Foreign governments say WikiLeaks revelations undercut relations with U.S.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 12:55 AM
Diplomats and government officials around the world lamented Monday the massive leak of U.S. diplomatic cables, and many predicted it would undercut their ability to deal with the United States on sensitive issues.
The State Department cables, dumped into the public domain by the WikiLeaks organization, embarrassed the Obama administration in foreign capitals and raised the possibility that the United States will have a much tougher time collecting critical information, even from allies.
Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, said it is hardly news that countries spy on one another. "More harmful is the reality that U.S. cables can be publicized in this devastating manner," he said. "Diplomats may think twice before sharing confidences with U.S. diplomats - at least until WikiLeaks is forgotten."
That may not be anytime soon. This week's disclosures are just the latest wave of documents the organization has released this year, following earlier batches from the Iraq and Afghan wars. Collectively, the releases have forced foreign officials to wonder whether the United States can be trusted with secrets.
The revelations, and the manner in which they emerged, were all the more damaging because U.S. officials have taken the lead in emphasizing the need for cybersecurity. At the United States' urging, cybersecurity was singled out at a NATO summit in Lisbon last week as one of the top priorities to guarantee security of alliance members in the years ahead.
"The next time I hear an American speech about cybersecurity, I am going to make a lot of unpleasant noises," said Francois Heisbourg, a former French diplomat and defense official now at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
Adding to the sour mood internationally is the extent to which U.S. diplomats have been tasked with activities traditionally associated with intelligence-gathering, including collecting personal and financial information from their sources.
Under a broad 2009 State Department directive, American diplomats are instructed to gather detailed biographical information, including business cards; cellphone, pager and fax numbers; e-mail listings; Internet or Intranet handles; credit-card and frequent flier account numbers; and work schedules.
In a statement, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denied that American diplomats had been instructed to conduct espionage: "Our diplomats are just that, diplomats. They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society."
But around the world Monday, foreign leaders and analysts suggested that that job has become more difficult.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the WikiLeaks disclosures will make it harder for American diplomats to be honest in their assessments of political situations abroad and will inspire more caution among foreign leaders when they are dealing with U.S. officials.
"It's clear this will happen," he told the Association of Tel Aviv Journalists.