The White House condemned "in the strongest terms" Sunday the anticipated leak of 3 million classified documents, including hundreds of thousands of State Department cables that have sent the administration scrambling to stem the damage in advance.
But early leaks showed that there might be a lot to repair, from comments that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has "none of the bravado" of "Alpha Male" Vladimir Putin to noting that Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi has a "luxuriant blonde nurse."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is referred to as a "naked emperor," while Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said to be "driven by paranoia."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement Sunday afternoon that the contents of the diplomatic correspondence "can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world."
The White House warned that not only would diplomats and intelligence officials be put at risk, but individuals working for human rights in oppressive regimes.
"President Obama supports responsible, accountable and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal," the statement 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."
While the world was waiting for the documents to be leaked, pages of one of the newspapers granted early access to the documents, Der Spiegel, were leaked early.
That leak came minutes after WikiLeaks said it was under cyber-attack, but vowed its media partners would release the documents if they couldn't get the site up in time.
Spiegel wrote on its website that of the 251,287 leaked cables and State Department directives, "six percent of the reports, or 16,652 cables, are labelled as 'secret;' and of those, 4,330 are so explosive that they are labelled 'NOFORN,' meaning access should not be made available to non-US nationals."
"Taken together, the cables provide enough raw text to fill 66 years worth of weekly SPIEGEL magazines," the site said.
According to Spiegel, State Department staff have also been instructed to spy on United Nations staffers and get info such as credit-card and frequent-flyer numbers.
"In another [cable], US diplomats reveal that the attempt to persuade different countries to accept Guantanamo inmates turned into a downright bazaar, with offers of accepting prisoners being made in exchange for development aid or a visit by President Barack Obama," Der Spiegel writes.
On the sensitive topic of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is referred to as "Hitler" and Sheikh bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi is said to believe "a near term conventional war with Iran is clearly preferable to the long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran."
Some of the cables are apparently more gossipy than political, like quipping about the plastic surgeries of the wife of Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) blasted the document dump in a Sunday afternoon statement.
"The release of classified information under these circumstances is a
reckless action, which jeopardizes lives by exposing raw,
contemporaneous intelligence," Kerry said. "This is not an academic exercise about
freedom of information and it is not akin to the release of the
Pentagon Papers, which involved an analysis aimed at saving American
lives and exposing government deception.
"Instead, these sensitive
cables contain candid assessments and analysis of ongoing matters and
they should remain confidential to protect the ability of the
government to conduct lawful business with the private candor that's
vital to effective diplomacy."
The likely incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), said in a statement Sunday that those who leak and publish the classified information "are doing great harm to our nation."
“It is deeply disturbing that a few individuals seem to have deemed themselves worthy of deciding that scores of classified and sensitive material should be paraded about for our enemies to review and use against us," Ros-Lehtinen said. "These leaks come at the expense of U.S. security and, potentially, American lives.”
This post was updated at 6:45 p.m.