WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing website known for leaking state secrets, released on Sunday its latest batch of controversial documents. It has posted the first of what it says will be more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables.
[Updated at 10:14 p.m.]
– Ecuador has asked WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange to come to Quito and discuss documents regarding Ecuador and other Latin American countries. Ecuador expelled two U.S. diplomats in February 2009, accusing them of meddling in its internal affairs - allegations the State Department denied. The foreign ministry in Quito suggested Assange, an Australian citizen, apply for residency there.
– WikiLeaks documents posted on the websites of the Guardian and the New York Times suggest China is losing patience with its long-time ally North Korea, with senior figures in Beijing describing the regime in the North as behaving like a "spoiled child." According to cables obtained by WikiLeaks and cited by the Guardian, South Korea's vice-foreign minister Chun Yung-woo said he had been told by two senior Chinese officials (whose names are redacted in the cables) that they believed Korea should be reunified under Seoul's control, and that this view was gaining ground with the leadership in Beijing.
– The world's military shopping list is being exposed through the WikiLeaks publications. State-of-the-art missiles and American military helicopters are a frequent topic of discussion in the released diplomatic cables, which also show a keen interest in what weaponry Iran has and how to defend against them.
– From 2005 to 2009, U.S. diplomats regularly reported that Brazil tried to distance itself from what it saw as an "overly aggressive" American war on terror, and was highly sensitive highly to public claims suggesting that terrorist organizations have a presence in the country, according to cables released by WikiLeaks. But Brazil's counter-terrorism policy seemed to shift in 2009, with a cable detailing the government's strategy to deter terrorists from "using Brazilian territory to facilitate attacks or raise funds."
– Former President George W. Bush told a forum at Facebook's headquarters Monday that the document leak is "very damaging," adding that it may significantly hurt Washington's image abroad. "It's going to be very hard to keep the trust of foreign leaders," the nation's 43rd president said. "If you have a conversation with a foreign leader and it ends up in a newspaper, you don't like it. I didn't like it."
Here's a look at the leak, an overview of how WikiLeaks works and a summary of what some of the documents say about a variety of topics.
– Sunday's leak contained the first of what the site says will be 251,288 cables that it plans to release piecemeal in the coming weeks or months.
– The cables were sent by American diplomats between the end of 1966 and February 2010.
– Of the roughly 250,000 documents, 8,017 originated from the office of the secretary of state and more than 15,600 are classified as secret. More than half are unclassified, according to WikiLeaks.
– It's the third highly publicized leak by the website in a matter of months. In July, the site published more than 75,000 classified U.S. reports on the war in Afghanistan that officials warned could endanger the lives of U.S. troops and their allies. It posted a similar leak of Iraq war documents in October, prompting more condemnation from U.S. and other world leaders.
– Sunday's "CableGate" was similarly slammed by Washington and U.S. allies, with officials calling the leak a threat to national security.
HOW WIKILEAKS WORKS
– While secretive about its operations, WikiLeaks essentially receives leaks from people who have access to controversial or classified documents, who either send them electronically or through the mail. A group of volunteer editors then decides what information is authoritative and important, and the site publishes it accordingly.
– Only approved information ends up on the WikiLeaks site, but anyone is free to submit documents he or she believes should be made public.
– WikiLeaks offers whistle-blowers anonymity and, to a degree, legal protection.
– U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is a prime suspect in previous leaks. Prior to October's Iraq release, Manning was already being held in Quantico, Virginia, charged with leaking video of an Iraq airstrike to WikiLeaks as well as removing classified information from military computers.
WHAT THE DOCUMENTS SAY
– China has played a critical role in U.S. policy toward Iran since the Obama administration came into office, with the Chinese government seeking to encourage the United States and Iran to directly engage each other, according to a CNN review of State Department cables published by WikiLeaks. China may be talking to the United States about containing Iran's nuclear program, but the cables also reveal the role of Chinese enterprises in Iran's strategy to obtain materials for its missile programs and the U.S. State Department's efforts to counter that strategy.
– Sunday's release of diplomatic cables include what seems to be an order from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to American diplomats to engage in intelligence gathering, directing her envoys at embassies around the world to collect information ranging from basic biographical data on diplomats to their frequent flier and credit card numbers.
– The State Department denied its diplomats are spies.
– The relocation of 17 Chinese Muslim Uyghurs detained at Guantanamo Bay was a thorny issue for the United States, according to some of the cables. Attempts to find new homes for the 17 detainees were met with resistance because of fear of retribution from China. At one point, Germany considered accepting seven of them. When the country informed China of the request, Germany "had been subsequently warned by China of 'a heavy burden on bilateral relations'" between Germany and China if the Germans accepted the detainees. The Uyghurs were eventually relocated to Palau, Bermuda, Albania, and Switzerland.
– The U.S. Embassy in Honduras unequivocally found that the forced removal of that nation's president last year was a coup that ushered in an illegitimate government, despite the administration's more measured tone in public, a cable says. The analysis, prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, called Roberto Micheletti, who became de facto president, "totally illegitimate," although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly recognized both sides as players and pushed for them to negotiate a solution.
– The United States believes that North Korea is supplying Iran with long-range missiles, suggesting Iran has strike capabilities that are stronger than discussed in public, according to one of the leaked cables.
– A major topic in the documents includes pressure from U.S. allies in the Middle East for decisive action to neutralize Iran's nuclear program.
– In one cable, Bahrain's King Hamadbin Isa al-Khalifa warned, "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it." The king is also said to have told the then-commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, that Iran was the "source of much of the trouble in both Iraq and Afghanistan."
– The cable, sent in November 2009 by the U.S. ambassador in Bahrain, added that the king had "argued forcefully for taking action to terminate their nuclear program, by whatever means necessary. 'That program must be stopped,'" he said.
– There was similar apprehension in Egypt about Iran in a cable sent in February 2009. "President Mubarak told Senator Mitchell during his recent visit here that he did not oppose our talking with the Iranians, as long as 'you don't believe a word they say,'" the U.S. ambassador in Cairo recounted. The ambassador continued: "Mubarak has a visceral hatred for the Islamic Republic, referring repeatedly to Iranians as 'liars,' and denouncing them for seeking to destabilize Egypt and the region."
– A cable from the U.S. ambassador in Oman quotes the country's Armed Forces Chief, Lt. Gen. Ali bin Majidal-Ma'amari, as saying that "with Iran's continued attitude on the nuclear issue, the security situation in Iraq would remain unresolved."
– Another cable describes a meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and other U.S. officials in March 2009. According to the cable, the king told the Americans what he had just told the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. "You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters," the Saudi monarch was quoted as telling Mottaki. "Iran's goal is to cause problems," he told Brennan. "There is no doubt something unstable about them."
– Diplomatic cables offer a rare glimpse into the sensitive relationship between the United States and Russia, particularly over past negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. In one confidential assessment, sent on October 6, 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Beyrle, complains of a "stubborn mentality" among Russian officials, that "instinctively opposes making common cause with the West over Iran."
– Dozens of diplomatic cables reveal a complex and often difficult relationship between the United States and Turkey in recent years, with persistent anxieties among U.S. officials that long-time Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is prodding the country in a more Islamist direction. Recent cables show a divergence of views on Iran's nuclear program, with an angry exchange between the U.S. ambassador in Ankara and a senior Turkish diplomat in October 2009. According to one cable, Ambassador James Jeffrey attacked reported remarks by Erdogan that Iranian nuclear ambitions were "gossip."
– In 2008, the U.S. ambassador in the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, was invited to lunch with Prince Andrew, who was in the country to promote British interests. Of Prince Andrew's comments, she observed in a cable: "Astonishingly candid, the discussion at times verged on the rude (from the British side)."
– When the conversation turned to the problem of corruption, one businessman said that working in Kyrgyzstan was "like doing business in the Yukon" in the 19th century, "i.e., only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money." At this point, according to the cable, "the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that: 'All of this sounds exactly like France.'"
– The documents offer frank observations from U.S. staffers about the character of world leaders, their quirks, their thinking and their weaknesses. For example, one cable from the U.S. Embassy in Libya has an extensive discussion of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's "various proclivities and phobias" and his almost obsessive reliance on his nurse, a woman described as a "voluptuous blonde."
– In a meeting with U.S. Gen. David Petreaus in the capital of Sana'a in January, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to continue covering up the latest plan to use U.S. fixed-wing bombers with precision weapons to attack terrorists in his country. The Yemeni president told Petraeus that would be preferable to the continued use of long-range cruise missiles, which Saleh said were "not very accurate." "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, according to a diplomatic cable.
– A cable dated July 2007 from the outgoing U.S. ambassador in Zimbabwe warned that the end of the government of President Robert Mugabe was "nigh" and advised the State Department "to stay the course and prepare for change."
– The ambassador, Christopher W. Dell, goes on to characterize Mugabe, who now heads an uneasy power-sharing government with the opposition, as "a brilliant tactician" who is "more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe."
– Fuel and food shortages prompted Dell to say "for the first time the president is under intensifying pressure simultaneously on the economic, political and international fronts" and that Mugabe was "running out of options." He says it up to the U.S. "once again, to take the lead, to say and do the hard things."
– In response to the leak, the U.S. government on Monday ordered all agencies handling classified information to review security procedures "to ensure that users do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively," according to a statement from the Office of Management and Budget.
– The State Department is halting access to its diplomatic cables as it evaluates security of its classified document system in the wake of the publication of diplomatic communiques by WikiLeaks, a U.S. official said.
– The official said the State Department has severed the access as a "temporary measure," though the diplomatic cables will be available to those with access to a more restricted network.
– The State Department and Department of Defense had linked their classified computer systems in the wake of September 11, 2001, to allow for greater information sharing. It allowed for anyone with access to the system, known as SIPRNet, or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), to access military reports from the front lines and also diplomat intelligence. It is this system that Pfc. Bradley Manning is accused of using to steal hundreds of thousands of documents and leaking them. Over the weekend, a Pentagon spokesman outlined how security on the system had been improved in the wake of the leaks to WikiLeaks.
– The Justice Department also announced Monday that it is conducting "an active, ongoing criminal investigation" into the disclosure.
– President Obama "was - as an understatement - not pleased" with the WikiLeaks disclosures, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.
– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the administration is "taking aggressive steps" to hold responsible those who stole sensitive documents made public by WikiLeaks. She also said new protections are being put in place at the State Department to prevent more such leaks from taking place.
– Clinton said Monday that the WikiLeaks disclosure of sensitive diplomatic documents "is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community."