The U.S. and Washington hold grave fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and Arab leaders are privately urging an attack on Iran, according to reports based on classified U.S. embassy cables leaked to major media news organizations by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
The first tranche of more than 250,000 classified cables also says American officials were also told to spy on the United Nations’ leadership and get biometric information on its secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
These revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches, which were obtained by WikiLeaks 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 U.S. efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
The UK’s The Guardian also reports U.S. diplomats had been ordered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to spy on allies, including the UN. Top secret cables revealed that Mrs Clinton even ordered diplomats to obtain DNA data – including iris scans and fingerprints – as well as credit card and frequent flier numbers.
All permanent members of the security council – including Russia, China, France and the UK – were targeted by the secret spying mission, as well as the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon.
Work schedules, email addresses, fax numbers, website identifiers and mobile numbers were also demanded by Washington. The US also wanted ‘biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives.’
The leaked memos also disclose how American diplomats compared Iran’s President Ahmedinejad with Adolf Hitler and labelled France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy as the “emperor with no clothes”.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted as “risk aversive”, while the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was an “alpha dog”. Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai was “driven by paranoia”. The unguarded comments were contained in the classified cables from US embassies, details of which were published by The New York Times and several other news organizations last night. Some of the cables were sent as recently as last February.
The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.
The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the expected disclosures. A statement from the White House on Sunday said: “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”
As the leaks went public, WikiLeaks said in its Twitter feed its website was “under a mass distributed denial of service attack”. The site was showing no reference to the latest leaks, dubbed “cablegate”.
US diplomats have been contacting foreign governments, and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has given personal briefings to several senior politicians, including the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd.
The US fears the released embassy files could have a negative impact on its relationships with other nations and may contain confidential and bitingly frank views of world leaders.
The US State Department has released a letter from a legal adviser, Harold Koh, in reply to correspondence from a lawyer acting for the editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, on Friday. The original letter from Mr Assange has not been seen, but Mr Koh suggested the WikiLeaks letter sought information on those who might be at risk of harm from its publication.
”Despite your stated desire to protect … lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals,” it said. ”You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger.”
Mr Koh said the US would not negotiate with WikiLeaks and demanded the return of all ”classified US material in its possession”. He said WikiLeaks was in violation of US law by holding and disseminating the material.
An open letter from the US ambassador in Germany, Philip Murphy, was published in the German tabloid Bild, saying WikiLeaks was committing a ”grave breach” of trust.
”The consequences are difficult to predict. It will at least be unpleasant – for my government, for those who are mentioned in the reports, and for me personally as the American ambassador to Germany.”
In London The Times, quoting unnamed Whitehall officials, warned that the cables would reveal ”anti-Islamic” British views that could cause a violent backlash in the Islamic world.
In what appears to have been a mistake, one of the media outlets given advance access to the files, the German news magazine Der Spiegel, briefly released a statistical synopsis of the embassy files yesterday.
In a report hastily removed after it was posted on its website, the magazine said the embassy cables were made up of 251,287 diplomatic cables and 8000 State Department “directives”. It said more than half the cables were unclassified, 40.5 per cent were marked confidential and 6 per cent were secret.
Der Spiegel said the first release would take place at 10.30pm on Sunday Berlin time – 8.30am today, Sydney time.
The Sunday Telegraph in London quoted British government sources as saying the releases would begin with “lively commentaries” on world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.
Then, day by day until next Sunday, a steady stream of cables on topics such as the Korean peninsula, Guantanamo Bay, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and China would be released.
However, that article was challenged when David Leigh, the investigations editor of The Guardian – which has had access to the cables – wrote a Twitter message saying the London Telegraph story was wrong, adding ”wait for the guardian!” The US network NBC reported on Friday that the documents would reveal “damaging” details of US efforts to renegotiate a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, as well as counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen.
This is the third release of US files by WikiLeaks this year, in concert with The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and other media organisations. [via The Telegraph (UK), Daily Mail (UK), The Guardian (UK) and NY Times]