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5th Jul 2020

EU governments defend US on WikiLeaks scandal

EU capitals have sided with the US in condemning WikiLeaks' release of classified US cables in an event dubbed by one minister as "the 9/11 of world diplomacy" and by a leading British academic as "a banquet of secrets."

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, normally a champion of transparency whose administration has so far escaped the private tongue-lashings of US diplomats suffered by British, French, German and Italian politicians, told Swedish radio on Monday (29 November) that the disclosures will make the world "less safe."

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  • Barack Obama: Republican politicians are already scoring points on the scandal (Photo: White House)

"This will weaken diplomacy around the world. It will weaken diplomacy in general, but first and foremost American diplomacy. I see this rather as something that is making the world less safe," he said.

"There is a need for confidential communication between different governments ... If you undermine diplomacy in the way that is now being done, you are also undermining the possibility to hinder conflicts and promote stability."

Francois Baroin, a spokesman for the French government, told the Europe 1 radio station the same day that: "We have to be very attentive and united at a state level to fight against what is a threat to democratic authority and sovereignty ... The protection of states is something serious, it's about the protection of men, of women, of citizens."

A spokesman for Downing Street said: "The leaks and their publication are damaging to national security in the United States and in Britain, and elsewhere. It's important that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information."

German officials downplayed the potential impact on bilateral relations despite US' diplomats poking fun at Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister. But Ruprecht Polenz, a senior MP from Ms Merkel's CDU party, told German news agency DPA that "considerable damage" has been done to trust on information security and that Washington will have to reassure EU governments that gaps have been plugged: "Otherwise, partners might not continue being open with them."

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, depicted by the US as a geriatric playboy, "had a good laugh" at the news, Italian agency Ansa reported. His foreign minister, Franco Frattini, echoed Mr Bildt's fears however, dubbing the disclosures "the 9/11 of world diplomacy."

Outside Europe, Russia and Turkey have declined to comment on the leaks pending further disclosures.

Iran, one of the main subjects of the revelations and their potentially most inflammatory content - that Saudi Arabia asked the US to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities - has described the developments as a form of "psychological warfare." Israel, a staunch US ally, was among the only countries to welcome the leak due to its confirmation of Israeli security warnings against Tehran.

The academic and pro-free-speech community has also given a guarded thumbs up to the efforts of the WikiLeaks team.

"It is the historian's dream. It is the diplomat's nightmare," British academic Timothy Garton-Ash wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian, one of the newspapers working closely with WikiLeaks to give the data dump - set to amount to over 250 million words in total - maximum political impact.

Mr Garton-Ash noted that the revelations have only mid-level security clearance and do not include so-called Nodis, Roger, Exdis or Docklamp-level military secrets.

"My personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. In recent years, I have found the American foreign service to be somewhat underwhelming, reach-me-down, dandruffy, especially when compared with other, more confident arms of US government, such as the Pentagon and the treasury. But what we find here is often first rate," he added, singling out an account of an opulent wedding in Dagestan, Russia, as "worthy of Evelyn Waugh."

For his part, President Barack Obama has reportedly ordered a review of information security in the US administration. But the episode is likely to damage his reputation further in the wake of already-painful recent mid-term election results.

"Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book 'America by Heart' from being leaked, but US Govt can't stop WikiLeaks' treasonous act?" Republican politician Sarah Palin tweeted on Monday.

The leak is believed to have originated with Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst stationed in Baghdad who brought CD-Roms to his office labelled as being music albums by pop singer Lady Gaga, swiped material off US computers, and uploaded them onto WikiLeaks' site. Mr Manning is currently being held by the US authorities.

The website published just 220 classified cables on Sunday night (28 November) out of a cache of over 250,000 that it intends to release in the coming days and weeks. Another 23 were added by Monday afternoon.

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