Shortly before 6.30pm on Sunday night, the first cracks appeared in the dam. The largest ever leak of US government classified documents streamed out online, revealing never publicly seen details about Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and Russia.
Throughout the week the stream became a torrent of information about how US diplomats and foreign governments see the world. According to these classified cables, Saudi Arabia wanted Washington to bomb Iran, the UK harbours “deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”, and Russia is considered a “virtual mafia state” with its president, Vladimir Putin, accused of amassing “illicit proceeds” from his time in office.
But perhaps most embarrassing for Hillary Clinton who, as US secretary of state, is ultimately responsible for the content of most of the cables released so far, was a cable that revealed Washington is running a spying campaign targeted at the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the rest of the UN leadership, as well as the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.
Clinton has spent much of the week trying to justify the operation – which was looking for top UN officials’ passwords and credit card numbers , even DNA samples – to the press and in person to the UN secretary general.
As startling as the exposés were – the Saudi king urging America “to cut off the head of the snake”, to launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear programme – it was as much the sense of a curtain lifting to reveal the world leaders not as wizards but as all too human, and that the private positions of those in power were often diametrically opposed to what they said in public, that made the cables so gripping – and perhaps so dangerous.
Clinton’s immediate reaction was to strongly condemn the leak and say that “every country, including the US, must be able to have honest, private dialogue with other countries … When someone breaches that trust, we are the worse off for it.”
Former presidential candidate, the Republican Mike Huckabee called for the execution of Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old US army intelligence analyst who is in custody at a military base in Virginia, facing trial for downloading the files while on duty in Iraq.