US limits cable access after leak humiliation

30th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United States on Tuesday cut off the military's access to some sensitive diplomatic messages after a massive leak embarrassed and outraged governments around the world.

China demanded action and Russia's spy agency indicated it was eager to hunt for secrets after the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks obtained thousands of classified US cables -- apparently from a disgruntled US soldier.

The State Department said it had temporarily suspended the Pentagon's access to some of its correspondence, halting a trend to greater information sharing within the US government launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We have temporarily severed the connection between this database and one classified network," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

WikiLeaks and US authorities have not explained how the extraordinary security breach transpired. But suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old ex-Army intelligence analyst.

The Pentagon has faced questions on how it entrusted so much sensitive data to the low-ranking soldier, who was arrested in May after WikiLeaks released a video showing a 2007 US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed civilian reporters.

Allegations from the 250,000 cables include that Iran's supreme leader has cancer and will die "within months" and that Saudi King Abdullah urged the US to attack Iran and "cut off the head of the snake" over its nuclear program.

Other revelations include that China was frustrated with longtime ally North Korea and may accept its collapse and absorption by the US-backed South.

China warned against "any disturbance to China-US relations."

"We hope the US side will properly handle relevant issues," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the documents, which were released amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The head of Russia's foreign intelligence, Mikhail Fradkov, said that WikiLeaks "released a treasure trove of analytical material" and made clear that his service will make use of the "particularly exceptional event."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to play down the leak, telling reporters that some some reactions have been "significantly overwrought."

"Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for US foreign policy, I think fairly modest," said Gates, a former CIA director and intelligence analyst.

But Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who is popular with many US conservatives, denounced what she called the Obama administration's "incompetence."

"Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle WikiLeaks?" she wrote on Facebook, asking if the United States had asked NATO and the European Union to disrupt the website.

Palin also called for the United States to treat WikiLeaks like a terrorist organization by freezing the assets of people working for it.

WikiLeaks is run by Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian computer hacker who is said to lead a spy-like life of rarely sleeping in the same place twice. Assange is under an international arrest warrant for questioning about rape allegations in Sweden.

In a Twitter message, WikiLeaks said its site was disrupted by a new coordinated cyber attack similar to an incident at the weekend when it started to release the cables. However, the site was still accessible Tuesday.

Assange has also faced criticism within the ragtag WikiLeaks ranks for what some associates call a top-down style.

In Iceland, former WikiLeaks member Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old student, said that he and others planned to create an alternative whistle-blower site.

"We broke from WikiLeaks because a few ex-WikiLeaks members had been very unhappy with the way Assange was conducting things," Snorrason told AFP in Reykjavik.

Nonetheless, Snorrason insisted the project was "not a personal attack." He said the new project will be a "a safe haven where people can share information anonymously," unlike WikiLeaks which dumps documents onto its site.

Some of the most damaging disclosures may be still to come. WikiLeaks said it obtained 3,456 cables from the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto embassy in Taipei since the United States switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.

WikiLeaks, however, won praise from Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, even though he was described as "crazy" by a French diplomat in a cable. Ecuador even offered Assange sanctuary.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu poked fun at a leaked memo's description of him as "exceptionally dangerous," saying that he sees only a smiling face in the mirror.

© 2010 AFP

0 Comments To This Article