WikiLeaks Releases State Department Cables
WikiLeaks sparks worldwide diplomatic crisis
The first tranche of more than 250,000 classified cables released by the WikiLeaks site says American officials were also told to spy on the United Nations’ leadership and get biometric information on its secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The cables detail claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family and criticism of Britain’s military operations in Afghanistan and David Cameron.
The cables include requests for “specific intelligence” about British MPs. The communiques last night threatened a global diplomatic crisis and put America’s relations with Europe and the Middle East under a cloud.
The leaked memos also disclose how American diplomats compared Iran’s President Ahmedinejad with Adolf Hitler and labelled France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy as the “emperor with no clothes”.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was depicted as “risk aversive”, while the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin was an “alpha dog”. Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai was “driven by paranoia”. The unguarded comments were contained in the classified cables from US embassies, details of which were published by several newspapers on the internet last night. Some of the cables were sent as recently as last February.
The first package of memos published by The Guardian, the New York Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel failed to name the British Royal or the behaviour. The cables are being released over the coming fortnight, rather than all at once, putting America’s foreign relations under unprecedented pressure.
One of the most damaging allegations was that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly urged America to attack Iran.
The Saudi leader was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”.
The leak said he told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake” at a meeting in 2008. The leaks also disclose how leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.
The papers also claimed that the US Government was running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at Mr Ban and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK. They alleged that the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called for biometric information on the UN secretary general.
A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under the name of the secretary of state in July last year, asking for forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.
American diplomats were also asked to compile a profile of Alan Duncan, the homosexual former oil trader who is now the international development minister.
The Americans particularly asked for information on the relationship between Mr Duncan and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, with whom he used to share a flat, and also Mr Cameron.
The US administration also wanted information “on key UN officials, to include under-secretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers” as well as intelligence on Mr Ban’s “management and decision-making style”.
Washington asked for credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”. The secret “national human intelligence collection directive” was sent to US missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome as well as 33 embassies and consulates, including those in London, Paris and Moscow.
Some of the cables offered personal and highly embarrassing descriptions of other world leaders. Kim Jong-il, of North Korea, was said to suffer from epileptic fits, while President Medvedev of Russia was “hesitant”.
The documents also claimed that Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was known for his “wild parties” while Libya’s president Muammar Gaddafi had a “sumptuous blonde as a nursing sister”.
Barack Obama was reported to want to “look East rather than West” while feeling no emotional connection towards Europe.
Washington tended to view the world in terms of two super powers with the European Union playing a secondary role, the cables said.
According to a review of the WikiLeaks documents published in the New York Times, Saudi donors were chief financiers of militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Chinese government operatives had waged a campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its allies.
The WikiLeaks website suffered its own “cyber attack” hours before the release of the documents, with unknown hackers trying to stop the publication.
The White House last night condemned the “reckless and dangerous action” in releasing the classified US diplomatic cables, saying it could endanger lives and risk relations with friendly countries.
Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, said: “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 around the world.”
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.
“We have a very strong relationship with the US government. That will continue”.
Buckingham Palace said it had no information about any allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the Royal family.
It is not known who was the source of the leak, however there has been speculation that it could have come from Bradley Manning, a US Army soldier, who has been accused of leaking and transmitting national security information.
He was charged in July.
It also emerged that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, had been rebuffed by the US government after he sought information “regarding individuals who may be 'at significant risk of harm’ because of” his planned release of classified documents.
His unusual move to open an 11th-hour dialogue about the documents came after a Swedish appeals court last week upheld an arrest warrant on rape charges for Mr Assange, validating an international warrant.
Mr Assange, who denies he has committed any crime, was believed to have recently spent time in London but his whereabouts yesterday were unknown. He had been under investigation in Sweden since August over rape.
One report said that Wikileaks had 251,287 cables from 270 US embassies and consulates from a single computer server.
The leaked documents went on to make further allegations. They claimed that Iran had obtained missiles from North Korea to give it the capacity to launch strikes on capitals in Western Europe for the first time.
According to a cable dated last Feb 24, North Korea sent to Iran 19 of the missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Intelligence agencies believe Tehran is some way from developing a nuclear warhead. The officials said the deal had significantly advanced Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Other findings include how since 2007, America had mounted a highly secret effort to remove from a Pakistani research reactor enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Frustrations with Pakistan were reflected in reported comments by King Abdullah who called President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to progress, adding: “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.”
The cables reveal the desperate attempts by the US administration to find homes for former Guantánamo Bay detainees.
In one instance Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama. In another accepting prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe”.
The cables also detailed suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government after the vice-president was caught with $52 million (£33 million) in cash on a visit to the United Arab Emirates last year.
They also detailed how one state department communiqué had named Saudi donors as the chief financiers of al-Qaeda, while China was engaged in a global effort to hack into Google’s computers.