, WASHINGTON, Dec 6 – WikiLeaks has divulged a secret list of key infrastructure sites around the world that the United States believes could pose a critical danger to its security if they come under terrorist attack.
The newly released diplomatic cable threatens to be the most explosive yet out of many divulged by the whistle-blowing website that have heaped embarrassment on Washington and caused anger around the world.
Among other revelations, the latest WikiLeaks document dump showed Australia\’s then leader Kevin Rudd warning US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that force might be needed against China "if everything goes wrong."
A February 2009 cable from the State Department asked overseas US missions to list infrastructure and key resources around the globe "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security and/or national and homeland security of the United States".
It lists undersea cables, key communications, ports, mineral resources and firms of strategic importance in countries ranging from Austria to New Zealand. One item mentions smallpox vaccines in Denmark.
According to the diplomatic cable, the request was aimed at updating a list of "critical infrastructure and key resources located abroad," notably so as "to prevent, deter, neutralize or mitigate the effects of deliberate efforts by terrorists to destroy, incapacitate or exploit them."
Malcolm Rifkind, a former British defence and foreign secretary, said in The Times of London that WikiLeaks had made no credible effort to establish whether the list could assist extremists.
"This is further evidence that they have been generally irresponsible, bordering on criminal. This is the kind of information terrorists are interested in knowing," he was quoted as saying.
The release will add to the political storm engulfing WikiLeaks and its 39-year-old founder Julian Assange, who broke cover on Friday to say in an online chat that he had boosted security after receiving death threats.
The website is already battling to secure its avenues for financial donations online, and has been hop-scotching across servers and legal jurisdictions to evade a total shutdown.
Assange\’s British lawyer, Mark Stephens, expressed concern on Sunday that a legal pursuit of Assange in Sweden had "political motivations".
Stephens, in comments to the BBC, also warned that WikiLeaks had secret material in reserve, which he likened to a "thermo-nuclear device", to be released if it needed to protect itself.
Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who is investigating allegations of rape and sexual assault against Assange, defended her prosecution in comments to AFP.
"This investigation has proceeded perfectly normally without any political pressure of any kind," said Ny, who successfully applied for an Interpol demand for police forces around the world to track Assange down.
WikiLeaks has been in the eye of a media and diplomatic storm since it started leaking US diplomatic cables from a collection of some 250,000 it had obtained, embarrassing and infuriating Washington.
Leading US lawmakers are calling for Assange\’s arrest or even execution. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell slammed him Sunday as a "high-tech terrorist."
Among the latest revelations:
– One document said Saudi Arabia was the key source of funding for radical Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hamas.
– Gulf states Qatar and Kuwait were said to be lax in pursuing locals who donated to the groups, according to the cable, an assessment from Clinton dated December 30, 2009.
– Qatar is using the Arabic TV news channel Al-Jazeera as a bargaining chip in negotiations with other countries, despite the broadcaster\’s insistence that it is editorially independent.
– Clinton views Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a "behind-the-scenes puppeteer" who chafes at his role working alongside President Dmitry Medvedev.
Potentially the most embarrassing for the United States and Australia were the details of a conversation between Rudd, when he was Australia\’s prime minister, and Clinton over a Washington lunch in March 2009.
The cable said Rudd – a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat who was once posted to Beijing, and is now Australia\’s foreign minister – argued for "multilateral engagement with bilateral vigour" in China.
He called for "integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong," the cable stated.
Commenting Monday, Rudd said Australia had a robust relationship with China and that he had no intention of contacting Beijing over the cable.
"The business of diplomacy is not to just roll over and have your tummy tickled from time to time by the Chinese or anyone else," he said.