Investigations Executive Editor at The Guardian (UK).
"In the coming days, we are going to see some quite startling disclosures about Russia, the nature of the Russian state, and about bribery and corruption in other countries, particularly in Central Asia," says investigations executive editor David Leigh at The Guardian, one of the three newspapers given advanced access to the secret U.S. embassy cables by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. "We will see a wrath of disclosures about pretty terrible things going on around the world." Leigh reviews the major WikiLeaks revelations so far, explains how the 250,000 files were downloaded and given to the newspaper on a thumb drive, and confirms The Guardian gave the files to the New York Times. Additional cables will be disclosed throughout the week. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration is threatening to prosecute the online whistleblower WikiLeaks while scrambling to contain the global fallout from the group’s latest release of secret government documents. A trove of over 250,000 diplomatic cables from 274 American embassies has sent shockwaves worldwide.
The revelations include new details of U.S. espionage on foreign and U.N. officials, the cover-up of U.S. bomb strikes in Yemen, the urging of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for a U.S. attack on Iran, and disparaging internal portraits of foreign leaders. New cables released today show Chinese officials have voiced support for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula, should North Korea collapse. Also of note is a memo from the U.S. embassy in Honduras from 2008 that clearly states the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya was illegal and unconstitutional. The cables also reveal Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately questioned the mental health of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and asked U.S. diplomats to investigate whether she takes medication.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting an active, ongoing criminal investigation into the leaking and publication of the documents. The Washington Post reports federal authorities are considering charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration is weighing a range of punitive measures.
PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: Obviously there is an ongoing criminal investigation about the stealing of and the dissemination of sensitive and classified information. Secondly, under the administration — or I should say administration-wide, we are looking at a whole host of things, and I wouldn’t rule anything out.
AMY GOODMAN: An Army intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, has been imprisoned since May, when he was arrested on charges of leaking the classified material. In her first public comments since the cables’ publication, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced WikiLeaks, calling the latest release an attack on the international community.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.
This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community — the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity. I am confident that the partnerships that the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge. The President and I have made these partnerships a priority, and we are proud of the progress that they have helped achieve, and they will remain at the center of our efforts.
There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends. There have been examples in history in which official conduct has been made public in the name of exposing wrongdoings or misdeeds. This is not one of those cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Clinton herself is implicated in one of the biggest revelations to emerge from the WikiLeaks cables. The documents show both Clinton and her predecessor, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, issued directives for spying on foreign officials. U.S. diplomats have been asked to obtain information from the foreign dignitaries they meet, including frequent flier numbers, credit card details, and even DNA material, like fingerprints, iris scans.
The United Nations is also a target of the espionage, with one cable listing information-gathering priorities for U.S. officials at the U.N. headquarters in New York. At the U.N., the spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Farhan Haq, declined to comment directly on the spying.
FARHAN HAQ: The United Nations is not in a position to comment on the authenticity of the document purporting to request information-gathering activities on U.N. officials and activities. The U.N. is by its very nature a transparent organization that makes a great deal of information about its activities available to the public and member states.
AMY GOODMAN: Despite refusing to directly criticize the U.S., Haq added that the U.N. relies on member states to adhere to treaties and agreements about respecting the privileges and immunities of the U.N. and other member states. Senior U.N. officials have reportedly approached the U.S. government about the spying and could soon make a formal complaint.
Meanwhile, Ecuador has offered WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange residency in the country.
Well, for more, I’m joined now from London by David Leigh, investigations editor of The Guardian of London. The Guardian and four other newspapers were provided advanced copies of the documents before WikiLeaks made them public.
David Leigh, thanks again for joining us on Democracy Now! Why don’t you lay out for us what you think are the most important revelations in these cables and why you decided to release them, as well?
DAVID LEIGH: These revelations aren’t over yet. In fact, they’ve barely started. We on The Guardian and the other international news organizations are going to be making revelations, disclosures, from now, day by day, for probably the next week or more. And so, you know, we haven’t seen anything yet, really.
We’ve seen so far the surprising intelligence about North Korea, that China is willing to see it collapse, in effect. We’ve seen that the Arab leaders are keen to see the United States bomb Iraq — I’m sorry, bomb Iran. They bombed Iraq already. These are the kind of level of things we’re getting so far.
But in the coming days, we’re going to see some quite startling disclosures about Russia, the nature of the Russian state, and about bribery and corruption in other countries, particularly in Central Asia. We’re going to see a whole raft of disclosures about pretty terrible things going on around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: David Leigh, how did you get the documents?
DAVID LEIGH: We got the documents from WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: And the New York Times, this time around, though it joined with The Guardian and Der Spiegel and a few other news outlets around the world last time in getting them directly from WikiLeaks, this time they didn’t. Explain what happened.
DAVID LEIGH: Well, we don’t regard that as having much significance. The documents were passed around among the media partners in the usual way. Remember, this is the third time that this group of newspapers has done this. We did the Iraq war logs and the Afghanistan war logs also with Der Spiegel in Berlin and with the New York Times. So it’s the same deal as before.
AMY GOODMAN: So, did — was it you, The Guardian, that gave the WikiLeaks documents over to the New York Times this time?
DAVID LEIGH: We were the ones who physically passed them over. I don’t know what significance you attach to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Mm-hmm. Can you compare the release of these documents, this latest trove of diplomatic cables, to what has been released before, to the Iraq war logs and Afghanistan before that?
DAVID LEIGH: Well, it’s a different quality of material. Those were logs that were pretty well sort of raw snapshots in military jargon of ongoing incidents. They were sort of field reports — “now this is happening, now that is happening.” This is a completely different kind of material. It’s essentially diplomatic dispatches. They’re written in English. They’re written as pieces of connected prose. And they are carefully considered analyses of reports back of what ambassadors and their subordinates in all these foreign countries want to tell Washington is going on.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the pieces you’ve done — and you’ve done many of them on all of these leaks, but this latest one, David, how 250,000 U.S. embassy cables were leaked from a fake Lady Gaga CD to a thumb drive that’s a pocket-sized bombshell, the biggest intelligence leak in history. Take us through it.
DAVID LEIGH: Well, you want me to take you through how —- the mechanism of the leak -—
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
DAVID LEIGH: — or the contents of the material? The mechanism of the leak. Well, as we understand it, all this starts with the United States itself. What they did was they created a gigantic database of — an archive of these 250,000 cables, and they put them not only on the State Department’s classified embassy websites, but on SIPRNet, which is the U.S. Defense Department’s military internet. That circulated to, you know, soldiers all across the world, everywhere the United States has got bases. As a result, it was accessible to a junior soldier cleared to the secret level and above, 22-year-old Bradley Manning, according to the subsequent indictment. According to the chat logs Manning had with somebody else, he went in there with a CD marked "Lady Gaga," reported to lip synch to it and nod his head, I guess, to the time of the nonexistent music, while all the while covertly downloading this stuff. And he walked out with the CD. By the time The Guardian got it, it was on a thumb drive, a tiny little thumb drive, you know, and it had 1.6 gigabytes of material, which contains 250 million words.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe he’s the only source of these documents?
DAVID LEIGH: My personal opinion, which isn’t evidence, is, yes, he is the only source.
AMY GOODMAN: Does it astound you that a low-level soldier, intelligence soldier in Iraq, could have access to this amount of information from so many different sources?
DAVID LEIGH: It seems to me, and it seems to British diplomats when you tell them about this, a very dumb thing for the State Department to have done in the name of intelligence sharing, information sharing, to have distributed this stuff in such a way that these junior people could get access to it. If they didn’t want it out, it’s in their hands. Don’t create a database like this. Don’t circulate it to everybody. I know they said this was in the wake of 9/11, everybody wanted to share intelligence, but I don’t think this helps anybody. Although, now it’s happened, the material in there is of immense value to historians and to journalists. And so, I’m glad it’s come out.
AMY GOODMAN: While the Obama administration threatens to prosecute WikiLeaks, some influential lawmakers are calling for even harsher action. On Monday, the incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Committee in the United States, Republican Congress member Peter King of New York, says WikiLeaks should be declared a foreign terrorist organization. King spoke to NBC’s Matt Lauer.
MATT LAUER: You would like to see WikiLeaks, the organization that has really served as the messenger for these leaked documents, to be declared an FTO, or a foreign terrorist organization. That would put them in the same category as al-Qaeda, basically.
REP. PETER KING: Right.
MATT LAUER: What is the likelihood of that happening?
REP. PETER KING: I was disappointed when Jim Miklaszewski said that it doesn’t appear the government is going to be taking tough legal action. If American lives are at risk — and every top military official had said that — then we have to be serious. We should go after them for violating the Espionage Act. And the reason I say “foreign terrorist organization,” because they’re engaged in terrorist activity. Their activity is enabling terrorists to kill Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break. We just lost David Leigh, the investigations editor at The Guardian. We’ll try to get him back on, if we can.
AMY GOODMAN: We have lost David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian. He was speaking to us from the busy newsroom there. The Guardian is doing an ongoing series of pieces and exposés on these documents. They are being released slowly by the various news organizations, from The Guardian in London to Der Spiegel in Germany, to El País in Spain, to the New York Times here in the United States.