251,287 Embassy Cables: Spill at C Street’s Cable Factory and Worldwide, too…

(updated 11/30 CNN item added)

Perhaps Germany’s Spiegel put it best: “Never before in history has a superpower lost control of such vast amounts of such sensitive information.”

Spiegel writes:  “With a team of more than 50 reporters and researchers, SPIEGEL has viewed, analyzed and vetted the mass of documents. In most cases, the magazine has sought to protect the identities of the Americans’ informants, unless the person who served as the informant was senior enough to be politically relevant. In some cases, the US government expressed security concerns and SPIEGEL accepted a number of such objections. In other cases, however, SPIEGEL felt the public interest in reporting the news was greater than the threat to security. Throughout our research, SPIEGEL reporters and editors weighed the public interest against the justified interest of countries in security and confidentiality.”  Read The US Diplomatic Leaks | A Superpower’s View of the World

How did this happen?  See How 250,000 US embassy cables were leaked from guardian.co.uk:

It was childishly easy, according to the published chatlog of a conversation Manning had with a fellow-hacker. “I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing … [I] listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” He said that he “had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months”

See Live Updates on reactions from around the world.

The NYT has a Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches here with a note on the redacted text:

“A small number of names and passages in some of the cables have been removed by The New York Times to protect diplomats’ confidential sources, to keep from compromising American intelligence efforts or to protect the privacy of ordinary citizens.”

In its Note to Readers: The Decision to Publish Diplomatic Documents, the NYT also writes:

“But the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

In the coming days, editors and reporters will respond to readers on the substance of this coverage and the decision to publish. We invite questions at askthetimes@nytimes.com.”

Here is an exceprt of NYT’s Cables Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels

The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” the government’s most secure communications status. But some 11,000 are classified “secret,” 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn.

Many more cables name diplomats’ confidential sources, from foreign legislators and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning to Washington: “Please protect” or “Strictly protect.”

The Times has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified. The Times is also withholding some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.
Traditionally, most diplomatic cables remain secret for decades, providing fodder for historians only when the participants are long retired or dead. The State Department’s unclassified history series, entitled “Foreign Relations of the United States,” has reached only the year 1972.

While an overwhelming majority of the quarter-million cables provided to The Times are from the post-9/11 era, several hundred date from 1966 to the 1990s. Some show diplomats struggling to make sense of major events whose future course they could not guess.
To read through them is to become a global voyeur, immersed in the jawboning, inducements and penalties the United States wields in trying to have its way with a recalcitrant world.

Read the whole thing here.

How many media establishments out there would willingly walk away from a chance to read through/publish  secret and sensitive conversations/analyses transmitted through diplomatic channels?  Um, zero? one. (CNN declined a last-minute offer to discuss advance access to some of the documents because of a confidentiality agreement requested by Wikileaks that CNN considered unacceptable).

How many meeting appointments can our diplomats expect to confirm this week? Um, none?

This looks a lot “worser” than the BP oil spill.  If a clean up is possible over this very slicky event, does State has somebody better than a Tony Hayward to tackle the job? 

On a related note, the Legal Adviser to the State Department Harold Hongju Koh responded to WikiLeaks’ letter dated 26 November 2010 via the U.S. Ambassador to the UK, Louis B. Susman.   The letter was released over the weekend. See the text of the letter here. Given that the release has now occurred, shouldn’t we expect an arrest warrant for Mr. Assange for violating US laws? Mr. Holder?

Related post:
Web abuzz with possible nightmare at C Street | Saturday, June 12, 2010