US warns of fresh WikiLeaks

Diplomatic files may erode trust among partners

By Robert Burns
Associated Press / November 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said yesterday it has begun notifying foreign governments that the WikiLeaks website is preparing to release sensitive US diplomatic files that could damage America’s relations with friends and allies.

Officials said the documents may contain everything from accounts of compromising conversations with political dissidents and friendly politicians to disclosures of activities that could result in the expulsion of US diplomats from foreign postings.

US diplomatic outposts around the world have begun notifying other governments that WikiLeaks may release these documents in the next few days.

“These revelations are harmful to the United States and our interests,’’ said P.J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman. “They are going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world.’’

The White House has also alerted Congress.

Crowley said the public airing of what were supposed to be private communications will likely erode trust in the United States as a diplomatic partner. And he said they could cause embarrassment if the files include derogatory or critical comments about friendly foreign leaders.

The release is expected this weekend.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters said the administration believes that the diplomatic fallout could be substantial. Many of the cables are believed to date from the start of the Obama administration, meaning that the White House won’t be able to distance itself from any disclosures.

US officials are concerned that some of the leaked cables could include details of conversations in which senior foreign politicians offer candid appraisals of their governments. Those assessments could prove embarrassing to the United States and other governments concerned.

Some of the documents may detail meetings US diplomats have had with opposition leaders, dissidents, or human rights activists that could expose them to retaliation, particularly in authoritarian nations, officials said.

In more extreme cases, officials fear the cables could divulge embassy activities or analyses that might result in American diplomats being expelled from foreign countries.

A key focus of the documents is Europe, but the cables are likely to touch on relations with many key countries in Asia and elsewhere, another official said, speaking anonymously in order to discuss internal deliberations.

Crowley said the State Department “has known all along’’ that WikiLeaks possesses classified State Department documents. He said it was not possible, however, to predict with precision the impact of their release because the State Department does not know which files will be released.

“We wish this would not happen, but we are obviously prepared for the possibility that it will,’’ he said.

In two previous releases of leaked secret US government documents, in July and October, WikiLeaks provided them in advance to The New York Times, the Guardian newspaper in London, and the German magazine Der Spiegel on condition that they publish their stories simultaneously.