Obama State Dep’t Said Assange’s Leak of US Cables Harmed Diplomacy, Endangered Individuals

By Patrick Goodenough | April 12, 2019 | 4:46 AM EDT

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington in June 2011. Merkel had been described in a U.S. cable leaked by WikiLeaks months earlier as 'risk averse and rarely creative.' (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Although the Obama administration did not pursue the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – arrested in London on Thursday –the Obama State Department warned of the harm done when Assange’s organization published some 251,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.

“In addition to damaging our diplomatic efforts, it puts individuals’ security at risk, threatens our national security, and undermines our effort to work with countries to solve shared problems,” then-department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in one typical comment in mid-2011.

“We remain concerned about these illegal disclosures and about concerns and risks to individuals,” she said. “We continue to carefully monitor what becomes public and to take steps to mitigate the damage to national security, and to assist those who may be harmed by these illegal disclosures, to the extent that we can.”

Assange is under arrest in Britain pending a U.S. extradition application. He faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, relating to an alleged attempt to crack a password blocking entry to a classified computer at the Pentagon.

The indictment unsealed Thursday noted that WikiLeaks had publicly released hundreds of thousands of stolen classified documents in 2010-2011, including quarter of a million State Department diplomatic cables.

When WikiLeaks published – unredacted – that trove of diplomatic cables, former media partners which had worked with it earlier to publish selected and redacted documents slammed Assange for the move, which they agreed potentially exposed many individuals around the world to the risk of imprisonment or worse.

Beyond the risks to individuals, diplomatic fallout for the State Department was extensive. That year, for example, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned and the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador was declared persona non grata – both cases linked to leaked documents relating respectively to Mexico’s war on drugs and alleged police corruption in Ecuador.

Leaked cables revealed U.S. diplomats’ sometimes blunt assessments of world leaders on whose cooperation Washington depended. Among many others, then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai was described as “driven by paranoia,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “risk averse and rarely creative,” and then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as “feckless, vain and ineffective” with a “penchant for partying hard.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the leaks an “attack,” both on U.S. foreign policy interests and “on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”

On Thursday, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino was asked whether the department still believed that the leaks of the diplomatic cables caused serious damage to U.S. diplomacy and national security.

“All previous assessments of the actions that took place still stand,” he said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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