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lunes, 29 de noviembre de 2010

Newspapers Reveal Diplomatic Cables, While WikiLeaks Buckles Under Cyber Attack

The first news reports from WikiLeaks’ long-expected disclosure of a quarter-million State Department diplomatic cables appeared on major newspaper websites on Sunday, though WikiLeaks’ own website was unavailable, purportedly due to a traffic-flooding cyberattack.

WikiLeaks’ media partners report that the secret-spilling organization gave them 251,287 diplomatic cables from America’s 270 embassies and consulates around the world, and another 8,000 diplomatic “directives” from Washington. About the half the documents are unclassified; the remainder are mostly at the relatively-low classification level “Confidential.” About 11,000 are classified “Secret.”

WikiLeaks is calling their latest blockbuster “Cablegate.” So far the news from the organization’s media partners suggests the leak is unlikely to topple the presidency, but there are some brewing scandals.

Most prominently, a series of secret directives from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, instruct U.S. diplomats to gather intelligence on their foreign counterparts at the United Nations, including, according to one cable, “internet and intranet ‘handles’, internet email addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.” A directive sent to U.S. embassies in Africa instructs foreign service officers to collect DNA from local government officials, without specifying a method.

Another cable appears to confirm that the Chinese hacker attacks against the Dalai Lama, Google and a host of U.S. companies detected that surfaced over the last two years was the work of the Chinese government. A Chinese source for the American embassy revealed that China’s Politburo directed the intrusions as part of a cyber-intelligence gathering program erected in 2002.

The White House condemned the latest WikiLeak on Sunday in an e-mailed statement to reporters. “[S]uch disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,” wrote White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies.”

The New York Times reports that WikiLeaks plans to release the cables on its website in stages, covering select regions of the globe in each release. On Sunday, WikiLeaks’ name server was resolving the sub-domain, but that address, and the main WikiLeaks site, were unreachable. The organization wrote on Twitter: “We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack.

The news outlets that enjoyed embargoed access to the documents include New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and the Guardian. Curiously, the Times reported that it obtained the cables from an “anonymous source,” and not WikiLeaks directly. The paper was among the outlets given embargoed access to earlier WikiLeaks disclosures, but fell out of favor with the organization when it profiled its leader, Julian Assange.

Previous releases of classified material from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also followed by standing-room-only press conferences in London. But it’s unclear if Assange will make a public appearance this time around. Last week a Swedish appeals court upheld an international arrest warrant for the former hacker in a rape investigation in Stockholm.

That investigation stems from encounters Assange had with two women during his visit to Sweden last August. According to local news reports, the woman told investigators the sexual encounters began as consensual, but turned non-consensual when Assange refused to stop despite condom mishaps. Assange has denied any wrongdoing and hinted the case is part of a U.S.-led “smear campaign” targeting WikiLeaks.

The “Cablegate” release has been anticipated since the arrest last spring, first reported by Threat Level, of Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning. In online chats with the ex-hacker who ultimately turned him in, Manning, now 23, described providing WikiLeaks with a cache of 260,000 diplomatic cables, which he smuggled out of a secure facility on CD-RW labled “Lady Gaga.”

Manning said the cables documented years of secret foreign policy and “almost-criminal political back dealings.”

“Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,” Manning told former-hacker Adrian Lamo.

Manning was charged on July 5 with downloading more than 150,000 cables onto an unclassified computer, and leaking at least 50 of them to an unnamed third party. Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange has repeatedly denied receiving the cables, but the organization abandoned that position this week after the State Department confirmed it had begun warning foreign diplomats about the impending disclosure.

Manning described obtaining the cables by way of a U.S. information-sharing initiative called Net-Centric Diplomacy.

Established in the government’s post-September 11 drive to break down information barriers between agencies, Net-Centric Diplomacy makes a subset of State Department documents available on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, the Pentagon’s global, Secret-level wide area network. SIPRnet is accessible to cleared American military service members and civilian agencies around the world.

To put their cables on SIPRnet, foreign service officers add a special designator to the header: “SIPDIS,” for SIPRnet Distribution. Department rules preclude certain types of communications from being marked SIPDIS, such as sensitive cables between an ambassador and the U.S. Secretary of State or the White House. Cables containing personally identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, and cables describing department personnel issues would also be omitted.”

Manning’s chats showed that he expected the cable leak to have historic impact.

“Everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed,” he wrote. “It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”

17:00 EST The WikiLeaks “Cablegate” site is now reachable. It currently hosts 219 cables. WikiLeaks appears to be redacting the names of at least some U.S. sources.

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