FORT MEADE, Md. — In a half-empty courtroom here, with a crew
of fervent supporters in attendance, Pfc. Bradley Manning and his lawyer have
spent the last two weeks turning the tables on the government.
Private Manning faces a potential life sentence if convicted on charges that he
gave WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy organization, hundreds of thousands of
confidential military and diplomatic documents. But for now, he has been
effectively putting on trial his former jailers at the Quantico, Va., Marine
Corps base. His lawyer, David E. Coombs, has grilled one Quantico official after
another, demanding to know why his client was kept in isolation and stripped of
his clothing at night as part of suicide-prevention measures.
Mr. Coombs, a polite but relentless interrogator who stands a foot taller than
his client, has laid bare deep disagreements inside the military: psychiatrists
thought the special measures unnecessary, while jail commanders ignored their
advice and kept the suicide restrictions in place. In a long day of testimony
last week, Private Manning of the Army, vilified as a dangerous traitor by some
members of Congress but lauded as a war-crimes whistle-blower on the political
left, heartened his sympathizers with an eloquent and even humorous performance
on the stand.
“He was engaged, chipper, optimistic,” said Bill Wagner, 74, a retired NASA
solar physicist who is a courtroom regular, dressed in the black “Truth” T-shirt
favored by Private Manning’s supporters.
Private Manning, who turns 25 on Dec. 17 and looks much younger, was quietly
attentive during Friday’s court session, in a dress uniform, crew-cut blond hair
and wire-rimmed glasses. If his face were not already familiar from television
news, he might have been mistaken for a first-year law student assisting the
It seemed incongruous that he has essentially acknowledged responsibility for
the largest leak of classified material in history. The material included a
quarter-million State Department cables whose release may have chilled
diplomats’ ability to do their work discreetly but also helped fuel the Arab
Spring; video of American helicopter crews shooting people on the ground in
Baghdad who they thought were enemy fighters but were actually Reuters
journalists; field reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and confidential
assessments of the detainees locked up at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
As the military pursues the case against Private Manning, the Justice Department
continues to explore the possibility of charging WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian
Assange, or other activists with the group, possibly as conspirators in Private
Manning’s alleged offense. Federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., are still
assigned to that investigation, according to law enforcement officials, but it
is not clear how active they have been lately in presenting evidence to a grand
The current tone of the legal proceedings against Private Manning is most likely
temporary. His lawyer is asking the judge overseeing the case to throw out the
charges on the ground that his pretrial treatment was unlawful, but that outcome
As a fallback, Mr. Coombs is hoping the court will at least give Private Manning
extra credit against any ultimate sentence for the time he spent held under
harsh conditions at Quantico and earlier in Kuwait, where he was kept in what he
described as “an animal cage.” After the uproar about his treatment, including
public criticism from the State Department’s top spokesman and the United
Nations’ top torture expert, military officials moved Private Manning in April
2011 from Quantico to a new prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he has not
faced the same restrictions on clothing, sleeping conditions and conversation
with other inmates.
As if to underscore the gravity of his legal predicament, Private Manning
offered last month to plead guilty to lesser charges that could send him to
prison for 16 years. Prosecutors have not said whether they are interested in
such a deal, which would mean they would have to give up seeking a life sentence
for the most serious charges: aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act.
Friday’s court session was attended by a dozen Manning loyalists, including
Thomas A. Drake, the former National Security Agency official who was accused of
leaking documents and pleaded guilty to a minor charge last year. They heard the
commander of the Quantico brig, or military jail, explain why she refused
Private Manning’s request to be taken off “prevention of injury” status.
Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, who was in charge of the brig for the last
four months of Private Manning’s time there, said that the soldier declined her
many requests to describe his emotional state in detail. Because of some odd
behavior and two previous statements he had made that flagged him as a suicide
risk, she said she was unwilling to change his status — despite the advice of
military psychiatrists — until he opened up to her about how he was feeling.
Over the months she spent with him, speaking briefly with him each day, he grew
less communicative and more monosyllabic, Ms. Barnes said.
“He did not clearly communicate to me, ‘I don’t want to kill myself,’ ” she
said. “There was never an intent to punish Pfc. Manning.”
Ms. Barnes referred in passing to online attacks on her earlier this year by
activists, one of whom called her a “sexual sadist.” She said she had no ill
will against Private Manning “even though I was threatened and my family’s
information was put out on the Internet.”
As Private Manning awaits a court-martial, now scheduled for March, Mr. Assange
is holed up at Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has lived since Ecuador
granted him asylum in August. British officials have refused to grant him safe
passage out of the country.
Mr. Assange faces no charges in connection with WikiLeaks but is wanted for
questioning in Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual assault. He has
expressed concern that Swedish authorities might extradite him to the United
From his embassy refuge, Mr. Assange has recently conducted a series of
often-contentious television interviews with CNN, BBC and other news outlets,
accusing the United States of torturing Private Manning. WikiLeaks supporters
have theorized that the tough treatment of the soldier may have been designed to
pressure him to testify against Mr. Assange.
No evidence has surfaced to support that theory. But if Private Manning’s offer
to admit to reduced charges leads to serious plea negotiations, his cooperation
in any future prosecution against WikiLeaks could conceivably be part of a deal.
THIS is apparently the revenge of Julian Assange: everyone who
runs afoul of the rock-star leaker is condemned to spend eternity discussing the
cosmic meaning of WikiLeaks. As the editor of The Times during our publication
of many articles based on that treasury of military and diplomatic secrets, and
as the lucky man the WikiLeaks founder singled out as his Least Favorite
Journalist, I have participated in half a dozen panel discussions, and turned
down at least that many. I can’t complain about the one in Madrid, where, after
holding forth in a packed auditorium, the American, British, German, French and
Spanish editors who broke news based on WikiLeaks commemorated the collaboration
with an after-hours prowl through the Prado Museum and a 27-course meal cooked
by master chef Ferran Adrià. (If Europe is dying, Spain is where I plan to go
for the wake.) Unforgettable in a different way was the retrospective in
Berkeley, where Assange himself, then as now awaiting an extradition ruling in
England, was Skyped in on a giant screen, like the mighty Oz, to pontificate on
Western media’s failure to turn the files into a kind of Nuremberg trial of
American imperialism. About half the audience seemed on the verge of tossing
their underwear at the screen.
Add to that the three or four documentaries on the WikiLeaks adventure, the
dozen books — including, weirdly, Assange’s unauthorized autobiography — and a
couple speculative Hollywood projects, in which I have a twofold interest. (1.
The very slight possibility that I might make some money for my small piece of
the story. 2. The exceedingly remote chance that a director will take up my
wife’s brilliant idea that Assange be played by Tilda Swinton.)
It’s amazing they keep inviting me to these things, since I’m a bit of a
spoilsport. My consistent answer to the ponderous question of how WikiLeaks
transformed our world has been: really, not all that much. It was a hell of a
story and a wild collaboration, but it did not herald, as the documentarians
yearn to believe, some new digital age of transparency. In fact, if there is a
larger point, it is quite the contrary.
With the subject showing no signs of going away — one more documentary melodrama
of our WikiLeaks adventure will be featured at next month’s South by Southwest
festival — I decided to check up on the lingering fallout from what may be the
nation’s all-time greatest cascade of blown secrets.
Assange himself, who gave a handful of journalists early access to the pilfered
data, has moved from a supporter’s country mansion to much more modest digs
while he fights extradition to Sweden on sexual abuse charges. An American grand
jury is believed to still be mulling an indictment for his role in the leaks. He
compiled many hours of interviews for an autobiography, then backed out of the
project, but his publisher — in the proper anarchist spirit of WikiLeaks —
published it over his objections. (Evidently not for profit. It is No. 1,288,313
on the Amazon list of best-selling titles.) Assange’s newest project, announced
last month, is a television talk show in which he will interview “iconoclasts,
visionaries and power insiders.” So says the proud buyer of this series, RT
(formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda arm and
keeper of the cult of Putin. No, not kidding.
Kremlin TV aside, Assange has declined from global notoriety to B-list
celebrity: he lacks enough star power for a hosting gig on “Saturday Night
Live,” but he did have a cameo in Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons.”
Bart: “How ya doin’, Mr. Assange?”
Julian: “That’s my personal information, and you have no right to know about
The Army private accused of divulging three-quarters of a million secret
documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning — who was at first kept in such inhumane
custody that the State Department spokesman quit in protest — is scheduled to be
arraigned Thursday on charges that could mean life in prison. You don’t have to
excuse his alleged crime to think the original sin in the whole drama is that
this tormented soul had access to so many secrets in the first place.
What we cannot know for sure is the fate of the many informants, dissidents,
activists and bystanders quoted in the American cables. Assange published source
names over the strong objections of the journalists who had access to the data
(we expunged the names from our reports) and to the horror of human rights
groups and some of his WikiLeaks colleagues. I’ve been told that a few exposed
sources fled their countries with American help, a few others were detained by
authorities, and none are known to have been killed. But would we even know?
When I read stories like the Reuters account last week of the three men beheaded
in Yemen for giving information to Americans, I worry anew about the many
innocent witnesses named in the WikiLeaks cables.
The publication of so many confidences and indiscretions did not bring U.S.
foreign policy to a halt. But it did, at least temporarily, complicate the lives
of U.S. diplomats. American officials say that foreign counterparts are
sometimes more squeamish about speaking candidly, and that it is harder to
recruit and retain informants around the world.
As raw material for journalists, the cache of secrets has had a phenomenal
afterlife. It’s been 10 months since The Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and
the other partners in this project filed their last major extracts from the
files. And still, literally every day, stories based on the trove appear
somewhere in the world, either because local news organizations are catching up
with morsels of scandal that did not attract major newsrooms, or because new
events cast the cables in a more interesting light. Notably, State Department
dispatches reporting on the dissolute lifestyles of Mideast autocrats provided a
little extra kindling for the bonfires of the Arab Spring.
But the idea that this was the opening of a floodgate has proved exactly wrong.
In the immediate aftermath of the breach, several news organizations (including
this one) considered creating secure online drop-boxes for would-be leakers,
imagining that new digital Deep Throats would arise. But it now seems clear that
the WikiLeaks breach was one of a kind — and that even lesser leaks are harder
than ever to come by.
Steven Aftergood, who monitors secrecy issues for the Federation of American
Scientists, said that since WikiLeaks the government has elevated the “insider
threat” as a priority, and tightened access to classified material. Nudged by an
irate Congress, the intelligence agencies are at work on an electronic auditing
program that would make illicit transfer of secrets much more difficult and make
tracking the leaker much easier.
“A lot of attention has been focused on WikiLeaks and its colorful proprietors,”
Aftergood told me. “But the real action, it turns out, is not at the publisher
level; it’s at the source level. And there aren’t a lot of sources as prolific
or as reckless as Bradley Manning allegedly was.”
For good reason. The Obama administration has been much more aggressive than its
predecessors in pursuing and punishing leakers. The latest case, the arrest last
month of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. terrorist-hunter accused of telling
journalists the names of colleagues who participated in the waterboarding of
Qaeda suspects, is symptomatic of the crackdown. It is this administration’s
sixth criminal case against an official for confiding to the media, more than
all previous presidents combined. The message is chilling for those entrusted
with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the
public to understand how our national security is or is not protected.
Here’s the paradox the documentaries have overlooked so far: The most palpable
legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is
more secretive than ever.
The New York Times
By DAVID CARR
The man in the rubber boots and a thick coat to protect against the evening
chill walked purposefully about a farm here, scattering pheasants as he went. He
could have been an English gentleman out for a bit of hunting, except he carried
In his current circumstance, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is more hunted
than hunter, fighting extradition to Sweden on accusations of sexual misconduct
while struggling to maintain the influence of WikiLeaks even as he remains here
at Ellingham Hall, the country manor house of Vaughan Smith, a former soldier
and journalist who runs a restaurant and club for journalists in London.
Mr. Assange and a few WikiLeaks staff members who are staying at the farm joined
some friends of Mr. Smith on Saturday for an outdoor lunch. I took the train up
from London to get a first-hand look at Mr. Assange’s gilded, remote sanctuary.
In December, Mr. Assange was unable to meet the terms of bail because he had no
permanent address — he is an itinerant who leads a stateless organization that
operates in an online world without borders. Mr. Smith, after consulting his
wife, Pranvera Shema, decided they would provide Mr. Assange with an address, a
roof over his head and a place to manage his legal case.
“None of us knew it would go on this long,” Mr. Smith said, “but I think that
Julian deserves justice in the same way as anyone else, so we have found a way
to make it work.”
It has not all been rural bliss. There have been times when as many of 20 people
from WikiLeaks stayed at the house. “I’d open a cupboard and another one would
fall out,” Mr. Smith said. And then there is the matter of the farm animals.
“Julian messed with my pigs,” Mr. Smith said, smiling.
Ellingham Hall, 130 miles north of London, is a working farm, and Mr. Assange
decided to use the pigs to make a film about the credit card companies that have
denied him the means to raise donations. Mr. Smith said Mr. Assange induced the
pigs to break through an electric fence and make themselves at home in a nearby
berry patch, a bit of porcine anarchy that did not amuse the farm manager.
Standing near the pig pen at dusk, Mr. Assange said it was not his fault,
pointing to two young males. “They hacked the fence,” he said, deploying the
terminology that has made WikiLeaks and its founder household names.
Mr. Assange, who has become “Uncle Julian” to Mr. Smith’s young children, seems
less international man of mystery than a person frozen in the odd circumstance
of the moment. He wears an electronic bracelet, reports to the local police
every day and, to the extent he can, continues to push the WikiLeaks agenda.
Even here he sees enemies everywhere, suggesting helicopters have swooped in for
occasional reconnaissance, and at one point backing me out of a kind of war room
near the kitchen. “You can’t be in here,” he said, closing the door with a wan
But if Mr. Assange is in compliance with the conditions of his bail, he remains
at the margins of the law. Federal authorities in the United States and
Australia continue to investigate whether the release of classified information
by WikiLeaks constitutes criminal behavior that has endangered various
operatives. And Swedish prosecutors are seeking his extradition for questioning
— he has yet to be charged — on accusations of sexual misconduct with two women.
As the controversy has grown, some WikiLeaks staff members have left, saying Mr.
Assange runs the organization less transparently than he should. In his view, he
is guilty of nothing more than challenging powerful elites, but his current
isolation, in acute relief in the English countryside, is a consequence of his
After a week in which his autobiography was published against his wishes, he was
not much in the mood for another media moment, but he was friendly in an
argumentative way as long as I did not take out a notebook.
Mr. Assange was willing to say on the record that he was “very grateful” for the
refuge provided by Mr. Smith, and then spent time after lunch chatting about his
long list of enemies: The New York Times, The Guardian, the governments of
Britain, Sweden and the United States. He sees his tendency to end up at
cross-purposes with almost everyone who does business with him as a measure of
the threat he presents to the status quo, and not, as some have said, as a
byproduct of his habit of acting unilaterally according to rules only he knows.
He has, however, not worn out the patience of Mr. Smith. Now 48, Mr. Smith has
done a fair amount of brave — and perhaps foolhardy — things in his life. He was
an officer in the British Army’s Grenadier Guards, serving in Northern Ireland,
Cyprus and Germany.
In the 1990s, he worked as a freelance video journalist, covering conflicts in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and elsewhere. He was shot twice,
and in one instance was saved by a cellphone and a wad of cash tucked into his
waist. The wad is on display in the Frontline Club, a hangout for journalists
that Mr. Smith runs in the London neighborhood of Paddington. It is financed in
part by a restaurant of the same name that sits beneath the club and serves some
of the food grown at Ellingham.
His decision to house Mr. Assange, who is not especially popular in the British
press circles of which Mr. Smith is very much a part, carries its own kind of
risks. A member of the Frontline Club, who asked not to be identified because he
and Mr. Smith are friendly, said he thought Mr. Smith meant well, but was
leaving himself exposed. “He has been a very visible supporter of Julian and has
no control over what he does while he is free on bail. It’s worrisome at the
very least,” the man said.
While no one, including Mr. Smith, thought Mr. Assange would still be at
Ellingham 10 months later, Mr. Smith says he “made a commitment and I plan on
keeping it. People support WikiLeaks, but they don’t seem to have much in the
way of support for Julian.”
“Look,” he added, “you can see Julian as a kind of Bond villain, stroking a
white cat and contemplating his next evil act, or you can see him as a
complicated and interesting person who has really altered journalism in a
historic way. I think many people in our business took an immediate dislike to
him, and there has been a lot of lazy and unfair coverage.”
Mr. Smith is something of a libertarian in his political beliefs, and a bit of a
renegade. As a freelance videographer, he obtained unauthorized footage of the
Persian Gulf war by impersonating a British officer and bluffing his way into an
active duty unit. He organized Frontline News TV as a press agency during the
1990s because he felt that video freelancers were not being credited for their
work, much of it obtained at great personal risk.
“We have 1,500 dues paying members of the Frontline Club and there has been a
fair amount of debate about it, but at this point, he is staying at my home, not
the club,” Mr. Smith said. “I wouldn’t say that having anybody stay at your
house for almost a year is a prescription for domestic tranquility, but I’m
proud of the fact that we’ve worked our way through a difficult situation.”
I suggested that it was an odd move for someone who was literally “to the manor
born.” Ellingham Hall has been in Mr. Smith’s family for hundreds of years.
“I was taught from a very young age that you need to stand up for the weaker
party,” Mr. Smith said. “If Julian had ended up at a flat in London, it would
have just been another sort of prison because of the press coverage of the
The distance keeps Mr. Assange safe from the prying eyes of the press, give or
take my visit, but it also means that someone who has remained in motion for
many years is now fixed in place, left to operate a shadowy global enterprise
from a country farm north of London.
Mr. Smith is proud of the place, but sees work to be done everywhere he looks.
Mr. Assange sees Ellingham Hall through a different lens. When we step into a
walled garden that would thwart any directional microphones, he looks around and
suggests, “This the only place you can have a really secure conversation.”
— In a shift of tactics that has alarmed American officials, the antisecrecy
organization WikiLeaks has published on the Web nearly 134,000 leaked diplomatic
cables in recent days, more than six times the total disclosed publicly since
the posting of the leaked State Department documents began last November.
A sampling of the documents showed that the newly published cables included the
names of some people who had spoken confidentially to American diplomats and
whose identities were marked in the cables with the warning “strictly protect.”
State Department officials and human rights activists have been concerned that
such diplomatic sources, including activists, journalists and academics in
authoritarian countries, could face reprisals, including dismissal from their
jobs, prosecution or violence.
Since late 2010, The New York Times and several other news organizations have
had access to more than 250,000 State Department cables originally obtained by
WikiLeaks, citing them in news articles and publishing a relatively small number
of cables deemed newsworthy. But The Times and other publications that had
access to the documents removed the names of people judged vulnerable to
WikiLeaks published some cables on its own Web site, but until the latest
release, the group had also provided versions of the cables that had been edited
to protect low-level diplomatic sources.
Government officials and journalists were poring over the newly released cables
on Monday to assess whether people named in them might face repercussions. A
quick sampling found at least one cable posted on Monday, from the American
Embassy in Australia, had a name removed, but several others left in the
identities of people whom diplomats had flagged for protection.
Among those named, despite diplomats’ warnings, were a United Nations official
in West Africa and a foreign human rights activist working in Cambodia. They had
spoken candidly to American Embassy officials on the understanding that they
would not be publicly identified.
The new disclosures are likely to reignite a debate over the virtues and perils
of making public the confidential views of American diplomats, some of whom have
complained that the leaks have made their work more difficult. The disclosures
take place as a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., continues to hear
evidence in a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks for disclosing classified
WikiLeaks said in a statement on Monday that the acceleration in disclosing the
cables was “in accordance with WikiLeaks’s commitment to maximizing impact and
making information available to all.” The statement suggested that it was
intended to counter the “misperception” that the organization “has been less
active in recent months.”
The statement said that “crowdsourcing” the documents by posting them will allow
people of different backgrounds and nationalities to interpret the cables. It
was unsigned, but WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange, generally drafts or
approves the group’s statements.
Even as WikiLeaks made its new postings, a German publication reported that an
encrypted file containing all of the 251,287 diplomatic cables obtained by
WikiLeaks last year had been posted months ago on the Web, and that the password
was also available on the Internet. It was unclear on Monday whether anyone had
cracked the encrypted file described by the publication, Der Freitag, a small
Berlin-based, left-leaning weekly, and had made public previously unpublished
A State Department spokesman, Michael A. Hammer, said the department would not
comment on the authenticity of the documents released. He said the United States
“strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of classified information.”
Last year, WikiLeaks was sharply criticized by human rights activists for
disclosing the names of Afghan citizens who had provided information on the
Taliban to the American military. It was far more cautious in subsequent
releases, using software to strip proper names out of Iraq war documents and
publishing versions of the cables after they had been edited by The New York
Times and other publications.
The publication of cables began slowly last year, with only 2,500 made public by
year’s end, often with redactions. As of last week, the total had reached about
But the State Department has always acted on the assumption that all
quarter-million cables might become public. A department task force worked with
American embassies to review all the leaked cables, quietly warning people named
in the cables that they might be in jeopardy. Some especially vulnerable people
were given help to move, usually outside their home countries.
Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American
Scientists, said he had reviewed several dozen cables from the new batch — all
among those classified “secret” by the State Department — and found only one
redaction. He said the volume of the new release made it unlikely that all the
information that might endanger diplomatic sources had been removed.
“If these cables have not been carefully reviewed, it’s likely to be problematic
for any number of people named in the cables,” Mr. Aftergood said.
unfortunate that The New York Times and other news organizations have made the
decision to publish numerous documents obtained illegally by Wikileaks
concerning the Guantanamo detention facility. These documents contain classified
information about current and former GTMO detainees, and we strongly condemn the
leaking of this sensitive information.
“The Wikileaks releases include Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) written by the
Department of Defense between 2002 and early 2009. These DABs were written based
on a range of information available then.
“The Guantanamo Review Task Force, established in January 2009, considered the
DABs during its review of detainee information. In some cases, the Task Force
came to the same conclusions as the DABs. In other instances the Review Task
Force came to different conclusions, based on updated or other available
information. The assessments of the Guantanamo Review Task Force have not been
compromised to Wikileaks. Thus, any given DAB illegally obtained and released by
Wikileaks may or may not represent the current view of a given detainee.
“Both the previous and the current Administrations have made every effort to act
with the utmost care and diligence in transferring detainees from Guantanamo.
The previous Administration transferred 537 detainees; to date, the current
Administration has transferred 67. Both Administrations have made the protection
of American citizens the top priority and we are concerned that the disclosure
of these documents could be damaging to those efforts. That said, we will
continue to work with allies and partners around the world to mitigate threats
to the U.S. and other countries and to work toward the ultimate closure of the
Guantanamo detention facility, consistent with good security practices and our
values as a nation.”
founder handed verdict
at Belmarsh magistrates court
Share Esther Addley and Alexandra Topping
Thursday 24 February 2011
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 11.23 GMT
on Thursday 24
founder Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape
and sexual assault.
Assange has been fighting extradition since he was arrested and bailed in
December. He has consistently denied the allegations, made by two women in
August last year.
Howard Riddle, the chief magistrate, delivered his ruling at a hearing at
Belmarsh magistrates court in London. It is unlikely to be the end of the
matter, however, because an appeal is expected, which would delay the final
decision until the summer at the latest.
At a two-day hearing earlier this month, his legal team argued that Assange
would not receive a fair trial in Sweden. They said the European arrest warrant
(EAW) issued by Sweden was invalid because the Australian had not been charged
with any offence and that the alleged assaults would not be legitimate
Assange fears that an extradition to Sweden would make it easier for Washington
to extradite him to the US on possible charges relating to the release by
WikiLeaks of leaked US embassy cables.
If this was to happen, Sweden would have to ask permission from the UK for the
onward extradition. No such charges have been laid, though the website's
activities are under investigation in the US.
The Swedish prosecutor, represented in court by the British Crown Prosecution
Service, argued that despite the lack of charge, Assange was being sought for
prosecution rather than merely for questioning, which meant the warrant was
The most serious of the four allegations relates to an accusation that Assange,
during a visit to Stockholm in August, had sex with a woman, Miss B, while she
was sleeping and without a condom, and without her consent. Three counts of
sexual assault are also alleged against another woman, Miss A. If found guilty
of the rape charge he could face up to four years in prison.
Assange will now be detained in custody, because there is no system of bail in
Sweden, until a possible trial or release.
The Australian ambassador to Sweden, Paul Stephens, wrote to the country's
justice minister last week to insist that, if extradited, any possible case
against Assange "would proceed in accordance with due process and the provisions
prescribed under Swedish law, as well as applicable European and international
laws, including relevant human rights norms".
EAWs were introduced in 2003 with the aim of making extradition swifter and
easier between European member states. But campaigners have raised concerns
about the application of the warrants, arguing that they are sometimes applied
before a case is ready to prosecute, and that while they were originally
intended to counter terrorism, their use has greatly increased. Seven hundred
people were extradited from the UK under the system last year.
The New York Times
By RAVI SOMAIYA and JULIA WERDIGIER
LONDON — A
former Swiss bank executive said on Monday that he had given the WikiLeaks
founder, Julian Assange, details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and
companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other possible criminal
Rudolf M. Elmer, the former head of the Cayman Islands office of the prominent
Swiss bank Julius Baer, refused to identify any of the individuals or companies,
but told reporters at a press conference that about 40 politicians and “pillars
of society” worldwide are among them.
He told The Observer newspaper over the weekend that those named in the
documents come from “the U.S., Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia — from all
over,” and include “business people, politicians, people who have made their
living in the arts and multinational conglomerates — from both sides of the
Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks would verify and release the information,
including the names, in as little as two weeks. He suggested possible
partnerships with financial news organizations and said he would consider
turning the information over to Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, a government
agency that investigates financial corruption.
Mr. Elmer said he had turned to WikiLeaks to educate society about what he
considers an unfair system designed to serve the rich and aid money launderers
after his offers to provide the data to universities and governments were
spurned and, in his opinion, the Swiss media failed to cover the substance of
his allegations. “The man in the street needs to know how this system works,” he
said, referring to the offshore trusts that many “high net worth individuals”
across the world use to evade taxes.
His former employers released a statement on Friday denying all wrongdoing and
suggesting that Mr. Elmer’s aim was to “discredit Julius Baer as well as clients
in the eyes of the public.” It accused him of using falsified documents and
spreading “baseless accusations” and passing on “unlawfully acquired,
respectively retained, documents to the media, and later also to WikiLeaks.”
On Monday, Mr. Elmer declined say how he had obtained the documents, which were
on two CDs. He faces trial in Switzerland on Wednesday on charges of stealing
the information from the bank. He was held for 30 days in 2005 over allegations
that he violated Swiss banking secrecy laws, falsified documents and sent
threatening messages to two people at the bank.
WikiLeaks and Bank Julius Baer previously clashed in early 2008 when the
anti-secrecy organization published hundreds of documents pertaining to its
offshore activities. On that occasion, it did not identify the 15 individuals
concerned. But the bank succeeded, briefly, in gaining a court order to shut
down the WikiLeaks.org Web site anyway. The injunction was subsequently
overturned and the case was dropped.
The offshore banking industry has come under increasing pressure from
whistle-blowers like Mr. Elmer over the last two years. In 2009, Bradley
Birkenfeld, a former private banker for UBS, was sentenced to more than three
years in prison after refusing to admit his own role in the Swiss bank’s efforts
to help American clients evade taxes.
Prosecutors did, however, credit Mr. Birkenfeld for helping to disclose some
illegal tactics in the industry. As a result of Mr. Birkenfeld’s disclosures,
UBS agreed to turn over details of several thousand client accounts to the
Internal Revenue Service as part of a legal settlement. UBS agreed to pay a $780
million fine and admitted criminal wrongdoing.
In London on Monday, Mr. Assange said that financial institutions “operate
outside the rule of law” because of their economic power. WikiLeaks itself had,
he said, been “economically censored” by companies like Visa and MasterCard,
which stopped processing donations to it late last year in response to its
release of hundreds of thousands of classified United States documents on the
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and thousands of State Department cables.
WikiLeaks has also said it would release information from an American bank,
thought to be the contents of a Bank of America executive’s hard drive, early
this year. But, Mr. Assange said, the site is not fully “open for public
business” owing to the weight of the existing leaks it is struggling to process.
He would not comment on continuing proceedings to extradite him from Britain to
Sweden to face allegations of sexual wrongdoing brought by two women in
Stockholm last summer. He will next appear in a London court on Feb. 7 and 8.
The United States is also widely thought to be conducting an investigation into
Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks, in connection with the release of the classified
United States government and military information.
The New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
— Julian Assange, the flamboyant founder of WikiLeaks, is living on a
supporter’s 600-acre estate outside London, where he has negotiated $1.7 million
in book deals and regularly issues defiant statements about the antisecrecy
Meanwhile, the young soldier accused of leaking the secret documents that
brought WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange to fame and notoriety is locked in a tiny cell
at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. The soldier, Pfc. Bradley
Manning, who turned 23 last month in the military prison, is accused of the
biggest leak of classified documents in American history. He awaits trial on
charges that could put him in prison for 52 years, according to the Army.
Even as members of Congress denounce both men’s actions as criminal, the Justice
Department is still looking for a charge it can press against Mr. Assange,
demanding from Twitter the account records, credit card numbers and bank account
information of several of his associates. Legal experts say there are many
obstacles to a prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder, but one approach under
consideration is to link the two men in a conspiracy to disclose classified
Accusations from supporters that Private Manning is being mistreated, perhaps to
pressure him to testify against Mr. Assange, have rallied many on the political
left to his defense. The assertions have even drawn the attention of the United
Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, who said he had
submitted a formal inquiry about the soldier’s treatment to the State
Private Manning’s cause has been taken up by the nation’s best-known leaker of
classified secrets, Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the Pentagon Papers to the press
in 1971. He denounces Private Manning’s seven months in custody and media
coverage that has emphasized the soldier’s sexual orientation (he is gay) and
personal troubles. Mr. Ellsberg, 79, calls him a courageous patriot.
“I identify with him very much,” Mr. Ellsberg said. “He sees the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, I’d say correctly, as I saw Vietnam — as hopeless ventures that
are wrong and involve a great deal of atrocities.”
The military rejects accusations that Private Manning has been mistreated.
“Poppycock,” said Col. T. V. Johnson, a Quantico spokesman. He insisted that the
conditions of confinement were dictated by brig rules for a pretrial detainee
like Private Manning. The soldier has been designated for “maximum custody” —
applied because his escape would pose a national security risk — and placed on
“prevention-of-injury watch,” restrictions imposed so that he does not injure
That status is based on the judgment of military medical experts and the
observations of brig guards, Colonel Johnson said. Guards check Private Manning
every five minutes but allow him to sleep without interruption from 10 p.m. to 5
a.m., when only dim night lights are on, unless they need to wake him to be
certain he is breathing.
Colonel Johnson denied that Private Manning was in solitary confinement, as has
been widely claimed, saying that he could talk with guards and with prisoners in
nearby cells, though he could not see them. He leaves his 6-by-12-foot cell for
a daily hour of exercise, and for showers, phone calls, meetings with his lawyer
and weekend visits by friends and relatives, the colonel said.
The prisoner can read and watch television and correspond with people on an
approved list. He is not permitted to speak to the media.
“Pfc. Manning is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig,” said
an internal military review concluded on Dec. 27 and read to a reporter by
Colonel Johnson. “His treatment is firm, fair and respectful.”
The soldier’s lawyer, David E. Coombs, declined to comment for this article, and
two people who have visited him at Quantico — Private Manning’s aunt, Debra Van
Alstyne, and a friend who is an M.I.T. graduate student, David M. House — did
not respond to queries.
In an interview with MSNBC last month, Mr. House said of his friend that he had
“noticed a remarkable decline in his psychological state and his physical
well-being.” He said that Private Manning appeared “very weak from a lack of
exercise” and that “psychologically, he has difficulty keeping up with some
In an account on Mr. Coombs’s Web site of his client’s “typical day,” he
detailed the restrictions on the soldier but called the guards’ conduct
“At no time have they tried to bully, harass or embarrass Pfc. Manning,” he
Asked why the case appears to be moving so slowly, an Army spokeswoman, Shaunteh
Kelly, said that the defense had requested a delay in July and that a “706
board,” or mental health evaluation, was not complete.
She added in an e-mail that “Cases involving computers and classified
information are very complex and require methodical investigation,” and that all
lawyers, members of the 706 board and military investigators needed to get
Mr. Assange, with his provocative statements, his recognizable shock of white
hair and the accusations of sexual misconduct he faces in Sweden, has become
WikiLeaks’s public face. But while he began WikiLeaks in 2006, overseeing a
steady trickle of revelations, the site drew broad attention for the first time
only when it began to release the material that Private Manning is accused of
downloading from his computer in Iraq, where he was a low-level intelligence
The material includes a video showing two American helicopters shooting at
people in Baghdad in 2007, two of them Reuters journalists who were killed;
thousands of field reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and 251,287
cables sent between American embassies and the State Department.
If Private Manning was indeed the source of the documents, as he suggested in
online chat logs made public by Wired magazine, it is he who is largely
responsible for making WikiLeaks a household name and the target of fury from
the Pentagon, the State Department and members of Congress of both parties.
He is the only person charged in the WikiLeaks case so far. And despite his
supporters’ suspicions that he will be pressured to testify against Mr. Assange,
the Army spokeswoman, Ms. Kelly, said that to date, Private Manning had not
spoken with civilian investigators or prosecutors.
Mr. Assange has often spoken highly of the soldier, to whose defense fund
WikiLeaks has donated more than $100,000. In an article in the British magazine
New Statesman on Thursday that called Private Manning “the world’s pre-eminent
prisoner of conscience,” Mr. Assange said he believed the Justice Department’s
goal was to force the soldier to confess “that he somehow conspired with me to
harm the security of the United States.”
“Cracking Bradley Manning is the first step,” Mr. Assange said.
They got their start years ago as cyberpranksters, an online
community of tech-savvy kids more interested in making mischief than political
But the coordinated attacks on major corporate and government Web sites in
defense of WikiLeaks, which began on Wednesday and continued on Thursday,
suggested that the loosely organized group called Anonymous might have come of
age, evolving into one focused on more serious matters: in this case, the
definition of Internet freedom.
While the attacks on such behemoths as MasterCard, Visa and PayPal were not
nearly as sophisticated as some less publicized assaults, they were a step
forward in the group’s larger battle against what it sees as increasing control
of the Internet by corporations and governments. This week they found a cause
and an icon: Julian Assange, the former hacker who founded WikiLeaks and is now
in a London jail at the request of the Swedish authorities investigating him on
accusations of rape.
“This is kind of the shot heard round the world — this is Lexington,” said John
Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil
liberties organization that advocates for a freer Internet.
On Thursday, the police in the Netherlands took the first official action
against the campaign, detaining a 16-year-old student in his parents’ home in
The Hague who they said admitted to participating in attacks on MasterCard and
Visa. The precise nature of his involvement was unclear, but in past
investigations, the authorities have sometimes arrested those unsophisticated
enough not to cover their tracks on the Web.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Mr. Assange, 39, said he strongly denied that he had
encouraged any attacks on behalf of WikiLeaks.
“It is absolutely false,” the lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, told the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation in London on Thursday. “He did not make any such
instruction, and indeed he sees that as a deliberate attempt to conflate hacking
organizations” with “WikiLeaks, which is not a hacking organization. It is a
news organization and a publisher.”
Although Anonymous remains shadowy and without public leaders, it developed a
loose hierarchy in recent years as it took on groups as diverse as the Church of
Scientology and the Motion Picture Association of America.
The coordination and the tactics developed in those campaigns appeared to make
this week’s attacks more powerful, allowing what analysts believe is a small
group to enlist thousands of activists to bombard Web sites with traffic, making
them at least temporarily inaccessible. Experts say the group appears to have
used more sophisticated software this time that allowed supporters to repeatedly
visit the sites at a specific time when the command was given.
The Twitter account identified with the Anonymous movement contained messages
with little more than the words “Fire now.”
The attacks thus far have been of limited effect, shutting down the MasterCard
Web site, not its online transactions.
But to security experts and people who have tracked or participated in the
Anonymous movement, they indicated a step forward for cyberanarchists railing
against the “elites” — corporations and governments with power over both the
machinery and, critics increasingly argue, the content on the Web.
“In the past, Anonymous made quite a lot of noise but did little damage,” said
Amichai Shulman, chief technology officer at Imperva, a California-based
security technology company. “It’s different this time around. They are starting
to use the same tools that industrial hackers are using.”
Despite the name, Anonymous can be found in many locations and formats. Members
converse in online forums and chat rooms where friendships and alliances often
“It’s the first place I go when I turn on my computer,” said one Anonymous
activist, reached on an online chat service, who did not want to be named
discussing the structure of the organization.
Groups of these friends, who form new conversations, or threads, sometimes
decide on a topic or an issue that they feel is deserving of more attention, the
“You post things, discuss ideas and that leads to putting out a video or a
document” for a campaign. In the case of WikiLeaks, the activist said, it
appears that two groups decided almost simultaneously to mount a concerted
effort against the site’s enemies.
“I got e-mailed these two links on Sunday or Monday,” he said. Denouncing
“what’s being done to Julian and WikiLeaks,” he said, he decided to join in.
These ideas bubble up, but ultimately a small group decides exactly what
affiliated site should be attacked and when, according to a Dutch writer on the
Anonymous movement, who writes a blog under the name Ernesto Van der Sar. There
is a chat room “that is invite only, with a dozen or so people,” he said, that
pick the targets and the time of attack.
He described the typical Anonymous member as young; he guessed 18 to 24 years
While Anonymous has recently had success with attacks on sites related to
copyright infringement cases, the WikiLeaks cause has brought a much greater
intensity to its efforts.
The campaigns are part of Operation Payback, created in the summer to defend a
file-sharing site in Sweden that counts itself part of the mission of keeping
the Internet unfettered and unfiltered and that was singled out by the
“We could move against enemies of WikiLeaks so easily because there was already
a network up and running, there was already a chat room for people to meet in,”
said Gregg Housh, an activist who has been involved in Anonymous campaigns but
disavows a personal role in any illegal online activity.
The software used to coordinate the attacks is being downloaded about 1,000
times per hour, with about one-third of those downloads coming from the United
States. Recently the software was improved so that a command could be sent to a
supporter’s computers and the attack would begin — no human needed.
But even Mr. Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation appeared to have
second thoughts about where such escalation could lead: On Thursday, he said
that the Anonymous group members represented “a stunning force in the world.
“But still,” he said, it is “better used to open, not to close.” He added that
he opposed denial-of-service attacks on principle: “It’s like the poison gas of
cyberspace. The fundamental principle should be to open things up and not close
Things were hardly so serious when Anonymous first made a name for itself. The
group grew out of online message boards like 4chan, an unfiltered meeting place
with more than its share of misanthropic behavior and schemes.
Mr. Housh said of Anonymous: “It was deliberately not for any good. We kind of
took pride in it.”
That changed when Mr. Housh and a few dozen others were incensed by the Church
of Scientology’s attempt to use copyright law to remove a long video in which
the actor Tom Cruise had spoken about church beliefs.
With its work on behalf of WikiLeaks, Anonymous has found a much more
high-profile cause. As the campaign expands, many fear a more contentious
Internet as governments and businesses respond to more serious attacks by
activists who benefit from improvements in bandwidth and readily available
“Home field advantage goes to the attacker,” said Gunter Ollmann, vice president
of research at Damballa, an Atlanta-based firm that specializes in Internet
protection. “With a little bit of coordination and growing numbers of
participants, these things will continue to happen regularly.”
Reporting was contributed by John Markoff
and Ashlee Vance from
Ravi Somaiya from London and Marlise Simons from Paris.
LONDON — An American provider of Internet domain names withdrew its service
to the WikiLeaks Web site late Thursday after a barrage of attacks by hackers
threatened to destabilize its entire system. But within hours, WikiLeaks had
registered its domain name in Switzerland, and it was back online by early
Shortly after the action by EveryDNS.net, which provides domain names for about
500,000 Web sites, the French government began seeking measures to keep the
whistle blowing organization from being hosted in France. The moves follow a
decision on Wednesday by Amazon.com Inc. to expel WikiLeaks from its servers.
The organization remains on the servers of a Swedish host, Bahnhof.
WikiLeaks appears increasingly engaged in a game of digital Whac-A-Mole as it
struggles to stay online after publicizing a huge array of some 250,000 leaked
State Department documents relating to American foreign policy around the globe.
The Web infrastructure that supports WikiLeaks is deliberately diffuse and
difficult to track, with servers spread through many countries in order to
insulate the site from hostile states or companies. But cyberattacks and
problems with service providers have kept the site and its founder, Julian
“Since April of this year, our timetable has not been our own; rather it has
been one that has centered on the moves of abusive elements of the United States
government against us,” Mr. Assange wrote in a discussion on Friday on the Web
site of the British newspaper The Guardian. “The threats against our lives are a
matter of public record,” he added later, saying he and others who work on
WikiLeaks were taking “appropriate precautions.” Mr. Assange is being sought for
questioning in connection to alleged sex crimes in Sweden, which he has denied
the allegations, and his location was not disclosed.
In a statement on its Web site, EveryDNS.net said it terminated WikiLeaks’
domain name at around 10 p.m., Eastern time for violating its terms of service.
The old domain, WikiLeaks.org, “has become the target of multiple distributed
denial of service (DDOS) attacks,” the company said. Such attacks usually
involve bombarding a Web site with requests for access, effectively blocking
legitimate users, and are designed to make a targeted Web site unavailable. When
questioned about similar cyberattacks on Sunday against WikiLeaks, American
officials vigorously denied any involvement.
According to WhoIs.com, the new domain, WikiLeaks.ch, is registered to the Swiss
branch of the Swedish Pirate Party, a political organization that has previously
worked with Mr. Assange.
In an interview with The New York Times earlier this year, the Pirate Party’s
leader, Rickard Falkvinge, expressed an open offer to host the WikiLeaks site
because “our organizations generally share the same values — we value privacy,
transparency, democracy and knowledge.” Mr. Falkvinge added that any sharing of
Web services between the two organizations would offer “heightened political
“Any prosecutors will have to target a political party in us, and the price for
doing that is much higher,” he said.
WikiLeaks reacted to the domain name switch on its Twitter feed, writing just
after midnight on Friday morning: “WikiLeaks.org domain killed by U.S.
EveryDNS.net after claimed mass attacks.”
It implored supporters to “keep us strong” and provided a link for financial
donations. Hours later, a message on the WikiLeaks Twitter feed said: “WikiLeaks
moved to Switzerland” and provided the new Web address.
In France, Industry Minister Eric Besson asked the French government on Friday
to explore measures to “ensure that it is no longer hosted in France” after
reports surfaced that WikiLeaks has servers there, according to a letter seen by
Reuters. “France cannot host an internet site that violates the secrecy of
diplomatic relations and endangers people,” Mr. Besson said.
Earlier this week, Amazon — which rents server space to companies in addition to
its online retail business — canceled its relationship with WikiLeaks after
inquiries from an aide to Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of
Connecticut. The company said the organization was violating the terms of
service for the program.
“When companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data
that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t
injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go
operate elsewhere,” the company said.
Anna Mossberg, Bahnhof’s chief executive, said her company held “two physical
WikiLeaks servers in our data hall in Stockholm.” Those servers, she said, have
been attacked in recent weeks, though Bahnhof has come under no overt government
pressure to abandon them. “But I know we are not the only provider of WikiLeaks’
servers — they are everywhere.”
Ravi Somaiya reported from London,
J. David Goodman from New York.
contributed reporting from Washington,
WASHINGTON — A cache of a quarter-million confidential
American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an
unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world,
brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and
Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news
organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama
administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was
originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret
documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic
sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.
The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic
establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing
international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the
world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the
expected disclosures. A statement from the White House on Sunday said: “We
condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified
documents and sensitive national security information.”
The White House said the release of what it called “stolen cables” to several
publications was a “reckless and dangerous action” and warned that some cables,
if released in full, could disrupt American operations abroad and put the work
and even lives of confidential sources of American diplomats at risk. The
statement noted that reports often include “candid and often incomplete
information” whose disclosure could “deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy
interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.”
The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department
and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the
United States’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Among
their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:
¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United
States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a
Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear
could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador
Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by
American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local
media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the
United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”
¶ Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean
officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s
economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South
Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the
American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean
officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s
“concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance”
with the United States.
¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed
other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State
Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner
if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati
was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim
detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested
that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain
prominence in Europe.”
¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice
president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working
with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52
million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in
Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia
Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or
destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)
¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion
into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the
American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking
was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by
government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited
by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers
and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002,
¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of
Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a
generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region”
in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last
December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists
out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking
reprisals,” the cable said.
¶ An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what
their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship
between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi,
the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,”
lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between.
They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of
Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoyed
supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he was undermined by an
unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignored his edicts.
¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing
struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has
amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after
President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would
not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had
information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the
¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned
Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency
officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen
with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for
months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that
our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German
government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for
relations with the U.S.”
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, after consultations with the State Department, 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. While
the White House said it anticipated WikiLeaks would make public “several hundred
thousand” cables Sunday night, the organization posted only 220 released and
redacted by The Times and several European publications.
The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the
dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the
world. They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which
Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, adding Australians who
have disappeared in the Middle East to terrorist watch lists, and assessing
whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore, Pakistan, was awaiting fares or
conducting surveillance of the road to the American Consulate.
They show officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia
retreating from democracy. They document years of effort to prevent Iran from
building a nuclear weapon — and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran
with the same goal.
Even when they recount events that are already known, the cables offer
For instance, it has been previously reported that the Yemeni government has
sought to cover up the American role in missile strikes against the local branch
of Al Qaeda. But a cable’s fly-on-the-wall account of a January meeting between
the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the
American commander in the Middle East, is breathtaking.
“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according
to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime
minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had
carried out the strikes.
Mr. Saleh, who at other times resisted American counterterrorism requests, was
in a lighthearted mood. The authoritarian ruler of a conservative Muslim
country, Mr. Saleh complains of smuggling from nearby Djibouti, but tells
General Petraeus that his concerns are drugs and weapons, not whiskey, “provided
it’s good whiskey.”
Likewise, press reports detailed the unhappiness of the Libyan leader, Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi, when he was not permitted to set up his tent in Manhattan or
to visit ground zero during a United Nations session last year.
But the cables add a touch of scandal and alarm to the tale. They describe the
volatile Libyan leader as rarely without the companionship of “his senior
Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel
Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out
a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American
ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had
chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to
The cables also disclose frank comments behind closed doors. Dispatches from
early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch of Saudi Arabia, King
Abdullah, as speaking scathingly about the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan.
Speaking to another Iraqi official about Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime
minister, King Abdullah said, “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is
not.” The king called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest
obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it
affects the whole body.”
The American ambassador to Eritrea reported last year that “Eritrean officials
are ignorant or lying” in denying that they were supporting the Shabab, a
militant Islamist group in Somalia. The cable then mused about which seemed more
As he left Zimbabwe in 2007 after three years as ambassador, Christopher W. Dell
wrote a sardonic account of Robert Mugabe, that country’s aging and erratic
leader. The cable called him “a brilliant tactician” but mocked “his deep
ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates
give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics).”
The possibility that a large number of diplomatic cables might become public has
been discussed in government and media circles since May. That was when, in an
online chat, an Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, described
having downloaded from a military computer system many classified documents,
including “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all
over the world.” In an online discussion with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker,
Private Manning said he had delivered the cables and other documents to
Mr. Lamo reported Private Manning’s disclosures to federal authorities, and
Private Manning was arrested. He has been charged with illegally leaking
classified information and faces a possible court-martial and, if convicted, a
lengthy prison term.
In July and October, The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the
German magazine Der Spiegel published articles based on documents about
Afghanistan and Iraq. Those collections were placed online by WikiLeaks, with
selective redactions of the Afghan documents and much heavier redactions of the
Fodder for Historians
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, titled “Foreign Relations of the
United States,” has reached only 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.
In a 1979 cable to Washington, Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat in Tehran,
mused with a knowing tone about the Iranian revolution that had just occurred:
“Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding
egoism,” Mr. Laingen wrote, offering tips on exploiting this psyche in
negotiations with the new government. Less than three months later, Mr. Laingen
and his colleagues would be taken hostage by radical Iranian students, hurling
the Carter administration into crisis and, perhaps, demonstrating the hazards of
In 1989, an American diplomat in Panama City mulled over the options open to
Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian leader, who was facing narcotics charges in
the United States and intense domestic and international political pressure to
step down. The cable called General Noriega “a master of survival”; its author
appeared to have no inkling that one week later, the United States would invade
Panama to unseat General Noriega and arrest him.
In 1990, an American diplomat sent an excited dispatch from Cape Town: he had
just learned from a lawyer for Nelson Mandela that Mr. Mandela’s 27-year
imprisonment was to end. The cable conveys the momentous changes about to begin
for South Africa, even as it discusses preparations for an impending visit from
the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.
The voluminous traffic of more recent years — well over half of the
quarter-million cables date from 2007 or later — show American officials
struggling with events whose outcomes are far from sure. 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.
In an era of satellites and fiber-optic links, the cable retains the archaic
name of an earlier technological era. It has long been the tool for the
secretary of state to send orders to the field and for ambassadors and political
officers to send their analyses to Washington.
The cables have their own lexicon: “codel,” for a Congressional delegation;
“visas viper,” for a report on a person considered dangerous; “démarche,” an
official message to a foreign government, often a protest or warning.
But the drama in the cables often comes from diplomats’ narratives of meetings
with foreign figures, games of diplomatic poker in which each side is sizing up
the other and neither is showing all its cards.
Among the most fascinating examples recount American officials’ meetings in
September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the
Afghan president and a power broker in the Taliban’s home turf of Kandahar.
They describe Mr. Karzai, “dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez,” the
traditional dress of loose tunic and trousers, appearing “nervous, though eager
to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar,” and trying to
win over the Americans with nostalgic tales about his years running a Chicago
restaurant near Wrigley Field.
But in midnarrative there is a stark alert for anyone reading the cable in
Washington: “Note: While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial
Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” (Mr.
Karzai has denied such charges.) And the cables note statements by Mr. Karzai
that the Americans, informed by a steady flow of eavesdropping and agents’
reports, believe to be false.
A cable written after the February meeting coolly took note of the deceit on
Mr. Karzai “demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs,” the
cable said. “He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his
activities. We will need to monitor his activity closely, and deliver a
recurring, transparent message to him” about the limits of American tolerance.
Not All Business
Even in places far from war zones and international crises, where the stakes for
the United States are not as high, curious diplomats can turn out to be
accomplished reporters, sending vivid dispatches to deepen the government’s
understanding of exotic places.
In a 2006 account, a wide-eyed American diplomat describes the lavish wedding of
a well-connected couple in Dagestan, in Russia’s Caucasus, where one guest is
the strongman who runs the war-ravaged Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan
The diplomat tells of drunken guests throwing $100 bills at child dancers, and
nighttime water-scooter jaunts on the Caspian Sea.
“The dancers probably picked upwards of USD 5000 off the cobblestones,” the
diplomat wrote. The host later tells him that Ramzan Kadyrov “had brought the
happy couple ‘a five-kilo lump of gold’ as his wedding present.”
“After the dancing and a quick tour of the premises, Ramzan and his army drove
off back to Chechnya,” the diplomat reported to Washington. “We asked why Ramzan
did not spend the night in Makhachkala, and were told, ‘Ramzan never spends the
night anywhere.’ ”
Scott Shane reported from Washington,
and Andrew W. Lehren from
Reporting was contributed by Jo Becker, C. J. Chivers
and James Glanz
from New York;
Eric Lichtblau, Michael R. Gordon, David E. Sanger,