WikiLeaks has unleashed over a quarter million confidential US cables detailing a wide array of potentially explosive diplomatic episodes, the New York Times and ther newspapers said Sunday.
The newspaper reported details of a tense standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel, plans to reunite the Korean peninsula after the North’s eventual collapse, bazaar-like bargaining over the repatriation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and a Chinese government bid to hack into Google, AFP reported.
The Guardian, meanwhile, reported that the king of Saudi Arabia pressured the US into seeking military action on Iran.
The paper also published a map of the globe detailling who had been mentioned in the released cables.
Germany’s Spiegel published an interactive atlas (German) showing where the most ‘mentions’ were geographically.
And with the media coming under fire in the past, the New York Times published a letter to readers in defence of publication.
The cables detail fresh suspicions about Afghan corruption, Saudi donors financing Al-Qaeda, and the US failure to prevent Syria from providing a massive stockpile of weapons to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon since 2006.
Other potentially damaging leaks included reports the US envoy branded Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi as ‘ineffective’, while Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai was ‘extremely weak.’
Major issues covered
The whistle-blower website’s chief Julian Assange said earlier Sunday the release of the US documents by the whistle-blower website would cover “every major issue,” as governments braced for damaging revelations.
“Over this last month much of my energy and activities have been spent preparing for the upcoming release of a diplomatic history of the United States,” Assange said.
“Over 250,000 classified cables from US embassies all around the world, and we can see already in the past week or so that the United States has made movements to try to disarm the effect that this could have.”
The White House immediately slammed the release as a “reckless and dangerous action” that puts lives at risk around the world.
“To be clear – 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,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
US officials in recent days have raced to contain the fall-out by warning more than a dozen countries, including key allies Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel and Turkey.
Late on Saturday Washington ruled out negotiating with WikiLeaks, saying it possessed the cables in violation of US law.
In a letter to Assange and his lawyer that was released to the media, the US State Department also said the planned leak would endanger the lives of “countless innocent individuals.”
“We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained US government classified materials,” State Department legal adviser Harold Koh wrote.
US officials said this was in response to a letter Assange had sent to the State Department on Friday in which he had tried to address concerns that the planned release placed individuals at risk.
“As far as we are aware, and as far as anyone has ever alleged in any credible manner whatsoever, no single individual has ever come to harm as a result of anything that we have ever published,” Assange said on Sunday.
The State Department said in its letter to Assange that WikiLeaks would also “place at risk on-going military operations” as well as “traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Sunday that his government had not been warned by the Americans about any specific sensitive materials.
British officials said some information might be subject to voluntary agreements between the government and the media to withhold sensitive data governing military operations and the intelligence services.
The Sunday Times of London quoted one government official as warning that British citizens in Muslim countries could be targeted in a violent backlash over any perceived “anti-Islamic” views expressed.
Russia’s respected Kommersant newspaper has said the documents included US diplomats’ conversations with Russian politicians and “unflattering” assessments of some of them.
Turkish media said they included papers suggesting that Ankara helped Al-Qaeda in Iraq and that Washington helped Iraq-based Kurdish rebels fighting against Turkey.
US officials have not confirmed the source of the leaks, but suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a former army intelligence agent arrested after the release of a video showing air strikes that killed civilian reporters in Iraq.
WikiLeaks argues that the first two document dumps – nearly 500,000 US military incident reports from 2004 to 2009 – shed light on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sweden recently issued an international warrant for Assange’s arrest, saying he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation.