American diplomats have warned India to prepare itself for potential embarrassment from the expected release by WikiLeaks of three million confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. The message was conveyed to the Indian embassy in Washington after a senior State Department official tried unsuccessfully to reach Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is travelling in Sri Lanka.
India is not the only country the U.S. has alerted. The documents, which will go live on the Internet beginning in the next 24 to 48 hours, consist of cables sent by American embassies around the world — especially in India, Israel, Russia, Turkey, Canada and Britain — to the State Department in Washington. Since such cables are meant to be confidential, it is a standard practice for the diplomats writing them to be candid and blunt in their assessments and sometimes even disrespectful to officials and leaders in their host countries. It is this aspect of the forthcoming leak which is particularly worrying U.S. diplomats. Some cables could also contain information about surreptitious activity by U.S. missions.
It is not clear what time period the cables cover but previous WikiLeaks disclosures tended to range over the past five or six years. This is a period when the U.S. and India were locked in detailed and sometimes testy negotiations over nuclear commerce and defence cooperation.
The documents, said to be over seven times more than the recently leaked U.S. secret war logs from Iraq, have been reportedly taken from the Secret Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) used to transmit classified information to the U.S. Defence and State Departments. WikiLeaks earlier received a video from SIPRNet that showed three deliberate attacks by a U.S. Army helicopter in Iraq killing two newspersons and children, besides several civilians.
According to The Independent, the U.S. ambassador in London had informed the British government of some of the contents of the documents that are likely to be released. Similar meetings were also reported from Turkey, Israel, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.
AFP adds from Washington:
U.S. diplomats skipped their Thanksgiving holiday weekend and headed to foreign ministries hoping to stave off anger over the cables, which are internal messages that often lack the niceties diplomats voice in public.
“WikiLeaks are an absolutely awful impediment to my business, which is to be able to have discussions in confidence with people. I do not understand the motivation for releasing these documents,” said James Jeffrey, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.