WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.
The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid, tart views of foreign leaders and sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.
Among the revelations in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents, King Abdullah is reported to have “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program.”
“Cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008.
The leaked documents, the majority of which are from the last three years, also disclose U.S. allegations that China’s Politburo directed an intrusion into Google’s computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.
The newspaper also said documents report that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and that the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the U.S. military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counter-terrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December.
The newspaper said many of the cables name diplomats’ confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: “Please protect” or “Strictly protect.”
The White House condemned the release of the documents, saying their release could endanger the lives of people who live under “oppressive regimes” and “deeply impact” the foreign policy interests of the United States and its allies.
“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 spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,” he said.
Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to U.S. officials.
“This is pretty devastating,” Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an e-mailed comment.
“It will constrain foreign leaders from being upfront and honest in their conversations with American diplomats and it will also make U.S. diplomats hesitant to put in diplomatic cables what they really think, for fear of it being leaked.”
The pending documents release had been widely reported for more than a week and expected on Sunday.
The U.S. government, which was informed in advance of the contents, has contacted governments around the world, including in Russia, Europe and the Middle East, to try to limit damage.
The White House warned readers that the field reporting in the documents is often incomplete and does not necessarily reflect, or even shape, policy decisions.
Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the dramatic revelation that Saudi King Abdullah counseled a U.S. strike on Iran may have been exaggerated for diplomatic effect.
“The concern of the Arab Gulf states on the Iran nuclear program has been very acute since 2002. They’ve had a very difficult time talking about their concerns.
“It’s very possible that the Gulf states have in private adopted very aggressive rhetoric just to stress the urgency of the issue,” Hokayem said. “But I personally doubt that there is an appetite for war as such.”
Among the disclosures reported by The New York Times were:
— suspicions Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as “building blocks” to build longer-range missiles;
— allegations that Chinese operatives have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002;
— talks between U.S. and South Korean officials about the prospects for a unified Korea should the North’s economic troubles and a political transition lead the state to implode;
— the South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to “help salve” Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a “benign alliance” with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul;
— reporting that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December;
— Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
WikiLeaks reported earlier its website was under attack, but said media outlets would publish some of the classified documents it had released even if the group’s website crashed. None of the documents were visible on its site late on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, William Maclean, Missy Ryan, Phil Stewart and John Whitesides; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Philip Barbara