US in damage limitation mode after latest WikiLeaks exposé

 

THE INTERNATIONAL fallout from the release of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables by whistleblower organisation WikiLeaks continued yesterday, as Washington scrambled to limit the damage caused by the leaks.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called the planned release of more state department dispatches “an attack on the international community” and said she “deeply regrets” the embarrassment caused by the leaked material.

WikiLeaks, which posted the first 220 of some 250,000 cables online on Sunday evening, reported that 133,887 of the messages were unclassified, 101,745 were marked “confidential” and 15,652 “secret”.

Five newspapers, including the New York Times and the Guardian, were given advance access to the material and have published excerpts.

According to data compiled by German newspaper Der Spiegel, which also had prior access to the documents, only one out of the 910 cables sent from the US embassy in Dublin merited the highest level of classification below “top secret”. The dispatch was sent to Washington in June 2008.

Of the others, 43 were classified “secret” at a lower level; 373 were classified confidential, and 493 were unclassified. Cables classified as “top secret” are not included in the data leaked to WikiLeaks.

The content of the cables sent from Ireland has not been revealed but there are hints in the attached tags. References to economic matters, including trade and investment, are the most common.

But there are also scores of cables with military and security-related tags, including several that suggest content related to the use of Shannon airport by US troops.

The US embassy in Dublin did not contact the Irish Government in advance of Sunday’s release because it did not consider the material from Ireland sensitive enough, The Irish Times has learned. The US last week warned several countries, including France, Israel, the UK, Italy and Canada, that the cables could cause embarrassment or “create tension”.

Mrs Clinton said the US is “taking aggressive steps” to pursue those responsible for the leaks.

Peter King, the Irish-American Republican representative from New York asked the state department to designate WikiLeaks a terrorist organisation.

Mrs Clinton stressed that the cables were “personal observations and assessments” and did not represent official US foreign policy.

Perhaps the most damaging revelation was the fact that US diplomats were asked by Mrs Clinton and her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, to collect “humint” (human intelligence) including personal data such as credit card and frequent flyer numbers.