More than 250,000 U.S. Embassy cables have been released in unredacted format by WikiLeaks, drawing widespread criticism from both government officials and former allies in the media.
The document dump includes more than a thousand cables identifying specific individuals. Several thousand of those names include a notation used by the State Department that indicates they are sources who might face danger if their collaboration were revealed. More than 150 of the names were protected as whistleblowers.
The cables also name victims of both government persecution and sex crimes. Additionally, locations and details of sensitive government installations and infrastructure are searchable in the database.
The five media outlets that had previously partnered with the organization — The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Der Spiegel and Le Monde — issued a joint statement denouncing the move.
“We deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted State Department cables, which may put sources at risk,” the organizations said. “Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis that we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process. We will continue to defend our previous collaborative publishing endeavor. We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data — indeed, we are united in condemning it.”
WikiLeaks apparently decided to move forward with the dump after the files were accidentally released online earlier this year. The site provided access to the unredacted files to British paper The Guardian when the organizations were collaborating in late 2010. But The Guardian believed that the password Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had provided them was temporary, and Guardian journalist David Leigh published that password in a book about the collaboration released earlier this year.
In fact, Assange had given the paper the organization’s master password, and copies of the unredacted files with the same password had been posted to file-sharing networks earlier this year, in apparent retaliation for Assange’s arrest for sexual assault in Britian. He remains free on bail as British courts weigh his extradition to Sweden, where the crime allegedly occurred. This enabled some to crack the files and view the unredacted version, although they were not available to those without more sophisticated computer knowledge until WikiLeaks’s dump Friday.
The Guardian blamed WikiLeaks for ever making even password-protected versions of the unredacted documents available, and reusing an old password. WikiLeaks shot back Friday morning on Twitter, saying, “The Guardian continues to issue false statements. The nepotism in the Guardian has clearly compromised its accountability.”
According to The New York Times, the State Department has been reviewing the cables and quietly warning those who might fear reprisal if identified. Officials are particularly worried about activists, journalists and academics who could suffer now that their interaction with American diplomats has become public.