In the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the government read into the record stipulated testimony from State Department officials that revealed what United States embassy cables Manning is charged with disclosing without authorization to WikiLeaks.
One hundred and seventeen diplomatic cables have been charged. Ninety-six of them were classified “confidential.” Twenty-one were classified “secret.”
Two uncharged diplomatic cables were reviewed by retired Ambassador Stephen Seche, who happens to also be an original classification authority who can review classified information. He reviewed this diplomatic cable sent by the State Department on February 18, 2009, on a National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).
The other cable is from Doha, Qatar. It was sent on March 26, 2009, and involves US investments in Qatar’s energy industry.
After glancing over the cables, it does not appear any of the cables the military charged are cables that received widespread attention in the media because they were covered by The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel or other media organizations which covered the cables.
Peter Van Buren, a former Foreign Service Officer for the State Department who helped lead two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in rural Iraq from 2009-2010, told Firedoglake that none of the cables from the US Embassy in Baghdad that Manning is charged with disclosing to WikiLeaks jump out at him as “anything special or concrete.” He suggested that many of them were reports done by State Department employees as if they were journalists.
The fact that none of the cables appear to be any that received widespread attention in the media when WikiLeaks published them is, to Van Buren, a possible symptom of the State Department’s “schizophrenia about WikiLeaks.” They have wanted to claim the release of cables was an “incredible crime against the US government” while at the same time wanting to “reassure” leaders of countries around the world that the “really important stuff was protected” and not compromised.
The cable on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might be “significant” if they were truly reporting a “breakthrough,” however, none of the cables the military charged seemed particularly significant.
Asked what might have been happening in January 2007 that would lead the military charged him with the unauthorized disclosure of multiple cables from that month, he noted that 2006 had been the year of “the surge.” That made 2007 an important year for the State Department because the agency, according to Van Buren, wanted to “prove it was a player in Iraq.” It wanted to carve out a niche and show it could play a key role in bringing about political progress.
One of the cables charged features a meeting between Abdulaziz al-Hakim, Chairman of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi (also from SCIRI). National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador to Iraq, was present as well. It focuses on how “the Sunnis” had been “the weak link in Iraq’s national unity government.”
Van Buren said that if a “principal” like Hadley was at a meeting the goal in the State Department had typically been to “report what happened” and document the visit. Often the “principal” would have to agree to the content that would ultimately be included in the cable.
There does seem to be a level of arbitrariness. If one looks at the list, there are dates that jump out—September 4, 2009, July 13, 2007, and January 4, 2007—because multiple cables around each of these dates were charged. It is almost as if someone in the State Department threw a pin at a calendar and said, “Pull a bunch from this date.”
On February 28, when Manning pled guilty to some offenses, he confessed to disclosing over 250,000 cables to WikiLeaks. He described how his “insatiable curiosity and interest in geopolitics” had led him to become “fascinated with them.”
“The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations,” he stated in court. “I also began to think that the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity that didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”
He admitted that of the documents he decided to release the cables were the only ones he was “not absolutely certain couldn’t harm the United States.” But, as with all documents, he conducted research on the cables and how they worked in general. He did open source research and found one of the documents published on the State Department’s official website.
“The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that– that this type of information should become public. I once read a and used a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other,” Manning declared.
He continued, “I thought these cables were a prime example of a need for a more open diplomacy. Given all of the Department of State cables information that I read, the fact that most of the cables were unclassified, and that all the cables have a SIPDIS caption, I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States; however, I did believe that the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations and organizations.”