, WASHINGTON, Nov 29 – Whistleblower website WikiLeaks unleashed a flood of US cables detailing shocking diplomatic episodes, from a nuclear standoff with Pakistan to Arab leaders urging a strike on Iran.
The leaked memos describe a Chinese government bid to hack into Google, plans to reunite the Korean peninsula after the North\’s eventual collapse, and quote Saudi Arabia\’s king as saying the United States should bomb Iran to halt its nuclear drive, telling it to "cut off the head of the snake."
The confidential cables, most of which date from 2007 to last February, also reveal how the State Department has ordered diplomats to spy on foreign officials and even to obtain their credit card and frequent flier numbers.
The memos recount closed-door remarks that could stoke scandal, including Yemen\’s president telling a top US general: "We\’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours" when discussing secretive US strikes on Al-Qaeda.
A description of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi showed him requiring the near-constant assistance of a "voluptuous blond" Ukrainian nurse.
The New York Times, Britain\’s The Guardian, Germany\’s Der Spiegel, France\’s Le Monde and Spain\’s El Pais published the first batch of the documents on Sunday, saying more would follow in the coming days.
WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange described the release as a "diplomatic history of the United States" that would cover "every major issue."
Despite coming under a cyber attack that took down its main website earlier in the day, WikiLeaks started publishing the 251,287 cables – 15,652 of which are classified "secret" – from 274 US embassies around the world on a sub-website http://cablegate.wikileaks.org.
In an introduction, it painted the United States as a hypocritical superpower and attacked "the contradictions between the US\’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors.
"The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in \’client states\’; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them."
The White House hit back, saying the release was a "reckless and dangerous action" that put lives in danger.
"To be clear – such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
The Pentagon, which was infuriated by the website\’s publication of secret Afghanistan and Iraq war logs earlier this year, also condemned the latest, more far-reaching release and unveiled new steps to prevent future leaks.
US officials had raced to contain the fallout by warning more than a dozen governments of the impending leaks, but Washington said it refused to negotiate with WikiLeaks, calling its possession of the cables illegal.
Assange has denied the planned release placed individuals at risk.
"As far as we are aware, and as far as anyone has ever alleged in any credible manner whatsoever, no single individual has ever come to harm as a result of anything that we have ever published," he said Sunday. Focus: Leaked cables show undiplomatic US take on leaders
The New York Times explained its decision to publish the cables by saying they "serve an important public interest."
The newspaper said it had "taken care to exclude… information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security."
It said it had notified White House officials of the cables and asked if other information should be redacted, adding that it "agreed to some, but not all" of their suggestions.
The Guardian said all five papers had decided "neither to \’dump\’ the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals."
None of the countries at the heart of the most explosive revelations had responded publicly to the leaks by late Sunday, but a Saudi government advisor told AFP: "The whole thing is very negative."
"It\’s not good for confidence-building," he said on condition of anonymity.
US officials have not confirmed the source of the leaks, but suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a former army intelligence agent arrested after the release of a video showing air strikes that killed reporters in Iraq.
WikiLeaks argues that the first two document dumps – nearly 500,000 US military incident reports from 2004 to 2009 – shed light on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sweden recently issued an international warrant for Assange\’s arrest, saying he is wanted for questioning over allegations of rape and sexual molestation.
At least one senior US Republican congressman has called for Assange to be prosecuted and for WikiLeaks to be declared a "terrorist organisation."