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Nearly 250,000 classified United States documents procured by WikiLeaks give detail about a wide variety of secret diplomatic episodes and incidences of backroom bargaining, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The confidential cache of US cables released to the paper by the whistleblower website was described by the Times as the one that unlocks the secrets of American diplomacy. The newspaper made public the details contained in the documents on Sunday, some time after WikiLeaks said its website was under a cyber attack.
"A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats," The Times said in its lead story.
More eminent newspapers across the globe are expected to follow suit, even as WikiLeaks on its Twitter account said that it is "currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack". It added that even if its website goes down, a number of newspapers will go ahead and publish the documents.
These documents, according to NYT, reveal a dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel. Since 2007, the US has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, "if the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons, he argued".
Besides, they also provide an insight into a global computer hacking effort initiated by the Chinese government. China's politburo directed the intrusion into Google's computer systems, a Chinese contact told the American embassy in Beijing in January, according to one cable.
The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government.
They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, the cables said.
The White House immediately condemned the release strongly, saying it risked the lives of thousands of diplomats and officials and endangered its relationship with friends and allies.
The daily said the cables give a laundry list of instructions for how State Department employees can fulfill the demands of a 'National Humint Collection Directive' in specific countries. Humint is a spy-world jargon for human intelligence collection.
One cable asks officers overseas to gather information about "office and organisational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cellphones, pagers and faxes," as well as "internet and intranet 'handles', internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information".
Ahead of the release of the potentially embarrassing documents, which the US fears could harm its relations with several countries, the American administration had asked the website to refrain from making the classified documents public.
Top officials of the Obama administration called up several countries including India and warned them about the imminent release of such classified US documents.
The Pentagon condemned what it called a 'reckless' act, and said it has initiated measures to prevent such leaks in the future ahead of the imminent release. The State Department asked it to return the 'illegally obtained' papers, insisting that their leak would "endanger the lives of countless individuals."
The Twitter message by WikiLeaks earlier said that El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian and New York Times newspapers will publish many US embassy cables on Sunday night, even if WikiLeaks goes down.
The website has earlier released thousands of documents on the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In October, WikiLeaks released four lakh secret US files on Iraq war detailing abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US custody, rights violations and civilian deaths.
Earlier in July, the website had published tens of thousands of secret documents on the war in Afghanistan.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday said the soon-to-be released classified US documents will cover 'every major issue' in the world.
Late on Saturday, Washington rejected talks with WikiLeaks, saying the website was holding the cables in violation of US law. However, Assange has rejected the claim that the release would put to harm many lives.
The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked 'top secret', the government's most secure communications status.
But some 11,000 are classified 'secret', 9,000 are labeled 'noforn', shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn, the report said.
According to the daily, these cables describe the United States' failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel.
One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send new arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.
It also says American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan.
A senior American diplomat told a German official "that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the US".
The NYT reported that details contained in the released documents include plans to reunite the Korean peninsula after the North's eventual collapse and bargaining over the repatriation of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The cables also detail fresh suspicions about corruption in Afghanistan and Saudi donors financing Al Qaeda. Many more cables name diplomats' confidential sources, from foreign legislators and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning to Washington: 'Please protect' or 'Strictly protect'.
The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States' relations with the world.
They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, adding Australians who have disappeared in the Middle East to terrorist watch lists, and assessing whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore, was awaiting fares or conducting surveillance of the road to the US Consulate, the daily said.
"They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal," it said.