The so-called WikiLeaks articles published Sunday and in coming days are based on thousands of U.S. embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington.
The New York Times and a number of publications in Europe were given access to the material several weeks ago and agreed to begin publication of articles based on the cables online on Sunday.
The documents - some 250,000 individual cables, the daily traffic between the State Department and more than 270 American diplomatic outposts around the world - were made available to The Times by a source who insisted on anonymity. They were originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to exposing official secrets, allegedly from a disenchanted, low-level Army intelligence analyst who exploited a security loophole. Beginning Sunday, WikiLeaks intends to publish this archive on its website in stages, with each batch of documents related to a particular country or topic. Except for the timing of publication, the material was provided without conditions.
Decision to publish
The Times said that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match. The Times said it excluded information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.
About 11,000 of the cables are marked "secret." An additional 9,000 or so carry the label "noforn," meaning the information is not to be shared with representatives of other countries, and 4,000 are marked "secret/noforn." The rest are either marked with the less restrictive label "confidential" or are unclassified. Most were not intended for public view, at least in the near term.
Inside peek at global crises
Here is a look at some of the main substantive revelations in the cables, published by the New York Times:
- China's Politburo directed the intrusion into Google's computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the U.S. Embassy in January, as part of a computer sabotage campaign carried out by government operatives, private experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into U.S. government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.
- King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program and is reported to have advised Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time.
- U.S. and South Korean officials discussed the prospects for a unified Korea should the North's economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to "help salve" Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a "benign alliance" with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul.
- Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
- Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting Western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as "building blocks" to build longer-range missiles. The advanced missiles are much more powerful than anything U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged Iran has in its arsenal.
- American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including "lavish gifts," lucrative energy contracts and a "shadowy" Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe.
- When Afghanistan's vice-president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered he was carrying $52-million in cash that a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul said he "was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money's origin or destination." He denied taking the money out of Afghanistan.
- American diplomats have bargained with other countries to help empty the Guantanamo Bay prison by resettling detainees. Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Barack Obama, and Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees. In another case, accepting more prisoners was described as "a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe," a cable said.
- Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups such as al-Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar was the "worst in the region" in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar's security service was "hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals," the cable said.
- The United States has failed to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel, the cables said. One week after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official he would not send "new" arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained it had information that Syria was giving the group increasingly sophisticated weapons.
New York Times news service/Reuters