Nearly 800 documents from the United States embassy in Phnom Penh are part of a massive leak of American diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks, the first installment of which was released yesterday.
WikiLeaks has pledged to release the documents in its possession gradually over the coming months, and no documents related to Cambodia were part of the batch released yesterday. According to an index of the cables, however, there are 1,010 Cambodia-related documents in the WikiLeaks archive, including 147 classified as “confidential” and five termed “secret”.
The US has condemned the leak, which comprises more than 250,000 documents from 274 diplomatic outposts and the US state department, branding it a threat to security and America’s relations with its allies.
“Wikileaks disclosure of classified information is an irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc and destabilise global security. It potentially jeopardises lives and global engagement among and between nations,” Mark Wenig, spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh, said in an email yesterday.
“Given its potential impact, we condemn unauthorised disclosures and are taking every step to prevent security breaches.”
Wenig declined to comment on the substance of the Cambodia-related documents.
“As a matter of policy, the Department of State does not comment on allegedly leaked documents,” he said.
“I can certainly state, however, that our relationship with Cambodia is based on mutual respect and shared goals, and that we are proud of how far our relationship has come.”
According to a classification system laid out in an executive order signed by US President Barack Obama last year, disclosure of documents labelled “secret” could cause “serious damage” to US security, while documents labelled “confidential” could cause “damage”, in the assessment of US officials.
Thousands of cables in the WikiLeaks stash are also labelled with the tag “noforn”, which means they are not to be shared with foreign nationals, though it is not yet clear how many Cambodia-related documents are labelled this way.
In addition to the cables from the embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia-related documents in WikiLeaks’ possession have also originated from other embassies including those in Beijing, Hanoi and Bangkok, as well as from the US missions in Geneva and at the United Nations in New York.
WikiLeaks had released just 226 of its 251,287 so-called “Cable Gate” documents as of yesterday, pledging on its website to release the rest “in stages over the next few months”.
“The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice,” WikiLeaks said.
“The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in ‘client states’; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.”
The documents were made available in advance to The New York Times, The Guardian, France’s Le Monde and Spain’s El Pais newspapers, and to Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. Coverage of the first round of documents has focused on global fears regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, as well as on US attempts to spy on the UN leadership and candid assessments of world leaders by American diplomats.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh is responsible for 777 of the cables in WikiLeaks’ possession, tied for the 110th-most among the 274 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions included in the archive. The leak is seven times the size of WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs, a collection of documents released last month that detail America’s war effort in that country.
The first Cambodia-related document in WikiLeaks’ possession, according to The Guardian database, is a 1989 cable from the American embassy in Thailand. The first cable from the embassy in Phnom Penh comes in March of 1992.
Documentation is sparse in subsequent years, with just 15 embassy cables represented prior to 2006. 1997, the year of the deadly grenade attack on a Sam Rainsy Party rally and the factional fighting that ousted then-First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, is represented by just one cable in the archive, which relates to military assistance, according to The Guardian index.
Hundreds of documents have been included from recent years, however. A flurry of Cambodia-related cables went out from the American embassies in Phnom Penh and Beijing in late December of last year, around the time of the Kingdom’s deportation of 20 Uighur Chinese asylum seekers back to China, and a number of cables from Phnom Penh were also sent following the Kingdom’s 2008 elections.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, while Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong declined to comment.
“I have no information on that, so I have nothing to say,” Koy Kuong said.
Derek Tonkin, formerly the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Vietnam and Thailand, said in an email that WikiLeaks’ disclosures could prompt a reassessment of how officials in Cambodia and elsewhere deal with American diplomats.
“The damage to US diplomacy is that no foreign personality is now likely to feel safe in revealing his innermost thoughts to a US diplomat because they might now find them emblazoned across the headlines,” Tonkin said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THOMAS MILLER