In a shift of tactics that has alarmed US officials, the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks has published on the Web nearly 134,000 leaked diplomatic cables in recent days, more than six times the total disclosed publicly since the posting of the leaked US Department of State documents began in November.
A sampling of the documents showed that the newly published cables included the names of some people who had spoken confidentially to US diplomats and whose identities were marked in the cables with the warning “strictly protect.”
US Department of State officials and human rights activists have been concerned that such diplomatic sources, including activists, journalists and academics in authoritarian countries, could face reprisals, including dismissal from their jobs, prosecution or violence.
Since late last year, the New York Times and several other news organizations have had access to more than 250,000 State Department cables originally obtained by WikiLeaks, citing them in news articles and publishing a relatively small number of cables deemed newsworthy. However, the Times and other publications that had access to the documents removed the names of people judged vulnerable to retaliation.
WikiLeaks published some cables on its own Web site, but until the latest release, the group had also provided versions of the cables that had been edited to protect low-level diplomatic sources.
Government officials and journalists were poring over the newly released cables on Monday to assess whether people named in them might face repercussions. A quick sampling found at least one cable posted on Monday, from the US embassy in Australia, had a name removed, but several others left in the identities of people whom diplomats had flagged for protection.
Among those named, despite diplomats’ warnings, were a UN official in West Africa and a foreign human rights activist working in Cambodia. They had spoken candidly to US embassy officials on the understanding that they would not be publicly identified.
The new disclosures are likely to reignite a debate over the virtues and perils of making public the confidential views of US diplomats, some of whom have complained that the leaks have made their work more difficult. The disclosures take place as a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, continues to hear evidence in a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks for disclosing classified information.
WikiLeaks said in a statement on Monday that the acceleration in disclosing the cables was “in accordance with WikiLeaks’ commitment to maximizing impact and making information available to all.”
The statement suggested that it was intended to counter the “misperception” that the organization “has been less active in recent months.”
The statement said that “crowdsourcing” the documents by posting them will allow people of different backgrounds and nationalities to interpret the cables. It was unsigned, but WikiLeaks -editor-in-chief Julian Assange generally drafts or approves the group’s statements.
Even as WikiLeaks made its new postings, a German publication reported that an encrypted file containing all of the 251,287 diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks last year had been posted months ago on the Web, and that the password was also available on the Internet. It was unclear on Monday whether anyone had cracked the encrypted file described by the publication, Der Freitag, a small Berlin-based, left-leaning weekly, and had made public previously unpublished material.