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WikiLeaks’s latest disclosures have the US administration in damage control mode

By Syed Nazakat in Delhi

It is the 9/11 of the diplomacy world. The leak of 2,51,000 American diplomatic cables by the whistle-blower web site WikiLeaks has not only embarrassed the US but also shaken the trust of its allies.

The cables, sent by the US diplomats stationed across the world to the State Department in Washington, contain explosive and sensitive information. That those compiling these reports believed that the transcripts would never be made public, explains why they also engaged in gossip. A cable from the Moscow embassy says that Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s wife has undergone so many plastic surgeries that she can barely move her face, and, from a distance, one would mistake her for one of her daughters.

The cables from Pakistan reveal how the ISI and the military are heavily involved in nuclear power politics, and warn of Pakistan’s weapons programme leading to fissile material falling into terrorist hands. A cable from Riyadh has Saudi Arabia urging the US to attack Iran.

Former Intelligence Bureau joint director M.K. Dhar told THE WEEK that leak of sensitive diplomatic material was something that had always happened in one country or other. “But the scale of the revelations is quite shocking,” he said.

Of 2,51,287 cables leaked, 3,038 are from the US embassy in New Delhi. The leaked cables were from December 28, 1966 to February 28, 2010. One sent on February 16 this year reveals that the US conducted its own secret analysis of India’s military contingency plans, codenamed Cold Start. The plan was for mounting a rapid invasion of Pakistan, if sufficiently provoked. “The Indian Army’s ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ is a mixture of myth and reality,” reads the cable, signed by US Ambassador Timothy Roemer.

The most explosive information concerning India is Secretary State Hillary Clinton’s description of India as a self-appointed front-runner for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Clinton had also directed envoys to spy on India’s and other countries’ representatives at the United Nations. According to the National HUMINT Collection Directive signed by Hillary Clinton on July 31 last year, the US diplomats were told to collect information about e-mail accounts, credit cards and passwords of diplomats. The instructions were sent to 30 US embassies, including the one in India.

The Indian government, however, has been nonchalant about the disclosures. According to sources, a day after the leaks, Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar briefed Manmohan Singh on what has been said on India in the leaked documents. It is learnt that he was assisted by the foreign and home secretaries as well as the chiefs of the intelligence agencies.

The government has maintained that it would not comment on the cables as they are privileged correspondence. But there are worries within the government about the leaked information and its impact on national security. According to a senior defence officer, the worrying factor is that India does share sensitive information with the US on terrorism. “I wonder if classified information that will hurt our interest gets disclosed,” he said. “The references to India may just be the tip of the iceberg.”

That the US frantically called New Delhi to warn of the leaks suggests that there might be some India-related explosive leak in the huge mass of classified cables. At present, Germany’s Der Spiegel, The New York Times and The Guardian have direct access to WikiLeaks cables. Susanne Koelbl of Der Spiegel told THE WEEK over telephone that it would take more than a month to reveal  all the content of the leaked cables.

As with the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, previously obtained by WikiLeaks, these diplomatic cables were also sent via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) of the US. WikiLeaks had announced the leak days before it actually did, but the US administration was unable to stop it. On November 30, Interpol issued a ‘red notice’ for WikiLeaks’ founder editor Julian Assange, whose location still remains unknown. Sent to 188 countries, the notice states that Assange is wanted in Sweden on suspicion of two counts of rape.

Post the devastating leak, the US is now busy doing damage-control. In a written statement, Roemer said that the US welcomed a greater role of global leadership for India. Roemer also met opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and asked her to feel free to call him on matters concerning the leaked documents. One thing quite clear is that the WikiLeaks disclosure will have a deep impact on US diplomatic correspondence with the rest of the world.

 (THE WEEK, Dec 2, 2010)

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