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WikiLeaks publishes cables exposing confidential sources

The development has alarmed U.S. officials and human rights groups, who say it will endanger foreign nationals who helped the U.S. and make it less likely that others will do so in the future.

August 30, 2011|By Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen here in London in July. His organization says it has released nearly 134,000 additional secret U.S. State Department cables in the last week.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen here in London in July. His organization… (Andy Rain, EPA )

Reporting from Washington — The anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks in recent days has dramatically accelerated the pace at which it posts confidential State Department cables, exposing the names of people who spoke to American diplomats in confidence.

The development has alarmed U.S. officials and human rights groups, who say it will endanger foreign nationals who helped the United States and make it less likely that others will do so in the future.

"We are deeply concerned that WikiLeaks decided to make public the names of diplomatic sources who may face reprisals by oppressive governments," said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, an independent nonprofit organization.

The WikiLeaks website crashed Tuesday evening in what the group called a cyber-attack. Three hours later, it said on Twitter that the site was functioning again, adding, "Nice try."

WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, allegedly obtained the cables last year from U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of copying them from a secret military computer network while he was serving in Iraq. Manning is in a military prison awaiting trial on charges, including aiding the enemy, that could land him in prison for life. A grand jury in Alexandria, Va., has been investigating whether others should be held criminally liable.

In a statement on its website, WikiLeaks said it had published 133,877 cables in the preceding week. Previously, the organization had been releasing small numbers of documents at a time, working in cooperation with select news organizations.

The decision to speed up disclosures was made "in accordance with WikiLeaks' commitment to maximizing impact, and making information available to all," the statement said. "At the beginning of the month, the number of cables published had only reached the 20,000 mark — under 10% of the total."

The statement complained that news coverage of the cables had dropped off, even though some organizations have had the entire cache for about a year. The cables have not produced startling revelations, but have offered insight on U.S. perspectives on thorny issues, such as Pakistan's backing of militant groups and China's alleged support of cyber-attacks.

The statement did not address the issue of confidential sources. Previously, cables released by WikiLeaks had the names of such sources redacted, but analysts who have examined the cables released in recent days say that does not seem to be occurring.

For example, a December 2002 cable makes reference to a Coca-Cola executive in Nepal who told American diplomats about extortion by Maoist rebels. The cable says "source protect" next to the executive's name, but the name is now on the Web for all to see.

"Once they switched from releasing a handful or a few dozen cables per day to tens of thousands of cables per day, their previous redaction policy seems to have been abandoned," said Steven Aftergood, who blogs about intelligence and secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, a watchdog group.

The disclosure of confidential sources undermines the effort to challenge excessive government secrecy, Aftergood said.

When it became clear last year that the cables had been leaked, the U.S. reached out to confidential sources whose names were in the documents, said P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman who played a role in the effort. In a small number of cases, Crowley said, people were relocated.

Crowley resigned this year after criticizing the jail conditions under which Manning was being held.

ken.dilanian@latimes.com

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