Wikileaked: cables reveal Iran plotting, diplo spying

UPDATE: Ooops. Turns out the New York Times got their scoop … from the Guardian

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directing U.S. envoys to spy on allied diplomats … wheeling and dealing over Gitmo detainees, and Gulf states pushing for a military strike on Iran. Those are just some of the embarrassing revelations in the latest Wikileaks dump. Now, a U.S. Congressman wants Wikileaks to be designated a terrorist outfit.

The New York Times, which was one of several news organizations to receive the documents, reports they consist of more than 250,000 cables written between U.S. embassies, some as recently as February and others stretching back three years. Among the revelations:

The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the United States’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Among their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:

¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

¶ Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.

¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.

¶ An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoyed supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he was undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignored his edicts. (Read more here.)

¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.

¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

There’s also news of something that became familiar during the Bush era: spying on friendly diplomats. From the Times of India:

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described India as a “self-appointed front-runner” for a permanent UNSC seat and directed US envoys to seek minute details about Indian diplomats stationed at the United Nations headquarters, according to classified documents released by WikiLeaks today.

In a potentially damaging disclosure, the whistle-blower website released a “secret” cable issued by Clinton on July 31, 2009, as part of its massive leak of a quarter million classified documents of the American government.

The cable posted by The New York Times gave directions to US diplomats to collect information on key issues like reform of the UN Security Council and Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and pass it on to the intelligence agencies, including on foreign associates’ credit card and frequent-flier numbers that could be used to track a person’s movements.

It asked US diplomats to ascertain deliberations regarding the UNSC expansion among key groups of countries like “self-appointed front-runners” for permanent UNSC seats — India, Brazil, Germany and Japan (Group of Four or G-4); Uniting for Consensus group — especially Mexico, Italy and Pakistan — that opposes additional permanent UNSC seats; African Group; and European Union, as well as key UN officials within the Secretariat and the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Presidency.

It also sought biographical and biometric information on key NAM/G-77/OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) permanent representatives, particularly China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Senegal and Syria; and information on their relationships with their capitals.

The cable also wanted to know about members’ plans for plenary meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; views on the US-India civil nuclear cooperation initiative; besides members’ views on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); prospects for country ratifications and entry into force.

The New York Times said the leaked cable gave a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfil the demands of a “National Humint Collection Directive” in specific countries. Humint being the spy-world jargon for human intelligence collection. …

From the Washington Post, reporting on some of the candid opinions to be found in the cables:

One cable asserts that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly asked the United States to “cut off the head of the snake”- presumably meaning to attack Iran’s nuclear program – while there was still time. Another quotes a senior Saudi official as warning that if Iran is not stopped, gulf Arab states would develop their own nuclear weapons.

Even when the documents merely confirm foreigners’ suspicions, they could be embarrassing for the Obama administration. In cables drafted by U.S. diplomats, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is described as an “alpha-dog,” Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “driven by paranoia,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative.”

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Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe after receiving “lavish gifts” and lucrative energy contracts and the involvement of a “shadowy,” Russian-speaking Italian intermediary.

The documents reveal how U.S. embassies have relied on foreign government officials for insight into policy. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg “tattled on his colleague,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, “telling the U.S. ambassador that Westerwelle was the real barrier to the Americans’ request for an increase in the number of German troops in Afghanistan.”

The release has provoked an unsurprising response from Republicans. Stepping up to the microphone: House blowhard Peter King:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should review whether Wikileaks can be declared a terrorist organization, according to a senior Republican.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for U.S. officials to get aggressive against Wikileaks after the website published highly-sensitive, classified diplomatic cables that reveal frank assessments of foreign leaders and the war on terror.

“I am calling on the attorney general and supporting his efforts to fully prosecute Wikileaks and its founder for violating the Espionage Act. And I’m also calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization,” King said on WNIS radio on Sunday evening.

“By doing that, we will be able to seize their funds and go after anyone who provides them help or contributions or assistance whatsoever,” he said. “To me, they are a clear and present danger to America.”

Uh-huh (King repeated the same idea on Morning Joe, prompting a snicker from the host…)

So what should be done about Wikileaks, which is clearly not planning on stopping the releases? Meanwhile, Washington is atwitter about how a relatively low level member of the military was able to download and disseminate so much information.

Related: Irony? Wikileaks claims it faced a computer attack before its latest release.

Also: The Guardian has global reactions to the Wikileaks release.

Meanwhile, Alternet says the media has no obligation to protect the government from embarrassment.

But Steve Benen comes closer to my view, saying it appears that, unlike previous releases that exposed potential war crimes and other wrongdoing, this particularly info dump seems designed solely to embarrass diplomats, for the sake of embarrassing diplomats. And the point of that is?

Link: Wikileaks

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One Response to Wikileaked: cables reveal Iran plotting, diplo spying

  1. Flo says:

    “So what should be done about Wikileaks, which is clearly not planning on stopping the releases? ”

    I haven’t yet read extensively on this, but do they not have a finite amount of information? Their source–Manning–is under arrest; do we know how much more data they have to release?

    Peter King is off the deep end (no news there).

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