Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. “strongly condemns” the leak of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables as she sought to reassure nations, civic groups and individuals who might be affected.
“It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems,” Clinton told reporters today at the State Department. “We are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information.”
WikiLeaks.org, a nonprofit group that releases information the governments and businesses want to keep confidential, yesterday began posting on its website what it says are secret, confidential or in some cases unclassified U.S. embassy cables written from December 1966 to February 2010.
The documents include U.S. intelligence findings such as a conclusion that Iran obtained 19 advanced missiles from North Korea. The missiles potentially give the Islamic nation the capability of attacking Moscow and cities in Western Europe, according to embassy cables posted by WikiLeaks and provided to the New York Times in advance.
Clinton leaves Washington today for a trip to Central Asia and the Middle East that includes a stop in Bahrain for a regional security conference. The attendees will include foreign and defense ministers or heads of state whose countries were cited in the cables.
Obama ‘Not Pleased’
President Barack Obama learned of the leak of the documents last week and was “not pleased with this information becoming public,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. While calling the leak a “crime,” Gibbs said he didn’t believe it “impacts our ability to conduct foreign policy.”
Clinton and her top deputies have called counterparts in the past week to warn them of the leak, and she met at the State Department today with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Officials will make follow-up calls as long as it takes to reassure allies and partners, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington.
In brief remarks before their meeting, Davutoglu said he appreciated a briefing Turkey received from U.S. envoys in advance of the leak and would raise the disclosures with Clinton.
Clinton said she has had “very productive” discussions with her counterparts on the WikiLeaks release and is confident the Obama administration would overcome any consequences.
Most diplomats from other nations will understand the sometimes frank language used in certain cables, Clinton said.
“I can tell you that in my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you,’” Clinton said.
‘‘This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign-policy interests,’’ Clinton said. ‘‘It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.’’
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department has an ‘‘active, ongoing criminal investigation’’ into the release of sensitive government documents.
The Obama administration, in a memo made public today, ordered a review on protecting classified information, telling the heads of departments and agencies handling classified information to establish a team to assess security procedures.
The Pentagon yesterday outlined measures it has taken to better protect sensitive information. The State Department also is evaluating how data is stored and who has access, Crowley said.
About 9,000 of the WikiLeaks documents were listed as containing information too sensitive to be shared with a foreign government, the New York Times said. None was listed as ‘‘top secret,’’ according to the Times.
North Korea Missiles
One of the leaked cables, dated Feb. 24 this year, said the 19 North Korean BM-25 missiles, based on a Russian design known as the R-27, might give Iran the ‘‘building blocks’’ for producing long-range missiles, according to the New York Times. The cable didn’t provide specific evidence, according to the newspaper, which agreed not to publish the document at the Obama administration’s request.
‘‘North Korea and Iran have had a decades-long missile relationship and also most likely a nuclear relationship,” said Bruce Klingner, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington and former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korea branch. “The leaking of the classified documents provides a greater sense of confidence” for analysis conducted previously by outside experts and most recently illustrated in photos from a North Korean parade, he said.
Pressured the U.S.
Diplomatic cables posted by the Guardian, which also received advance copies from WikiLeaks, indicate as far back as early 2008 Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments pressed the U.S. for attacks on Iran to stop it getting a nuclear bomb, even as some expressed concern that a military strike might destabilize the region.
The Obama administration has won stiffer United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran and sealed arms agreements such as a $60 billion deal with Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years.
A cable posted by the Guardian quoted Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., as citing Saudi King Abdullah’s “frequent exhortations to attack Iran and put an end” to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The exchange took place in an April 20, 2008, meeting between al-Jubeir, then-U.S. Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Central Command commander General David Petraeus, the Guardian said.
A similar tone was struck by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain in a Nov. 4, 2009, conversation with Petraeus.
Hamad said “the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” according to the cable cited by the Guardian.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters. The cable also disclosed that the king agreed to a NATO request to base Awacs air surveillance aircraft in his nation as part of increased monitoring of Iran.
Israeli military officials 14 days later in a Nov. 18, 2009, meeting with U.S. State and Defense Department officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, said, “If the Iranians continue to protect and harden their nuclear sites, it will be more difficult to target and damage them,” according to a cable summarizing Israel’s concerns and posted by the Guardian.
The cable said both sides discussed the need to avoid publicity for an “upcoming delivery” of GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs to Israel “to avoid any allegations that the U.S. is helping prepare for a strike against Iran.”
Iran’s ties with Arab nations won’t be hurt by publication of the U.S. cables, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today in a speech aired live on state television from Tehran.
“Our relations with Arab countries and our neighbors are very good, we are like brothers,” Ahmadinejad said. “They will not be affected by these reports.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed satisfaction that the disclosures indicated that Arab leaders were as worried about Iran’s nuclear program as his own government.
“I hope the leaders will have the courage to say to their nations publicly what they’ve said about Iran,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv.
The leaked documents include details about governments and officials, including an episode last year in which Afghanistan’s then-vice president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, was found carrying $52 million in cash while visiting the United Arab Emirates. Massoud denied taking any money out of Afghanistan, according to the Times.
According to another cable, a Chinese contact told the U.S. embassy in Beijing in January that China’s Politburo directed an “intrusion” into Google Inc.’s local computer networks. 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,” the New York Times said in its account of the WikiLeaks cables.
The cyber attacks in China were orchestrated by a senior Politburo member who used Google’s search engine and found articles critical of him, the Guardian reported. The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Jessica Powell, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman at Google, weren’t immediately available today to comment on the report.
In July 2009, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, then the defense supreme commander for the United Arab Emirates, declared that Ahmadinejad “is Hitler,” the New York Times reported, citing the documents.
WikiLeaks previously released 400,000 documents in October related to the Iraq war and about 75,000 in July on the Afghan conflict.
An Army intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning was arrested in June at age 22 and charged with illegally releasing classified information. He had said in an online chat in May that the documents he downloaded included “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world,” the New York Times reported.
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