

After the latest reports began appearing on Sunday, the Pentagon released a statement saying that following the earlier leaks over the summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had ordered two reviews of information and intelligence sharing.

As a result of steps put into place following those reviews, said spokesman Bryan Whitman, “it is now much more difficult for a determined actor to get access to and move information outside of authorized channels.”