US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomatic crisis
• More than 250,000 dispatches reveal US foreign strategies
• Diplomats ordered to spy on allies as well as enemies
• Hillary Clinton leads frantic ‘damage limitation’
How 250,000 US embassy cables were leaked See below
by David Leigh / guardian.co.uk / Sunday 28 November 2010
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN leadership. These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistleblowers’ website, 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 US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, with officials warning that as the country faces economic collapse, government employees could smuggle out enough nuclear material for terrorists to build a bomb.
• Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government, with one cable alleging that vice president Zia Massoud was carrying $52m in cash when he was stopped during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Massoud denies taking money out of Afghanistan.
• How the hacker attacks which forced Google to quit China in January were orchestrated by a senior member of the Politburo who typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticising him personally.
• The extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, which is causing intense US suspicion. Cables detail allegations of “lavish gifts”, lucrative energy contracts and the use by Berlusconi of a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between.
• Allegations that Russia and its intelligence agencies are using mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations, with one cable reporting that the relationship is so close that the country has become a “virtual mafia state”.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan by US commanders, the Afghan president and local officials in Helmand. The dispatches reveal particular contempt for the failure to impose security around Sangin – the town which has claimed more British lives than any other in the country.
•Inappropriate remarks by a member of the British royal family about a UK law enforcement agency and a foreign country.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cables contain specific allegations of corruption, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from Caribbean islands to China and Russia. The material includes a reference to Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” while Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables names Saudi donors as the biggest financiers of terror groups, and provide an extraordinarily detailed account of an agreement between Washington and Yemen to cover up the use of US planes to bomb al-Qaida targets. One cable records that during a meeting in January with General David Petraeus, then US commander in the Middle East, Yemeni president Abdullah Saleh said: “We’ll continue saying they are our bombs, not yours.”
Other revelations include a description of a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium, technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and a profile of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
A worldwide diplomatic crisis for the US is in prospect following the leaking of hundreds of thousands of secret cables sent from its embassies.
The dispatches, to which the Guardian has obtained unprecedented access, reveal startling information about the behavior of the world’s major superpower.
They include high-level allegations of corruption against foreign leaders, harsh criticisms and frank insights into the world of normally- secret diplomacy.
Among literally scores of revelations which may cause uproar, some will be particularly dismaying in Britain. They include:
• Highly critical private remarks about David Cameron and George Osborne’s “lack of depth”, made by Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, to the US ambassador.
• A scornful analysis of UK “paranoia” over the US-UK so-called special relationship. It is suggested that “keeping HMG the British government “off-balance” about itthe relationship might be a good idea.
• US shock at the rude behaviour of Prince Andrew when abroad.
• Secret US military missions flown from a UK base, which Britain alleged could involve torture.
• A plan to deceive the British parliament over the use of banned US weapons.
The Guardian will be publishing extracts in the coming days from a selection of the most significant of more than 250,000 of these diplomatic cables, which were radioed back to Washington via satellite links from US embassies all over the world.
Among many allegations of corruption, the dispatches name a prominent western leader said to be in receipt of Russian bribes, a senior Afghan politician stopped at an airport with more than $50m in suitcases and a British businessman at the centre of a corruption scandal in Kazakhstan.
They name the “single most hated person” in a country the US relies on to help prosecute its war in Afghanistan; and they reveal deep fears about the safety of one state’s nuclear weapons.
They also reveal why an alleged major Serbian war criminal has never been caught; why North Korea is soon likely to collapse and how an “environmental disaster” was only narrowly averted last year over secret shipments of highly enriched uranium.
Topics covered range from the technical detail of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, to an intimate personality profile of Colonel Gaddaffi, the eccentric Libyan dictator, who they say is nowadays accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The cables cover secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s work under the Obama administration, as well as thousands of files from the Bush presidency.Clinton led a frantic damage limitation exercise this weekend as Washington prepared foreign governments for the revelations, contacting leaders in Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, France and Afghanistan.
US ambassadors in other capitals were instructed to brief their hosts in advance of the release of unflattering pen-portraits or nakedly frank accounts of transactions with the US which they had thought would be kept quiet. Washington now faces a difficult task in convincing contacts around the world that any future conversations will remain confidential.
As the cables were published the White House released a statement condemning their release. “Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals.”
In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK. They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the US have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the US Government. That will continue”.
The state department’s legal adviser has written to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his London lawyer, warning that the cables were obtained illegally and that publication would place at risk “the lives of countless innocent individuals … ongoing military operations … and cooperation between countries”.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other news organisations: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the UN leadership. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
PJ Crowley, the state department spokesman in Washington, said: “Let me assure you: our diplomats are just that, diplomats. They do not engage in intelligence activities. They represent our country around the world, maintain open and transparent contact with other governments as well as public and private figures, and report home. That’s what diplomats have done for hundreds of years.”
Last night the acting deputy spokesman for Ban Ki Moon, Farhan Haq, said the UN chief had no immediate comment: “We are aware of the reports.”
How 250,000 US embassy cables were leaked
by David Leigh / guardian.co.uk / Sunday 28 November 2010
An innocuous-looking memory stick, no longer than a couple of fingernails, came into the hands of a Guardian reporter earlier this year. The device is so small it will hang easily on a keyring. But its contents will send shockwaves through the world’s chancelleries and deliver what one official described as “an epic blow” to US diplomacy.
The 1.6 gigabytes of text files on the memory stick ran to millions of words: the contents of more than 250,000 leaked state department cables, sent from, or to, US embassies around the world.
What will emerge in the days and weeks ahead is an unprecedented picture of secret diplomacy as conducted by the planet’s sole superpower. There are 251,287 dispatches in all, from more than 250 US embassies and consulates. They reveal how the US deals with both its allies and its enemies – negotiating, pressuring and sometimes brusquely denigrating foreign leaders, all behind the firewalls of ciphers and secrecy classifications that diplomats assume to be secure. The leaked cables range up to the “SECRET NOFORN” level, which means they are meant never to be shown to non-US citizens.
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