Media, Politics

US government battens down its hatches for another Wikileaks tsunami

By Sipho Hlongwane 24 November 2010

Wikileaks has announced that it is once more on the cusp of releasing highly classified diplomatic wires to the public. According to an official tweet, the leak will be seven times the size of the Iraq War Logs. As with the previous leak, it will be the largest of its kind ever. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

The Pentagon has braced itself for the worst, and expects Wikileaks to release the documents as soon as Friday. According to Bloomberg News, the Pentagon has warned the US Senate and the house armed services committees that the documents “touch on an enormous range of very sensitive foreign policy issues”.

The Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, Elizabeth King, said to the committee staff: “We anticipate that the release could negatively impact US foreign relations. We will brief you once we have a better understanding of what documents the WikiLeaks publication contains.”

King said that The New York Times, the Guardian and die Spiegel are working with Wikileaks to co-ordinate the release of the State Department documents. The American, British and German publications (respectively) have been given privileged access before to documents leaked by Wikileaks, before they were publically released on the organisation’s website.

It is unclear of what nature exactly the documents are, or what secret information they will reveal to the public. Even though the Pentagon itself doesn’t seem to be fully in the picture as to what will be revealed, its officials are certain that it will affect the country’s foreign relations. Wikileaks has released one “test” cable, dated 13 January, which detailed a meeting between US and Icelandic officials, over Iceland’s banking crisis. Wired reported that: “The cable revealed that Iceland’s ambassador to Washington, Hjálmar W Hannesson, had told Washington officials that Iceland’s president was considered ‘unpredictable’. The unpolitic remark raised eyebrows in Reykjavik.”

Analysts don’t anticipate that the most sensitive diplomatic information will be part of the leak, but anyone who has ever had any sort of unsavoury or sensitive contact with the US state department and its subsidiaries spread throughout the world has cause to worry. Especially if such “contact” could be potentially life-threatening. In September, Wikileaks faced an internal crisis, when some members of the organisation threatened to quit because they felt that the Iraq War logs had not been redacted enough to protect the identities of contacts and people who had co-operated with the invading army.

The leaks could possibly provide greater detail to the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US Army personnel in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, a diplomatic hot potato for a country that ratified the UN’s Convention Against Torture. If the leaked documents do indeed provide greater clarity as to what occurred at Abu Ghraib, it may call into question the US government’s lukewarm response to the revelation that some of its personnel were abusing and torturing prisoners in Iraq.

According to Wired, the source of the documents is the arrested army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who has previously passed sensitive information over to Wikileaks. Manning reportedly wrote to the ex-hacker who ultimately turned him in: “Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public.”

The documents were available to select members of the US military and other government agencies on the Net-Centric Diplomacy network, an initiative established by the Pentagon post-9/11 to make information sharing between the various security and intelligence forces easier.

Manning was arrested and charged in June with downloading 150,000 secret cables and allegedly leaking 50 of them to an unauthorised third party. Wikileaks still seems to rely mainly on documents allegedly provided by Manning, who will obviously no longer be able to do so, which in part explains why it has been releasing the secret documents piecemeal over the last year. DM

Read more: Bloomberg News, Wired, The AP, The Daily Maverick on the War Diaries and on the Iraq War Logs

Photo: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which has made public about 500,000 classified US files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud


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