This Article is From Aug 30, 2011

WikiLeaks names sources in cables, even those marked "Strictly Protect"

WikiLeaks names sources in cables, even those marked 'Strictly Protect'
Washington: In a shift of tactics that has alarmed American officials, the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks has published on the Web nearly 134,000 leaked diplomatic cables in recent days, more than six times the total disclosed publicly since the posting of the leaked State Department documents began last November.

A sampling of the documents showed that the newly published cables included the names of some people who had spoken confidentially to American diplomats and whose identities were marked in the cables with the warning "strictly protect."

State Department officials and human rights activists have been concerned that such diplomatic sources, including activists, journalists and academics in authoritarian countries, could face reprisals, including dismissal from their jobs, prosecution or violence.

Since late 2010, The New York Times and several other news organizations have had access to more than 250,000 State Department cables originally obtained by WikiLeaks, citing them in news articles and publishing a relatively small number of cables deemed newsworthy. But The Times and other publications that had access to the documents removed the names of people judged vulnerable to retaliation.

WikiLeaks published some cables on its own Web site, but until the latest release, the group had also provided versions of the cables that had been edited to protect low-level diplomatic sources.

Government officials and journalists were pouring over the newly released cables on Monday to assess whether people named in them might face repercussions. A quick sampling found at least one cable posted on Monday, from the American Embassy in Australia, had a name removed, but several others left in the identities of people whom diplomats had flagged for protection.

Among those named, despite diplomats' warnings, were a United Nations official in West Africa and a foreign human rights activist working in Cambodia. They had spoken candidly to American Embassy officials on the understanding that they would not be publicly identified.

The new disclosures are likely to reignite a debate over the virtues and perils of making public the confidential views of American diplomats, some of whom have complained that the leaks have made their work more difficult. The disclosures take place as a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., continues to hear evidence in a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks for disclosing classified information.

WikiLeaks said in a statement on Monday that the acceleration in disclosing the cables was "in accordance with WikiLeaks's commitment to maximizing impact and making information available to all." The statement suggested that it was intended to counter the "misperception" that the organization "has been less active in recent months."

The statement said that "crowdsourcing" the documents by posting them will allow people of different backgrounds and nationalities to interpret the cables. It was unsigned, but WikiLeaks's founder, Julian Assange, generally drafts or approves the group's statements.

Even as WikiLeaks made its new postings, a German publication reported that an encrypted file containing all of the 251,287 diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks last year had been posted months ago on the Web, and that the password was also available on the Internet. It was unclear on Monday whether anyone had cracked the encrypted file described by the publication, Der Freitag, a small Berlin-based, left-leaning weekly, and had made public previously unpublished material.

A State Department spokesman, Michael A. Hammer, said the department would not comment on the authenticity of the documents released. He said the United States "strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of classified information."

Last year, WikiLeaks was sharply criticized by human rights activists for disclosing the names of Afghan citizens who had provided information on the Taliban to the American military. It was far more cautious in subsequent releases, using software to strip proper names out of Iraq war documents and publishing versions of the cables after they had been edited by The New York Times and other publications.

The publication of cables began slowly last year, with only 2,500 made public by year's end, often with redactions. As of last week, the total had reached about 20,000.

But the State Department has always acted on the assumption that all quarter-million cables might become public. A department task force worked with American embassies to review all the leaked cables, quietly warning people named in the cables that they might be in jeopardy. Some especially vulnerable people were given help to move, usually outside their home countries.

Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said he had reviewed several dozen cables from the new batch - all among those classified "secret" by the State Department - and found only one redaction. He said the volume of the new release made it unlikely that all the information that might endanger diplomatic sources had been removed.

"If these cables have not been carefully reviewed, it's likely to be problematic for any number of people named in the cables," Mr. Aftergood said.