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WikiLeaks 'cablegate' causing waves as far as NZ

Published: 8:40AM Monday November 29, 2010 Source: ONE News/Reuters/Newstalk ZB

The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has published 1490 secret diplomatic cables between New Zealand and the US, including details about former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The cables include information about Clark in her capacity as a top UN official and are understood to contain emails, credit card details and personal information.

They are part of a wider release of classified US diplomatic cables , an action which has been condemned by the US State Department.

All up there are 25,000 documents in this release, providing candid views of foreign leaders and sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Parts of the documents - or cables - have been given to The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain and German magazine Der Spiegel.

Among the revelations in the Guardian, Saudi King Abdullah is reported to have "frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme".

With regards to leaks about New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key told TV ONE's Breakfast he did not know what would be revealed about this country's communications in the documents.

Key said there was "every chance that there'll be something released that causes a little bit of embarrassment" over talk between Washington and Wellington.

However, Key said conversations have to be put in context and there was always a bit of unofficial chat between diplomats.

"The concern would be if the release of information put lives at risk," he said.

"From New Zealand's point of view, we'll deal with whatever comes out."

The US Embassy in Wellington has condemned the release of the documents and stressed they don't represent US foreign policy. Reports are that 1490 of the missives come from the US Embassy in Wellington, and another 14 are from the Auckland consul, and cover a period from 2004 to 2010.

Aside from cables about Clark, ONE News understands the documents also include an assessment of what the US thought of John Key when he first became Prime Minister.

Today Key didn't seem concerned: "That's what happens... I'm sure that some of those cables will cause agitation, and a little bit of embarrassment but [I] take it all with a grain of salt."

Concern for US government

Information from the cables between the US and other nations is already causing embarrassment for diplomats.

US lawyers have urged WikiLeaks to leave classified documents off the website, remove records of them from its database and return any material to the US government.

The US government, which was informed in advance of the contents, has contacted governments around the world, including in Russia, Europe and the Middle East, to try to limit any damage.

Sources familiar with the documents said they include corruption allegations against foreign leaders and governments.

Some refer to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as "Hitler", while President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is called a "naked emperor".

Another document described by The New York Times, cites a US embassy cable raising the possibility that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may have had a romantic relationship with his Ukranian nurse, who is described as a "voluptuous blonde." Read more cable revelations here.

The White House condemned the release by WikiLeaks and said the disclosures may endanger US informants abroad.

Senator Lindsay Graham of the Armed Services Committee told Fox News: "We're at war. The world is getting dangerous by the day and people who do this are low on the food chain as far as I'm concerned. If you can prosecute them let's try." 

The leaked documents, the majority of which are from 2007 or later, also disclose US allegations that China's Politburo directed an intrusion into Google's computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have already contacted government officials in China, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Britain amongst others to try and soften the blow.

Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin's Batman" 

German news weekly Der Spiegel says the cables contain tart comments such as a US diplomat's description of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as someone who "avoids risk and is seldom creative." 

The NY Times said many of the cables name diplomats' confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: "Please protect" or "Strictly protect". 

Comments such as a description of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as playing "Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin's Batman," are sure to embarrass the Obama administration and to complicate its diplomacy. 

The White House said the release of the documents could endanger the lives of people who live under "oppressive regimes" and "deeply impact" the foreign policy interests of the United States, its allies and partners around the world. 

 "To be clear  such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. 

"By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals," he said. 

Devastating 

Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to US diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to US officials. 

"This is pretty devastating," Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former US cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an emailed comment. 

The White House also warned readers that the field reporting in the documents is often incomplete and does not necessarily reflect, or even shape, US policy decisions. 

Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the dramatic revelation that Saudi King Abdullah counselled a US strike on Iran may have been exaggerated for diplomatic effect. 

"It's very possible that the Gulf States have in private adopted very aggressive rhetoric just to stress the urgency of the issue," Hokayem said. "But I personally doubt that there is an appetite for war as such." 

Among the disclosures reported by The New York Times were:
    - suspicions Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as "building blocks" to build longer-range missiles; 
    - allegations that Chinese operatives have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002; 
    - talks between US and South Korean officials about the prospects for a unified Korea should the North's economic troubles and a political transition lead the state to implode;
    - the South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to "help salve" Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a "benign alliance" with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul;
    - reporting that Saudi donors remain 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; 
    - Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. 

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