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Wikileaks Damage Limited To Foreign Relations

January 19, 2011

An internal U.S. government investigation has determined that the mass leak of documents to the Wikileaks website caused limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration’s public statements to the contrary.

A congressional official said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the Wikileaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said according to Reuters.

However, the official said State Department officials privately told Congress that they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable.

“We were told (the impact of Wikileaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials, told Reuters.

Wikileaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year as it released over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.

Major headlines were generated by some of the cables, which revealed that Saudi leaders had urged U.S. military action against Iran and detailed contracts between U.S. diplomats and political dissidents and opposition leaders in some countries.

“From our standpoint, there has been substantial damage,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told Reuters.

“We believe that hundreds of people have been put at potential risk because their names have been compromised in the release of these cables,” he said.

National security officials told Reuters that the reviews so far have shown “pockets” of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful.  However, they said that long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations is unlikely to be serious.

Some of the cases of more serious damage have occurred in countries where Wikileaks’ revelations have publicized closer ties with Washington than local officials publicly admit.

U.S. officials say the continued media attention on such revelations has made it difficult for Washington to repair relations with governments critical to its counter-terrorism operations.

Two U.S. intelligence officials said they were aware of specific cases where damage caused by Wikileaks’ revelations has been assessed as serious to grave.  However, they said that they could not discuss the subject matter because it remained highly classified.

Crowley told Reuters that the State Department had helped move a small number of people compromised by the leaks to safer locations.

The State Department, Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community are performing damage assessments.  The assessments cover the leaking of tens of thousands of military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Special investigative teams are also looking through unpublished material that U.S. investigators believe is also in the hands of Wikileaks.

Officials said the website is sitting on documents that relate to the U.S. detention facility of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A spokeswoman for the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Reuters “The irresponsible and reckless behavior of Wikileaks has of course caused damage and will continue to be damaging in the months and years to come.”

Intelligence officials said that although Wikileaks has released a handful of inconsequential CIA analytical reports, the website has made public few if any real intelligence secrets.

The U.S. government is looking into whether it can bring charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

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