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Third Massive WikiLeaks Disclosure Creates Ripple Worldwide

November 29, 2010 at 8:20 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Diplomatic ripples were felt around the world today over the contents of previously secret government documents which appeared to expose a wide range of internal conflict and debate.

It was the third huge disclosure of confidential material by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing government secrets. This time, a quarter-of-a-million diplomatic papers and cables were released or leaked to several publications.

White House and State Department officials reacted strongly, warning that the disclosures put lives at risk and weakened U.S. diplomacy.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Let’s be clear: This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.

Now, I’m aware that some may mistakenly applaud those responsible, so I want to set the record straight.

There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama would not comment on the issue in public today, but he ordered government agencies to review the way they handle sensitive information.

The latest leaks are suspected to be the work of a former intelligence analyst and Army private, Bradley Manning. He’s already in military custody over previous WikiLeaks disclosures.

Attorney General Eric Holder said there will be more prosecutions to come.

ATTORNEY GERNERAL ERIC HOLDER: We have an active, ongoing criminal investigation with regard to this matter. We are not in a position as yet to announce the result of that investigation. But the investigation is — is ongoing.

GWEN IFILL: The man behind WikiLeaks is Australian citizen Julian Assange, who has rejected multiple appeals to keep the material secret.

JULIAN ASSANGE, founder, WikiLeaks: I’m a combative person. So, I like crushing bastards. It is deeply personally — personally, deeply satisfying to me.

GWEN IFILL: Many of the most sensitive cables in the new batch dealt with the potential nuclear threat from Iran. Nervous Arab leaders were quoted as pleading with the U.S. to take military action before Iran builds a bomb.

The British newspaper The Guardian reported that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly urged the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake,” meaning Iran. In another cable, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates said, “The threat from al-Qaida would be minor if Iran has nukes.”

Today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the leaks an organized effort by the U.S. to create trouble between Iran and its Arab neighbors.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, Iranian President (through translator): It looks like an intelligence and psychological war and has no legal value. Definitely, it won’t have the political impact in the way that they pursue. Definitely, nations are aware. Such a game will have no effect in relations.

GWEN IFILL: On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it’s clear the Arab world agrees with Israel’s assessment that Iran represents a serious global threat.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister (through translator): There is a gap between what leaders say in closed meetings and what is said publicly, especially in our region.

GWEN IFILL: North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons, also drew considerable attention in the documents, some of which focused on the chaos that could arise if the communist government collapses.

Other documents focused on Yemen and that country’s alleged complicity with U.S. missile strikes at suspected al-Qaida militants. In one message, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told U.S. General David Petraeus, “We will continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.”

Other cables went to U.S. diplomats at the United Nations, who were urged to collect detailed information on Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and other international diplomats. The State Department, in response today, dismissed any allegations of diplomatic spying.

The internal cables also contained candid, unflattering, and distinctly undiplomatic references to world leaders. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was mockingly called the “alpha dog.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy was dubbed “the emperor with no clothes.” And Afghan President Hamid Karzai was described as “driven by paranoia.”

In Kabul today, Karzai’s spokesman offered a muted reaction.

WAHEED OMAR, Afghan Presidential Spokesman: So, as far as the contents relating to Afghanistan and the leaks is concerned, there is not much in the document that might surprise us. And we don’t see anything substantive in the document that will strain the relationships.

GWEN IFILL: The Russian foreign minister, traveling today in India, also played down any fallout.

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian Foreign Minister (through translator): Well, this, of course, makes for amusing reading and on the one hand widens our knowledge of human potential. But, in politics, we prefer to be guided by the specific deeds of our partners. And we will continue in the future to use this criteria.

GWEN IFILL: But U.S. leaders of both parties predicted diplomatic repercussions. They spoke on Sunday talk shows, hours before the WikiLeaks release.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Leaking the material is deplorable. I agree with the Pentagon’s assessment that the people at WikiLeaks could have blood on their hands.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-Miss.): The people who are leaking these documents need to do a gut check about their patriotism.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Clinton suggested today that other governments are not all that offended.

HILLARY CLINTON: 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.”

(LAUGHTER)

HILLARY CLINTON: So, I think that is well understood in the diplomatic community as part of the give-and-take.

GWEN IFILL: In the meantime, the Obama administration is bracing for yet another WikiLeaks document dump, probably during the next several months.