What State Wanted Withheld from WikiLeaks Publication

There are now four versions of the cooperation between WikiLeaks and its journalistic “partners:” Vanity Fair, NYT, Guardian, and Spiegel. A comparison of them is more instructive than reading any in isolation.

For example, compare how the NYT and Spiegel describe the three things the State Department asked journalistic partners not to publish during the lead-up to publication of the diplomatic cables. The NYT says State asked them not to publish individual sources, “sensitive American programs,” and candid comments about foreign leaders.

The administration’s concerns generally fell into three categories. First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries. We almost always agreed on those and were grateful to the government for pointing out some we overlooked.

“We were all aware of dire stakes for some of the people named in the cables if we failed to obscure their identities,” Shane wrote to me later, recalling the nature of the meetings. Like many of us, Shane has worked in countries where dissent can mean prison or worse. “That sometimes meant not just removing the name but also references to institutions that might give a clue to an identity and sometimes even the dates of conversations, which might be compared with surveillance tapes of an American Embassy to reveal who was visiting the diplomats that day.”

The second category included sensitive American programs, usually related to intelligence. We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed. In other cases, we went away convinced that publication would cause some embarrassment but no real harm.

The third category consisted of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials, including heads of state. The State Department feared publication would strain relations with those countries. We were mostly unconvinced.

Spiegel describes those three things slightly differently. It says State asked them to withhold government sources, cables with security implications, and “cables relating to counterterrorism.”

At first, less than a week before the upcoming publication of the leaked documents, Clinton’s diplomats wanted three things from the participating media organizations. First, they wanted the names of US government sources to be protected if leaks posed a danger to life and limb. This was a policy that all five media organizations involved already pursued. Second, they asked the journalists to exercise restraint when it came to cables with security implications. Third, they asked them to be aware that cables relating to counterterrorism are extremely sensitive.

Now the discrepancy may mean nothing. Both agree State had three categories of information they wanted withheld. Both agree State asked the newspapers to withhold both the names of sources and details on intelligence programs. But since the NYT notes the journalistic partners didn’t take the third category–candid comments–very seriously, perhaps Spiegel just misremembered what that third category was, or just remembered a particular focus on counterterrorism. Presumably, after all, the counterterrorism programs would be included in category two.

But whatever the cause of the discrepancy, I am intrigued that Spiegel emphasizes counterterrorism programs rather than candid comments about foreign officials, not least because the Spiegel article describes working with US Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy directly. Consider the two most sensitive revelations pertaining to Germany and counterterrorism. First, there was the news of Philip Murphy personally bad-mouthing the Free Democratic Party’s opposition to US vacuuming up European data, particularly as it relates to the SWIFT database. Then there are negotiations about whether Germany would prosecute Americans involved in the rendition of Khalid El-Masri. As I showed, it appears that Condi was telling German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier one thing about a subpoena for those Americans, followed quickly by the American Deputy Chief of Mission “correcting” the US position on it.

That is, on both major disclosures about US counterterrorism cooperation with the Germans, the US has reason to be embarrassed about its two-faced dealing with German officials.

In other words, there may be no discrepancy. It is possible that the third category of information State wanted suppressed has to do not with the substance of our counterterrorism program (after all, both the details of SWIFT and of our rendition program have been widely publicized), but with the degree to which our private diplomacy belies all the public claims we make about counterterrorism.

  1. Frank33 says:

    Great Post. We know that official US policy spun to us by Morrell and the other highly paid shills, is not the real policy. Because of Wikileaks, there is proof all US public statements are total lies and coverup to protect War crimes and Corporate crimes. That definitely includes the latest collaboration of the “press” with US neo-con secret policy makers. It is all COINTELPRO, neo-con control of War on Terror information. This includes repression and all the latest tools of oppression by the US Government against those that expose the globalist weenies.

    The real war has always been against the “left”.

    First was the importance of protecting individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in oppressive countries.

    Speaking of weenies, The New York Times, are partners, with the neo-cons, in the secret Stasi and secret worlwide mercenary wars.

    We agreed to withhold some of this information, like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed.

    But, it is all about the “Counter Terrorism”. Al Qaeda. Taliban, Al-Awlaki, The Muslim Caliphate have to be more scary than vampires. Instead of secrecy, these terrorist criminals should have a worldwide manhunt to snuff them out. Of course, the counter-terrorist officials have protected Undie Bomber and David Headley. But American citizens get investigated for opposing the terrorism of the Irak and Afghan wars.

    The “authorities” keep all the terrorist information secret. The Al Qaeda banking networks are protected by the counter terrorist officials. It seems most members of Al Qaeda are double agents anyway and that must be kept secret, which includes their US Government pensions.

    Of course, the counter terrorist officials must keep secret the False Confessions from Torture and all the other lies that were used to turn the United States into a Neo-con Police State.

    • newz4all says:

      Tremendous comment, Frank33 !!! one of the best that has been posted here. excellent depth. thanks for sharing. atrios and other bloggers make fun of the PTB ( powers that be ) especially lieberman doing sheet just so that they can punch the dfh ( dirty f***ing hippies ) but there really isn’t anything funny about as the dfh have been proven right / correct over and over and over again. and the PTB want to exterminate the dfh – make no mistake about it – ever since VietNam. ever since the stolen election of 2000 and especially since 9/11, with the help of emptywheel and fdl and gg and atrios, we have seen the future and it has been fairly easy to predict. yes, there have been some surprises, but the planet is almost totally under corporate / governmental / military control if not totally.

      that is why i feel so strongly for the Tunisians and the Egyptians and their incredible courage and can only hope that the same comes to the usa one day.

      and that brings me to this excellent critique of bill keller’s smear job on wikileaks/ assange in the nyt mag. the critique is awesome. keller is an asshole and the nyt is pretty much a usg water carrying governmental organ at this point. ( and we used to make fun of the soviet press – silly us. )

      A sordid history has emerged from Wikileaks’ work over the last year: of American diplomatic subversion of the impartiality of European courts, of the undue influence on European legislatures, of the attempts to propagandize our citizenry, of the complicity of our own governments in US rendition. In my own country, the national government grovelled for an opportunity to provide for itself political cover for extraordinary renditions it believed the United States was conducting through one of its national airports. It does not excuse my government’s cowardice, but the realpolitik, whose import drips from those cables, dictates that there was no political possibility that Ireland would ever think of taking a hard line with the US government.


  2. ondelette says:

    And you’ve got a discrepancy in the number of news organizations. You have four at the top of your article and Der Spiegel is quoted as saying “five“.

    All kidding aside, this is a serious issue, since over at UT, and at his own blog, omooex uncovered that the leaks involved more or less in Tunisia were not among those published by the four or five, but rather by either Tunisleaks or a Norwegian news outlet, and then traced them back to I think al Akhbar, throwing into question whether or not Wikileaks has been transparent about its procedures and whether or not there are multiple sources, possibly other than Wikileaks or Manning, for diplomatic cables at this point.

    • skdadl says:

      We know that Aftenposten (Norway) got a trove of the diplomatic cables, maybe in the same way that Heather Brooke did, from a WL leaker. Aftenposten then handed a lot on to Danish and Dutch outlets, so that’s how many cables not yet published by the five majors appeared, and WL don’t appear to be bothered by that — they publish after the outlet does, as usual, and the five majors sometimes catch up if they want to.

      Some other leaks either aren’t WL in the first place (the Palestine Papers) or … I’m not sure.

      It was always clear that WL would have to start publishing on its own or find other outlets b/c the five majors are just selecting what they want. They did the Egyptian cables on their own, eg.

        • skdadl says:

          Wouldn’t it, though. I can think of so many things I wish would make their way to WikiLeaks, except I do think they’re not accepting new stuff right now b/c they have so much of a backlog. There has to be at least one person in the loop in Canadian military/diplomatic circles who could get our Afghanistan files, now absurdly suppressed by both government and opposition, to WL — I so wish.

  3. Shoto says:

    Great post. I have a slightly o/t question: Why have the leaks pretty much stopped? For example, there was supposed to be a pile of data dropping right after the first of the year (which would be now) relating to a particular mega-zombie bank (B or A was the speculation). Is Assange so jammed up legally that he can’t operate? Or (more likely) is he using what he’s got as leverage? If that’s true, then it would seem he’s cutting himself off at the knees in terms of future leaks. Anyone?

    • sona says:

      iirc assange promised the leaks about a US bank in february of this year – can’t be sure now where i came across it, maybe it was in the interview with frost on al jazeera or some other interview assange did

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I was dismayed, but not surprised, at the gratuitous swipes Keller made at WikiLeaks and Assange personally.

    I was appalled at his poor imitation of Jimmy Stewart/Harrison Ford, when he claims not to know a) how to arrange a secure call or exchange of data; b) finds it unusual that sources generally, let alone those that might be putting their life and limbs on the line, could be hard, expensive and time-consuming to work with; c) that large reams of data might have to be poured through to find newsworthy nuggets (shades of Izzy Stone); and d) that it’s extraordinary, if very Tim Russert-like, not to publish newsworthy information if his government asks nicely or otherwise that he not do so.

    It is Mr. Keller that comes across as a putz, not the more conventionally mercurial Mr. Assange.

    • skdadl says:

      The Guardian editors have been dorks too, although with less obviously political reasons.

      One editor who hasn’t is Javier Moreno of El Pais, who actually stuck to the topics that count when he wrote this. Keller and Rusbridger look pretty limp next to that.

      • sona says:

        agree and i also found el pais’ analytical comments much more incisive

        they have narrowed the agenda by focusing on leaks concerned with spain but carry references to other leaks and where to find them

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    The wikileaks page at El País topic with the tag State Dept Papers, lists NYT, Guardian, Le Monde, Spiegel, El País. The page is in Spanish language, and I see no recent subtended article discussing the winnowing and redacting process, however, Moreno there wrote about the topic in mid December 2010, and at other junctures as skdadl linked, for example. The English language part of El País is less complete, lags the latest news already posted on the Spanish version, and appears to have no wikileaks section at all, although my reading was hasty. I wonder if Le Monde has addressed the topic of the post recently. That said, the Spanish El País wikileaks page is fairly vibrant.

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t know that el Pais and le Monde really feel the need to say more than their original explanations, which were more complete than the Guardian’s and NYT’s. Partly, this little subindustry seems to be about selling books. But I think it’s also about carving out legal explanations for their roles, in ancitipation of whatever DOJ is going to do. I suspect that’s more important for the Anglo-Americans, for whatever reason.

  6. lareineblanche says:

    What is interesting here is that the State Department (which is referred to as “State” here) has any say at all in how documents will be published by ANY editor, as well as in a foreign country. Does anyone have a rational explanation for this?
    Thanks in advance.

  7. MadDog says:

    OT – From Jane Mayer over at the New Yorker:

    Who Is Omar Suleiman?

    One of the “new” names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects…

    …As I described in my book “The Dark Side,” since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances…

    …Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless…

  8. MadDog says:

    More OT – Just in case anyone thought planting package bombs on airplanes was a new and unknown threat, from Public Intelligence, this TSA Air Cargo Threat Overview (16 page PDF) from June, 2008:

    …Terrorists will likely continue exploiting security measures for mail and cargo shipped on passenger aircraft

    •1995: Ramzi Yousef developed a plan to plant an explosive device aboard a United Airlines flight from Hong Kong to the United States by hiding it in a package to be shipped as air cargo.

    Vulnerabilities in cargo security are exhibited by the many instances of successfully smuggled people and illicit materials.

    • Most incidents are criminal in nature, but demonstrate the accessibility of cargo, which could be exploited by terrorists…



    • Transportation is being targeted – “when” vice “if”…

  9. MadDog says:

    No SHIT?!? MT @jeremyscahill: Former Bush Admin Fran Townsend on CNN admits that there is long history of “renditions” between US and #Egypt

    Yup, I watched it with utter astonishment. She then stepped in it by erroneously talking about the detainee from Canada who was wrongly shipped by the US to Egypt, until Wolfie said don’t you mean Syria, and Frannie blushed, gulped and ate some crow (Egypt, Syria who cares. It’s all the same to Frannie).

  10. rikkidoglake says:

    In light of John Poindexter’s statements some years ago about Total Information Awareness, and its Disinformation component, one has to view the WikiLeaks cables with some suspicions.

    Here’s a case in which the CEO of a major German satellite manufacturer was suspended for comments attributed to him in a cable:


    Here’s the corporate web site:


    From the 14.01.2011 press release linked to by that page:

    “Immediately after the Wikileaks documents were published, I therefore asked Mr. Smutny on the basis of the provisions of his service contract if there was any truth in the statements attributed to him. Mr. Smutny declared in a statutory oath that he did not make the statements attributed to him. I have no knowledge causing me to question this declaration.”

    Here’s the cable, or at least one of them, from the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten:


    The EU’s Galileo navigation satellite program gave a contract worth about $750 M to this company and a company affiliated with the University of Surrey to produce 14 satellites. There’s a lot of money involved. There are ample motivations for mischief.