The Pentagon warned the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees that the website WikiLeaks.org “intends to release several hundred thousand” classified U.S. State Department cables as soon as Nov. 26.
The documents “touch on an enormous range of very sensitive foreign policy issues,” Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King wrote yesterday in an e-mail to the defense panels.
“We anticipate that the release could negatively impact U.S. foreign relations,” she wrote, telling committee staff members that “we will brief you once we have a better understanding of what documents the WikiLeaks publication contains.”
King said The New York Times, the U.K.’s Guardian and Der Spiegel of Germany “are each currently working with WikiLeaks to coordinate the release of these State Department documents.”
These three publications were given advance access to two earlier WikiLeaks releases of U.S. military documents: almost 400,000 related to the Iraq war dated between 2003 and 2010 and about 75,000 from the same period on the Afghanistan war. The Iraq documents were published on Oct. 22 and the Afghanistan documents on July 25.
When the Iraq documents were released, a Pentagon spokesman, Marine Colonel David Lapan, described them as “raw observations from the tactical level of combat operations” and said their publication posed a risk to national security. In her e-mail to lawmakers yesterday, King had similar comments about the State Department documents.
“State Department cables by their nature contain everyday analysis and candid assessments that any government engages in as part of effective foreign relations,” she wrote. “The publication of this classified information by WikiLeaks is an irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc and destabilize global security. It potentially jeopardizes lives.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman confirmed that the e-mails had been sent to the two committees.
The Pentagon “had indications for some time” that WikiLeaks planned to release more documents, Whitman said in an interview yesterday. “As a result, we felt we had a responsibility to notify key leaders with oversight responsibility of the department like we normally do,” he said.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said WikiLeaks has previously said that it plans to release additional classified documents.
“We are doing due diligence,” Crowley said in an e-mail yesterday. The department is “assessing the possible impact on our on-going diplomatic activity and notifying both Congress and other governments what may occur.”
Crowley told reporters today in a briefing that “we’re in touch with our posts around the world,” which “have begun the process of notifying governments that a release of documents is possible in the near future.”
The State Department has had similar conversations with members of Congress “to let them know what we are prepared for,” Crowley said.
“The kinds of cables that posts send to Washington are classified,” he said. “They involve discussions we’ve had with government officials, with private citizens. They contain analysis, they contain a record of the day-to-day diplomatic activity that our personnel undertake.”
WikiLeaks receives confidential material that governments and business want to keep secret and posts the information on the Internet.