Washington: The accelerated public disclosure of tens of thousands of previously unreleased State Department cables by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy organization has raised new concerns about the exposure of confidential US embassy sources and is proving a source of fresh diplomatic setbacks and embarrassment for the Obama administration, current and former American officials said Tuesday.
The officials said the disclosure in the past week of more than 125,000 sensitive documents by WikiLeaks, far more than it had earlier published, further endangered informants and jeopardized US foreign policy goals. The officials would not comment on the authenticity of the leaked documents but said the rate and method of the new releases, including about 50,000 in one day alone, presented new complications.
"The United States strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of classified information," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "In addition to damaging our diplomatic efforts, it puts individuals` security at risk, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with countries to solve shared problems."
Toner and other current officials would not comment on specific information contained in the compromised documents or speculate as to whether any harm caused by the new releases would exceed that caused by the first series of leaks, which began last November and sent the administration into a damage control frenzy.
But they noted that first releases had been vetted by media organizations who scrubbed them to remove the names of contacts that could be endangered. The latest documents have not been vetted in the same way.
"It`s picking at an existing wound, there is the potential for further injury," said PJ Crowley, the former assistant secretary of state for public affairs who resigned earlier this year after criticizing the military`s treatment of the man suspected of leaking the cables to WikiLeaks. "It does have the potential to create further risk for those individuals who have talked to US diplomats. It has the potential to hurt our diplomatic efforts and it once again puts careers at risk."
Crowley set up a crisis management team at the State Department to deal with the matter and said officials at the time went through the entire collection of documents they believed had been leaked and warned as many named sources as possible, particularly in authoritarian countries, that their identities could be revealed. A handful of them were relocated, but Crowley said others may have been missed and some could not be contacted because the effort would have increased the potential for exposure.
The new releases "could be used to intimidate activists in some of these autocratic countries," he said. He said he believed that "any autocratic security service worth its salt" would probably already have the complete unredacted archive of cables but added that the new WikiLeaks releases meant that any intelligence agency that didn`t "will have it in short order."
The accelerated flood of publishing partly reflects the collapse of the unusual relationships between WikiLeaks and news organizations that previously were cooperating with it in exchange for being given copies of all the uncensored State Department messages.
Initially, WikiLeaks released only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material. The news organizations advised WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents. The Associated Press was not among those news organizations.
But in recent months, those relationships have noticeably soured. WikiLeaks complained Tuesday that a reporter who wrote about the group`s efforts for The New York Times — one of the news organizations it was working with closely — was a "sleazy hack job." And it said a reporter for the Guardian in Britain — another of its former partners in the release of documents — had exhibited a "tawdry vendetta" against WikiLeaks.