On Sunday, the online secret-sharing site WikiLeaks began the process of releasing approximately 250,000 previously classified U.S. Department of State documents pertaining to American diplomatic activity across the world. As with their last two document dumps, WikiLeaks shared the documents with a number of news organizations before they were widely released. Here’s a basic rundown of the initial coverage from those outlets and others.
The New York Times
The New York Times might have been left out of the WikiLoop this time around had The Guardian’s investigations executive editor David Leigh not handed them copies of the 250,000 cables dumped by WikiLeaks yesterday. In an editorial, the sole American paper to have early access wrote that it decided to report on the cache and publish select cables because “the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.” If that sounds a little tepid next to some of the editorial explanations and exhortations coming from their European counterparts, you may think similarly of some of the reporting.
As we have already noted, a leading Times piece splashed across today’s front page on the increased intelligence-gathering expectations being placed on diplomats and state department personnel glosses over a key—and pretty damning—point the Europeans have made much more of: the state department’s order to effectively spy on UN officials as high up as Ban Ki-moon. The Times’s lead piece, “Leaked Cables Offer Raw Look at U.S. Diplomacy,” leans a little heavily on gossipy inter-embassy burns—“When the head is rotten it affects the whole body” is one leveled at Pakistani president Zardari—and an extraneous-feeling description of a lavish wedding in the Caucasus. And those who feel the paper has oversold the dangers of Iran in previous dumps will find much to rile them here. However, the paper does lay out in more detail than most a formidable catalogue of revelations found within the logs, from the tight relationship between Putin and Berlusconi to American diplomatic efforts to secure resettlement for Guantanamo detainees.
What the Times does best is string together numerous cables to create strong, overarching, multi-year narratives of clandestine meetings and diplomatic assessments around big issues—on day one of the reporting on the leaks, these focused on the path to and concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and North Korea’s material support for them. This passage from “Around the World, Distress Over Iran,” is typical of the kinds of narratives, laden with previously unreported detail, the Times pieces together.
Regional distrust had only deepened with the election that year of a hard-line Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During a meeting on Dec. 27, 2005, with the commander of the United States Central Command, Gen. John P. Abizaid, military leaders from the United Arab Emirates “all agreed with Abizaid that Iran’s new President Ahmadinejad seemed unbalanced, crazy even,” one cable reports. A few months later, the Emirates’ defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, told General Abizaid that the United States needed to take action against Iran “this year or next.”
The question was what kind of action.
Previously, the crown prince had relayed the Emirates’ fear that “it was only a matter of time before Israel or the U.S. would strike Iranian nuclear facility targets.” That could provoke an outcome that the Emirates’ leadership considered “catastrophic”: Iranian missile strikes on American military installations in nearby countries like the Emirates.
Now, with Iran boasting in the spring of 2006 that it had successfully accomplished low-level uranium enrichment, the crown prince began to argue less equivocally, cables show. He stressed “that he wasn’t suggesting that the first option was ‘bombing’ Iran,” but also warned, “They have to be dealt with before they do something tragic.”
The paper publishes eighteen redacted cables online, organized in topics that correspond to its big stories published today: “Candid and Frank Assessments,” Iran’s Nuclear Ambition,” and “Diplomats Helping American Spies.” - Joel Meares
The Guardian’s online coverage of “The U.S. Embassy Cables” leaked by WikiLeaks is very thorough and, as my colleague Joel Meares has already pointed out, a bit harsher towards the U.S. in its framing of the documents than other outlets.
The coverage includes a gossipy feature on Prince Andrew’s reported “rudeness” and a lengthy, more serious piece about how damaging all this is to America’s reputation abroad and how futilely Clinton and other officials are scrambling to repair it. Separate sections within the overall coverage include “The spying game” and “Iran,” so we can expect more pieces on those topics as the cables trickle out this week. Also worth checking out: a mini video documentary about the overall significance of this leak, and an interactive map that helps readers explore the cables by country.