WikiLeaks: Saudi King Abdullah Encouraged U.S. to Attack Iran; Chinese Politburo Hacked Into Google

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The man behind all this, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, adjusts his sunglasses as he leaves a press conference in Geneva earlier this month.
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

WikiLeaks, Julian Assange's shadowy organization devoted to revealing secret documents, unleashed a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables today. The documents, as the Times puts it, "expose backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders, and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats." WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its website, in batches. The first information dump was released via Germany's Der Spiegel, America's New York Times, England's Guardian, France's Le Monde, and Spain's El Pais. So, what does it say? Oh my. Quite a bit:

The Political Bathroom Stall Wall:

The U.S. suspects that Iran may have obtained sophisticated missiles capable of hitting western Europe, from North Korea, and the U.S. is concerned Iran is using those rockets as "building blocks" to build longer-range missiles. [Reuters]

Libyan president Muammar al-Qadhafi keeps a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse named Galyna Kolotnytska on his arm at all times. Some embassy contacts say Qadhafi and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship, though that's unconfirmed. And, get this: Al-Qadhafi uses Botox. [NYT via Gawker, BoingBoing]

Al-Qadhafi is also afraid of flying and heights, according to a U.S. State Department cable from September 2009. In fact, "His fear of flying creates logistical headaches for his staff, who make great attempts to avoid long flights over water." He has "an intense dislike of staying above the first floor of hotels and cannot climb more than 35 steps." In the document, Gene A. Cretz, U.S. ambassador to Tripoli, concludes: "While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, Qadhafi is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for forty years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods." [WP]

The cache includes "claims of inappropriate behavior by a member of the British royal family." Gawker suspects Prince Harry. This could be anyone in that family, though. Kate Middleton, watch out. [Guardian UK]

U.S. and South Korean officials have discussed the prospect of a unified Korea should, you know, the North's economic troubles and political leaders cause the country to completely implode. [Reuters]

Russian president Dmitry "plays Robin to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Batman." Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi exchange "lavish gifts" and energy contracts through a "shadowy" middle man, and are total homies and never cross one another. [NYT, Guardian UK]

Afghan president Hamid Karzai is described in one cable from Kabul as "an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him." [WP]

Zimbabwean dictator/president Robert Mugabe is "an idiot" and "a crazy old man," according to a former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe in a cable. The ambassador cited Mugabe's "deep ignorance on economic issues ... coupled with the belief that his eighteen doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics, including supply and demand." Nice. [NYT via Gawker, WP]

Kim Jong-Il was described by a U.S. diplomat as a "flabby old chap." Ha. They're calling him fat! [Guardian UK, WP]

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah likes President Obama a lot. "Thank God for bringing Obama to the presidency," he is reported as saying, adding that Obama's election created "great hope" in the Muslim world. (Close your ears, tea party, before you twist this.) [CNN]

Afghanistan's Vice-President Ahmed Zia Massoud was discovered carrying $52 million in cash in the United Arab Emirates last year, and he was just allowed to keep the money. No questions were asked. [NYT via Gawker]

Despite covering for the U.S.'s military strikes on occasion, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was "dismissive, bored and impatient" during a recent meeting with Obama's deputy national security adviser, John Brennan. [Guardian UK]

The Secret Policies and Anxieties:

On November 16, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said providing equipment and training to Yemeni security forces offered "the best way to counter the threat posed by Al-Qaeda militants." [AP via Yahoo]

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah repeatedly exhorted the United States to "cut off the head of the snake" by launching military strikes to destroy Iran's nuclear program. A copy of a cable dated April 20, 2008 showed the Saudis feared Shi'ite Iran's rising influence in the region, particularly in neighboring Iraq. Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, however, pushed for tougher sanctions on Iran rather than military actions, including a travel ban and further restrictions on bank lending, although he did not rule out the need for military action. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suspected any military strike on Iran would only delay its pursuit of a nuclear weapon by one to three years. [Reuters]

Israel and the United States are in a "continuous dialogue" about the threat posed by Iran, with the Israeli defense minister and other Israeli officials describing 2010 as "a critical year" for Iran-Israel relations. A cable from June 2009 describes meetings between two congressional delegations and Israeli officials in which Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak "estimated a window between six and eighteen months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable." The Israeli cable added: "From [our] perspective, there is no reason to believe Iran will do anything but use negotiations to stall for time, so that by 2010-2011, Iran will have the technological capability to build a nuclear weapon — essentially reducing the question of weaponizing to a political decision." [CNN]

The same cable said: "Both sides then discussed the upcoming delivery of GBU-28 bunker busting bombs to Israel, noting that the transfer should be handled quietly to avoid any allegations that the U.S. government is helping Israel prepare for a strike against Iran." [CNN]

An earlier U.S.-Israeli meeting discussed non-military options for dealing with Iran, instead urging "more attention on regime change, asserting that more could be done to develop the identities of ethnic minorities in Iran ... and Iran could become a normal state." [CNN]

The U.S. reportedly spied on Ban Ki-moon and other U.N. leaders. [Guardian UK]

China's Politburo "directed [an] intrusion into Google's computer systems" as part of "a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives." They've also hacked into the Dalai Lama's computer. Seriously. [NYT via Gawker, Reuters]

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh admitted covering up U.S. military strikes on Al Qaeda in Yemen by claiming they were carried out by Yemeni forces. "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said in January talks with General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. (The Washington Post reported earlier this month that D.C. had deployed drones to hunt down jihadists.) [AP via Yahoo]

The U.S. has repeatedly tried, unsuccessfully, to have highly enriched uranium removed from a Pakistani research reactor, but a U.S. ambassador said, "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons." [CNN]

The Early Reactions:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to warn them. A statement from the White House today said: "We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information." [NYT]

Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 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." [CNN]

Representative Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, on Sunday called on the Obama administration to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, King said WikiLeaks has provided "material support to terrorist organizations" by releasing the documents. "There should be no misconception that Mr. Assange passively operates a forum for others to exploit their misappropriation of classified information," King wrote. "He pursues a malicious agenda, for which he remains totally immune to the consequences of his actions." [CNN]

The WikiLeaks site said it was already under fire Sunday afternoon, experiencing a distributed denial of service attack. But WikiLeaks posted the information on the new documents Sunday afternoon on a site with a different web address. The site indicated last week that a new batch was coming, telling followers on Twitter that the new release would be seven times the size of the Iraq documents. "Intense pressure over it for months," the group stated. "Keep us strong." [CNN]

Roger Cressey, a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said: "This is pretty devastating. It will constrain foreign leaders from being upfront and honest in their conversations with American diplomats and it will also make U.S. diplomats hesitant to put in diplomatic cables what they really think, for fear of it being leaked." [Reuters]

Scott Shane, one of the authors of the Times report, said the disclosures are most notable for their "behind-the-scenes stories — how we speak to other countries and how they speak to us." Shane said the Times does not believe its reporting will result in drastic consequences, and that the Times redacted some names and information in the cables after discussions with State Department. He added: "We did not think that there would be important intelligence operations compromised by the material we actually published." [CNN]