Digging into Wikileaks’ ‘CableGate’

BY Chris Amico  November 29, 2010 at 3:07 PM EST

This weekend’s massive Wikileaks document dump contains — according to Wikileaks — “251,287 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.”

With that in mind, here are a few ways to sort through the flood of data:

Wikileaks itself offers breakdowns by origin and classification, by subject, by country, by organization, by program and by topic.

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If you’re just looking to read the raw documents, you can browse Wikileaks itself. Here, for example, is a message sent on Feb. 2 of this year, about Kuwaiti concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.


As it did with previous information dumps, Wikileaks gave some news organizations — The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais — an early look at its cache of documents.

The New York Times has a sampling of documents from the release, as well as a series of letters between the U.S. State Department and Wikileaks before the release.

The Guardian offers a spreadsheet and database of cables sorted by date, time, sender and tags, available for download. The newspaper also offers this explanation of how the cables were transmitted and who could see them:

The cables themselves come via the huge Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet. SIPRNet is the worldwide US military internet system, kept separate from the ordinary civilian internet and run by the Department of Defense in Washington. Since the attacks of September 2001, there has been a move in the US to link up archives of government information, in the hope that key intelligence no longer gets trapped in information silos or “stovepipes”. An increasing number of US embassies have become linked to SIPRNet over the past decade, so that military and diplomatic information can be shared. By 2002, 125 embassies were on SIPRNet: by 2005, the number had risen to 180, and by now the vast majority of US missions worldwide are linked to the system – which is why the bulk of these cables are from 2008 and 2009.

An embassy dispatch marked SIPDIS is automatically downloaded on to its embassy classified website. From there, it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a security clearance up to the ‘Secret’ level, a password, and a computer connected to SIPRNet – which astonishingly covers over 3m people. There are several layers of data in here – ranging up to the “SECRET NOFORN” level, which means that they are designed never be shown to non-US citizens. Instead, they are supposed to be read by officials in Washington up to the level of current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The cables are normally drafted by the local ambassador or subordinates. The “Top Secret” and above foreign intelligence documents cannot be accessed from SIPRNet.

Der Spiegel has an animated map of cables, color-coded by level of classification.

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