WikiLeaks shrugged off the jailing of its editor-in-chief by publishing a new tranche of secret diplomatic cables yesterday, heaping more embarrassment on the US and some of its closest allies.
After Julian Assange spent his first night behind bars as a remand prisoner in London, his Web site revealed Washington had branded Australia’s ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd as a “mistake-prone control freak” and that the British government was relieved when its Scottish counterparts freed the Lockerbie bomber.
The pressure on WikiLeaks has been steadily mounting, with key sources of funding choked off and Assange having been refused bail.
However, after vowing that it would not be silenced, the site showed its ability to ruffle feathers was unimpaired with its latest revelations.
Rudd, now Australia’s foreign minister, tried to laugh off the confidential assessment by the US embassy in Canberra that he made foreign policy blunders.
Rudd frustrated colleagues by being a “control freak” who was “obsessed with managing the media cycle rather than engaging in collaborative decision making,” extracts of cables published by the Sydney Morning Herald said.
While he was prime minister, he also “deeply offended” Australia’s closest ally in 2008 by aggressively pushing for a meeting with then-president George W. Bush in Washington, only to cancel two days later, the papers showed.
Rudd said the US, not Assange, was to blame for the leak of cables, saying it had a problem with its diplomatic security.
“When you’ve got a quarter of a million cables pecking around out there, and on top of that you have people who have had access in the US system to these sorts of cables in excess of 2 million people, that’s where the core of the problem lies,” Rudd told commercial radio.
There were also potential red faces in Britain whose then Labour government publicly distanced itself from the decision by the devolved Scottish government to free the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi last year.
However, dispatches from the US embassy in Tripoli showed that Britain faced threats from Libya of “dire consequences” if al-Megrahi — who is suffering from cancer — died in a Scottish prison.
Among the threats were the cessation of all British commercial activity in Libya and demonstrations against British facilities.
The dispatches also showed the British ambassador in Tripoli “expressed relief” about al-Megrahi’s imminent release.
“They could have cut us off at the knees,” Vincent Fean, the British ambassador, is cited as saying.
And there were also revelations in connection with US ally Saudi Arabia, as cables painted a picture of a buzzing party scene inside princes’ mansions in Jeddah replete with alcohol, drugs and sex.
While Swedish authorities insist the rape case against Assange has nothing to do with WikiLeaks’ revelations, his detention in London added further pressure on the site as its sources of funding are being throttled.
Visa suspended all payments to WikiLeaks on Tuesday, the day after its rival MasterCard Worldwide took a similar step. The banking arm of the Swiss post office has also closed a WikiLeaks account set up by Assange.