The United States faces a global diplomatic crisis as a result of the unauthorized release of more than 250,000 documents sent between the State Department and American embassies, consulates, and diplomatic outposts around the world. The cache of electronic cables, or messages, was obtained and posted by the “whistle-blower” Web site WikiLeaks, which shared them with five international media outlets. The memos reveal Washington’s evaluation of sensitive international issues, including diplomats’ candid observations about world leaders. They cover many years, but especially from 2007 to as recent as February 2010. A 22-year-old American soldier, Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst in Iraq, has already been charged with leaking documents posted by WikiLeaks. More than 3 million U.S. government personnel had access to such material because of antiterrorism efforts that required greater “information sharing” between government agencies.
A sampling of the stories being reported include:
- Arab leaders privately urged an air strike on Iran
- U.S. officials were instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership
- The Unitd States and Britain fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not secure
- U.S. efforts to combat al Qaeda were secretly aided by Yemen’s government
- Afghanistan’s vice president allegedly carried $52 million in cash out of the country
- Russian intelligence agencies engaged in criminal operations through the cooperation of mafia bosses
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to convince contacts in governments worldwide that future conversations will be kept confidential. She called the release of stolen and classified documents “an attack on the … alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” The release of such documents may undercut the system of confidential diplomacy that governments rely on to conduct their foreign policy. The leaks may cause diplomats and their contacts to become more guarded in their communications. This could in turn dry up sources of information for journalists. The end result may be less “transparency.”
Image © AP Photo/Oliver Lang/dapd
- Wikileaks Revelations
This BBC Web site contains links to numerous stories that detail what has been revealed in the State Department cables released by Wikileaks.
(Source: BBC News, December 1, 2010)
- US Embassy Cables Leak Sparks Global Diplomatic Crisis
This article includes highlights of the documents released by Wikileaks; the Guardian was one of five international media outlets that participated in publishing the contents the leaked U.S. State Department diplomatic messages.
(Source: The Guardian, November 28, 2010)
- Clinton Condemns WikiLeaks Releases of “Alleged” US Diplomatic Cables
This article covers the official reaction of U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton to the release of a quarter million confidential diplomatic cables by Wikileaks.
(Source: VOA News)
- Analysis: WikiLeaks Will Kill Transparency
This opinion piece, which analyzes the likely impact of the Wikileaks disclosures on the conduct of diplomacy, concludes that transparency will be a casualty.
(Source: GlobalPost.com, November 29, 2010)
Critical Thinking Questions
- Summarize How did U.S. diplomatic secrets end up being published in several international newspapers?
- Make Inferences How might the action of Wikileaks affect the conduct of diplomacy in the future?
- Form and Support Opinions Based on the kinds of information released by Wikileaks, do you believe the U.S. government is justified in keeping such foreign-policy communications confidential, or secret?