News24

WikiLeaks uncloaks face of US diplomacy

2010-11-29 08:56

Washington - Hundreds of thousands of State Department documents leaked on Sunday revealed a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy, divulging candid comments from world leaders and detailing occasional US pressure tactics aimed at hot spots in Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

The classified diplomatic cables released by online whistleblower WikiLeaks and reported on by news organisations in the United States and Europe provided often unflattering assessments of foreign leaders, ranging from US allies such as Germany and Italy to other nations like Libya, Iran and Afghanistan.

The cables also contained new revelations about long-simmering nuclear trouble spots, detailing US, Israeli and Arab world fears of Iran's growing nuclear programme, American concerns about Pakistan's atomic arsenal and US discussions about a united Korean peninsula as a long-term solution to North Korean aggression.

There are also American memos encouraging US diplomats at the United Nations to collect detailed data about the UN secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats - going beyond what is considered the normal run of information-gathering expected in diplomatic circles.

None of the revelations is particularly explosive, but their publication could prove problematic for the officials concerned. And the massive release of material intended for diplomatic eyes only is sure to ruffle feathers in foreign capitals, a certainty that prompted US diplomats to scramble in recent days to shore up relations with key allies in advance of the disclosures.

The documents published by The New York Times, France's Le Monde, Britain's Guardian newspaper, German magazine Der Spiegel and others laid out the behind-the-scenes conduct of Washington's international relations, shrouded in public by platitudes, smiles and handshakes at photo sessions among senior officials.

Candid information

The White House immediately condemned the release of the WikiLeaks documents, saying "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".

It also noted that "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".

"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 US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," the White House said.

State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley played down the spying allegations. "Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," he said. "They collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."

On its website, The New York Times said "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match".

In a statement released on Sunday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "The cables show the 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 and lobbying for US corporations."

Cyberattack


Their release - the first in a series of planned releases over the next few months - "reveals the contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors", Assange said.

The documents were again available on the WikiLeaks website on Sunday afternoon. The site was inaccessible much of the day, and the group claimed it was under a cyberattack.

But extracts of the more than 250 000 cables posted online by news outlets that had been given advance copies of the documents showed deep US concerns about Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes along with fears about regime collapse in Pyongyang.

The Guardian said some cables showed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urging the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme.

The newspaper also said officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran's nuclear programme to be stopped by any means and that leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran "as 'evil', an 'existential threat' and a power that 'is going to take us to war'," The Guardian said.

Those documents may prove the most problematic because even though the concerns of the Gulf Arab states are known, their leaders rarely offer such stark appraisals in public.

Uranium reactor fears

The Times highlighted documents that indicated the US and South Korea were "gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea" and discussing the prospects for a unified country if the isolated, communist North's economic troubles and political transition lead it to implode.

The Times also cited diplomatic cables describing unsuccessful US efforts to prod Pakistani officials to remove highly enriched uranium from a reactor out of fears that the material could be used to make an illicit atomic device.

And the newspaper cited cables that showed Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, telling US General David Petraeus that his country would pretend that American missile strikes against a local al-Qaida group were from Yemen's forces.

The paper also reported on documents showing the US used hardline tactics to win approval from countries to accept freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. It said Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if its president wanted to meet with President Barack Obama and said the Pacific island of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees.

It also cited a cable from the US Embassy in Beijing that included allegations from a Chinese contact that China's Politburo directed a cyber intrusion into Google's computer systems as part of a "coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and internet outlaws".

Le Monde said another memo asked US diplomats to collect basic contact information about UN officials that included internet passwords, credit card numbers and frequent flyer numbers. They were asked to obtain fingerprints, ID photos, DNA and iris scans of people of interest to the United States, Le Monde said.

'9/11 of diplomacy'

The Times said another batch of documents raised questions about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. One cable said Berlusconi "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe, the Times reported.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Sunday called the release the "September 11 of world diplomacy", in that everything that had once been accepted as normal has now changed.

Der Spiegel reported that the cables portrayed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in unflattering terms. It said American diplomats saw Merkel as risk-averse and Westerwelle as largely powerless.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, meanwhile, was described as erratic and in the near constant company of a Ukrainian nurse who was described in one cable as "a voluptuous blonde", according to the Times.

The Obama administration has been bracing for the release for the past week. Top officials have notified allies that the contents of the diplomatic cables could prove embarrassing because they contain candid assessments of foreign leaders and their governments, as well as details of American policy.

The State Department's top lawyer warned Assange late on Saturday that lives and military operations would be put at risk if the cables were released. Legal adviser Harold Koh said WikiLeaks would be breaking the law if it went ahead. He also rejected a request from Assange to co-operate in removing sensitive details from the documents.

Freedom of the press

In a session on Sunday with a group of Arab journalists, Assange said, "The State Department understands that we are a responsible organisation, so it is trying to make it as hard as it can for us to publish responsibly."

He called the Obama administration "a regime that doesn't believe in the freedom of the press and doesn't act like it believes it".

The New York Times said the documents involved 250 000 cables - the daily message traffic between the State Department and more than 270 US diplomatic outposts around the world. The newspaper said that in its reporting, it attempted to exclude information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.

The Times said that after its own redactions, it sent Obama administration officials the cables it planned to post and invited them to challenge publication of any information they deemed would harm the national interest. After reviewing the cables, the officials suggested additional redactions, the Times said. The newspaper said it agreed to some, but not all.

Also on Sunday, the Pentagon released a summary of precautions taken since WikiLeaks published stolen war logs from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since August, the Pentagon has changed the way portable computer storage devices such as flash drives can be used with classified systems, and made it harder for one person acting alone to download material from a classified network and place it on an unclassified one.




Comments
  • thambomz - 2010-11-29 09:26

    Think of how much more information is being hidden from us, this is only one issue amongst many other hidden agendas. This world is not transparent at all. We are under the illusion that the world is free and fair, but it is information like this that opens our eyes to reality.

      nickcallery1 - 2010-11-29 15:04

      The whole wikileaks saga is a lot of crap devised by the americans with a horde of scriptwriters and 'leaked' onto their own website created to cause turmoil around the globe. The stupid americans need to start another war (which they can lose just like every other time) so as to keep their 'aura' of being a world power. They started the nonsense with North Korea by planning war games in a sensitive area so as to provoke China. Do they really think they can take on China? Please someone tell them that Rambo, Chuck Norris and all the other heroes have retired. If the leaked documents were genuine would some diplomats heads not have rolled by now? Are we really supposed to believe that Saudi Arabia would backbite Iran? Stupid hollywood america.

  • Pieter du Plessis - 2010-11-29 09:47

    http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/1990/01/90CAPETOWN97.html Shows who said what before 2 Feb 1990 speech. Interesting

  • Baloo - 2010-11-29 10:49

    And everyone are acting all surprised. As if they never expected such behaviour from the US. Phuleez! And the US is not the only culprit. ALL governments do this. The US is just better at it and now got caught red handed. Tsk, tsk...

  • kendal.brown - 2010-11-29 11:07

    There is nothing that is hidden that won't be revealed!

  • nickcallery1 - 2010-11-29 15:01

    The whole wikileaks saga is a lot of crap devised by the americans with a horde of scriptwriters and 'leaked' onto their own website created to cause turmoil around the globe. The stupid americans need to start another war (which they can lose just like every other time) so as to keep their 'aura' of being a world power. They started the nonsense with North Korea by planning war games in a sensitive area so as to provoke China. Do they really think they can take on China? Please someone tell them that Rambo, Chuck Norris and all the other heroes have retired. If the leaked documents were genuine would some diplomats heads not have rolled by now? Are we really supposed to believe that Saudi Arabia would backbite Iran? Stupid hollywood america.

      Ingwe - 2010-11-30 06:56

      Stupid comment; Nick you really need to get a life

      Ken - 2010-11-30 09:47

      Nick Can't agree with you more - It is a well known fact that the US government and Hollywood faked the moon landings and the global event was broadcasted from a film lot. Also there is speculation that the CIA were also responsible for 9/11. America are slowly losing there control and domination of the world and are now resorting to cyber terrorism to gain support from their western allies and in some cases "puppets". Makes you think!!!

      Zion - 2011-01-03 10:53

      Agree 100% Nick. There never was a nuke dropped on Hiroshima. The Japs bombed themselves to controll the birth rate. The Desert Storm war was only the Americans on maneouveres in then Atacama desert. The Taliban is an American Muslim force fighting for colonial oppressors to take over Siam. God took 6 000 yrs to create the earth because 1 day = 1 000 yrs so he rested for another thousand Sundays. Saddam Hossein was not hung - It was his American look-alike that went to the gallows. JFK is still in Samoa. You see Nick, All are American Conspiracies to tell the world they are second to none.

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