A senior State Department official testified that the release of over 250,000 diplomatic cables by army intelligence officer Bradley Manning to Wikileaks had, and continues to have, a “chilling effect” on U.S. foreign policy and that that was “a risk to national security”.
The latest accounts by prosecution witnesses at the sentencing hearing for Mr. Manning at Fort Meade military base in Maryland this week came after a months-long court martial that saw the whistleblower convicted on 17 of 22 charges and facing a potential sentence of 136 years in prison.
While numerous witnesses will continue to appear at the sentencing hearing over the coming weeks and both parties to the case will wrangle over Pfc. Manning’s final sentence, presiding judge Denise Lind appeared to provide some solace to Mr. Manning’s supporters on Tuesday when she agreed to merge some of the prosecution’s charges, effectively bringing down the maximum sentence from 136 to 90 years.
On Monday, U.S. Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy corroborated the account of prosecutors when he argued that the revelations disrupted U.S. military and diplomatic relations with foreign governments and endangered the lives of informants.
However, in earlier remarks to U.S. Congress, Mr. Kennedy was said to have “agreed with comments from Defence Secretary Robert Gates, State Secretary Hillary Clinton, and State Department official Alex Ross downplaying the harm caused”.
Two months prior to that hearing, Reuters reported that an anonymous government official, thought to be Mr. Kennedy, said that internal U.S. government reviews determined that the leak of the diplomatic cables “caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad”, and the State Department expected “overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable”.
In December 2010, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Diplomatic cables are not policy. They are meant to inform. They are not always accurate. They are passing on information for whatever it’s worth.” Ms. Clinton also added that most leaders understood that, and she had “found no hesitancy”.
Similarly in November 2010, erstwhile Defence Secretary Robert Gates noted, that descriptions of the cables’ release as a “meltdown” and a “game-changer” were “fairly significantly overwrought”, and because the U.S. was “essentially... the indispensable nation”, the episode’s consequences for foreign policy would be “fairly modest”.