Members of Haiti's elite complained to the U.S. Embassy in 2005 about eroding security in the country.
A Taliban representative told U.S. officials in 1996 that the Taliban had shut down "Arab" training camps in Afghanistan, and had no idea where Osama bin Laden was. A U.S. embassy official met with a Taliban representative the following year to discuss the Afghan drug trade and the group's sheltering of bin Laden.
A 1999 State Department meeting with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai, identified here as the "son of an important Afghan tribal leader."
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad sizing up the Taliban's Mullah Omar, circa 1997.
Beijing was unhappy about North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, but powerless to stop them.
The Japanese island of Okinawa, host to a longstanding U.S. military presence, is tilting toward China and away from the United States.
Bahrain's recent crackdown on its Shiite minority came out of Saudi Arabia's playbook.
Julian Assange is reportedly backing off of plans to publish his memoirs.
A medic in Britain's Royal Navy has been sentenced to seven months' detention for refusing to train on account of WikiLeaks-inspired moral objections.
An excellent telling of the sad saga of Pfc. Bradley Manning from New York. (The online friend whose chats with Manning provide much of the new information in the piece has also made their correspondence available for download.)
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. government, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil joined forces to kill a Venezuelan oil deal in Haiti.
The frightening state of the developing world's nuclear energy programs.
China told U.S. officials it wasn't selling nuclear reactors to Pakistan, then did it anyway.
The British government worried that Russian gas behemoth Gazprom was being run by spies.
Julian Assange says WikiLeaks "played a significant role" in the Arab Spring, but that "there are no official allegations in the public domain" of anyone being hurt by the site's document dumps.
President Barack Obama nominates a replacement for the WikiLeaks-deposed U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government to officially release WikiLeaked cables about the war on terror.
Al Jazeera's WikiLeaks-inspired document-sharing site isn't much safer than the Wall Street Journal's.
The Swedish Bar Association chastises Assange's lawyer.
Of course you want to know what Jesse Ventura thinks about WikiLeaks.
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Speculation that North Korea is aiding the Burmese junta in its aspiring nuclear program have been around for years, at least since the Far Eastern Economic Review first published an investigation on the subject in November 2003. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly fretted about North Korean involvement in July 2009, and the U.N. security council accused the Hermit Kingdom of shipping centrifuge components to the Burmese junta via a series of shell companies in a report last month.
These reports range from speculation to informed speculation, and the cables from the U.S. embassy in Rangoon released by WikiLeaks yesterday aren't qualitatively different, though they add a few new intriguing data points.
In January 2004, an "expatriate businessman" told the embassy that he had heard rumors of a nuclear facility under construction in Magway Division along the Irawaddy River, and reported other suspicious goings-on: barges traveling up the river with building materials of a size too large for any of the industrial development projects in the area, a new airport with a landing strip so wide, the informant said, that "you could land the space shuttle on it."
The following August, an informant told the embassy that "some 300 North Koreans" were in the same area, assembling missiles and building an underground facility at a secret construction site. The author of the State Department cable seems skeptical, both about the storyteller and the story ("the number of North Koreans supposedly working at this site strikes us as improbably high"), but notes that this "second-hand account of North Korean involvement with missile assembly and military construction in Magway Division generally tracks with other information Embassy Rangoon and others hve reported in various channels."
North Korea has generally been suspected of helping Burma with its ballistic missile efforts, but not necessarily the actual nuclear program. So it's notable that this August 2009 cable reports a conversation with Australian Ambassador to Burma Michelle Chan, who told the U.S. embassy that her contact in the Burmese government
told her the Burma-DPRK connection is not just about conventional weapons. There is a peaceful nuclear component intended to address Burma's chronic lack of electrical power generation. When Chan cited reports of a Burma-Russia agreement for development of a peaceful nuclear reactor, XXXXXXXXXXXX responded that the agreement with Russia is currently just for "software, training." The DPRK agreement is for "hardware." XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed reports Burma's Army Chief of Staff (third highest ranking) General Thura Shwe Mann visited the DPRK last November. Asked why Thura Shwe Mann, XXXXXXXXXXXX responded, "Because he is in charge of all military activities." XXXXXXXXXXXX reportedly seemed surprised that the West might be concerned by a Burma-DPRK "peaceful" nuclear relationship. XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that, after all, given sanctions, Burma really has "no other options" but to develop the relationship with North Korea.
A couple other somewhat less conclusive cables about Burma's nuclear activities are here and here. Speculation about what exactly the Burmese junta is up to has increased since a former army major went to a Burmese pro-democracy group with a mountain of inside information on the country's nuclear agenda. Democratic Voice of Burma's thorough debriefing of the major, Sai Thein Win, is still the most authoritative account of what's going on in the isolated country. For now, most of the rest -- including these new cables -- is difficult to definitively parse one way or the other.
Is Tehran convinced the United States is out to steal its oil? Here's Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a cable describing a Jan. 14, 2009, meeting in the capital city of Astana between Nazarbayev and U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, in which the Kazakh leader recounts his recent conversations with Iran's leaders:
[Nazarbayev] said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni told him that even if Iran compromises on the nuclear issue, the United States would always find another reason to criticize "because they hate us -- all the United States wants is to conquer the entire region and steal the oil." General Petraeus interjected, "We could have bought all the oil in the region for 100 years for what we've spent in Iraq!" Nazarbayev, looking a bit amused, said, "I know. I'm just telling you what he said."
The cable, signed by Richard Hoagland, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, is also interesting for Nazarbayev's pretty shrewd insights into Afghan politics. Nazarbayev is worried about publicized efforts to bring the Taliban into the Kabul government. Petraeus, then the head of U.S. Central Command, replies that this is just an attempt to break up the movement, while roping certain elements into the power circle. That's all well and good, Nazarbayev replies, but suggests that the Taliban is all about control, and not sharing power: "The Taliban leadership will never change its position," Nazarbayev says.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Exhibit A in the case for not believing everything you read in the WikiLeaks cables is this September 2008 dispatch from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.
The cable, signed by the consulate's Christopher Beede and titled "SHANGHAI SCHOLARS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER DELAY IN SIX-PARTY TALKS," looks to be a fairly ho-hum summary of a meeting with a group of Chinese North Korea-watchers.
But there's one bizarre throwaway line (my emphasis):
According xxxxx, the nuclear declaration North Korea submitted in May was incomplete. xxxxx claims that critical information about secret underwater nuclear facilities located on North Korea's coast. For this reason, a debate has emerged within the Chinese leadership over the merits of quick U.S. delisting, xxxxx continues. One camp believes that continued momentum in the Six-Party Talks is critical to their success, and has concluded that Washington must adopt a more flexible attitude. The other camp, however, has taken the incomplete nuclear declaration as evidence that the regime in Pyongyang is truly "a ticking time bomb," and regard Washington's tough stance on verification as a potential opportunity to finally deal with a persistent regional irritant.
Say what? Secret underwater nuclear facilities? Has this Chinese scholar been watching too many Bond movies?
Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, quotes an anonymous Korean Foreign Ministry official dimissing the story as "hard to believe." The Chosun Ilbo, a conservative paper that will print almost anything that makes North Korea look bad, quotes another official flatly saying the cable "is not true."
That's not all that's in this particular cable, however. It also relays one Shanghai expert's claim that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il "has a long history of recreational drug use that has resulted in frequent bouts of epilepsy and contributed to his poor health overall."
Is China through with North Korea? That's the Guardian's takeaway from the exchanges between American diplomats and their Chinese and South Korean counterparts in the first batches of State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday and Monday. "China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime," Simon Tisdall writes, and goes on to note evidence of "China's shift:" Nods of approval from Chinese officials for a single Korea governed from Seoul, expressions of alarm from Beijing about Pyongyang's 2009 missile tests, and a Chinese official's complaint that Kim Jong-il's regime is behaving like a "spoiled child."
It's all in there -- but sifting through the Wikileaks cables, that reading strikes me as a bit breathless. It's true that there are a couple of significant nods toward the idea of reunification. One comes in a 2009 meeting between Richard E. Hoagland and Cheng Guoping, respectively the American and Chinese ambassadors to Kazakhstan, at a hotel restaurant in the capital city of Astana. (Hoagland, incidentally, is a great reporter -- his account of the meeting is some of the best reading in the Wikileaks files.) "When asked about the reunification of Korea," Hoagland writes, "Guoping said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term."
The other is some intelligence relayed from South Korean then-Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who told U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens that Chinese officials "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a ‘benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China." The breaking point, Chun reportedly told Stephens, was North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, after which Chinese officials were increasingly willing to "face the new reality" that North Korea had outlived its usefulness as a buffer between Chinese and American forces. Chun (in Stephens's paraphrase) notes that the "tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies" in a newly opened North Korea might would make reunification easier to swallow, and points out that in any case, "China's strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- not North Korea."
Otherwise, Beijing's sharpest words -- such as Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei's remark that the Kim regime is acting like a "spoiled child" trying to get the attention of the "adult" United States -- came mostly in the wake of Pyongyang's April 2009 missile test, in the context of Beijing's efforts to engage Washington in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il's principal diplomatic goal at the time. Beijing's emissaries mostly just seem to be trying to keep the Americans at the table.
David E. Sanger's take in the New York Times better captures the essence of the cables, which is to say their ambiguity -- based on the selective evidence here, Beijing seems only somewhat less in the dark about what exactly is going on in Pyongyang than North Korea's enemies. Other corners of the Wikileaks trove are rich in plot and detail: the Obama administration's slow disenchantment with Turkey, byzantine Azeri-Iranian money laundering schemes, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh's entanglements with the U.S. military. The North Korean cables are mostly a lot of chatter around the edges of a giant question mark. As Sanger writes, they "are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia." The dominant mood of the Chinese diplomats who appear throughout them is exhaustion -- a sense, plenty familiar in Washington and Seoul, that no one really knows what to do next.
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The new WikiLeaks documents show that Iran has been hunting for missile technology all over the world, seeking to buy gyroscopes, jet vanes and metals, and perhaps whole missiles from North Korea. But Iran also has experienced great difficulty building longer range missiles. Why? Some clues can be found in one of the most interesting documents just released, a briefing that Russian officials gave their American counterparts on Iran's progress, or lack of it.
A summary of the Dec. 22, 2009 meeting was marked "secret" but tumbled out on Sunday in the reams of memos released by WikiLeaks and major news organizations. Fourteen Russian and 15 U.S. government officials compared notes that day about missile threats from Iran and North Korea.
Judging by the summary, it was a lively back and forth, during which the Russians claimed the threat from Iran's missiles is not as great as some have predicted in the United States. The size and nature of the threat is important because it undergirds the U.S. plans for a multi-billion dollar ballistic missile defense system.
The Russians were prepared to talk "seriously" with the U.S. group, the summary says. Their message was Iran is struggling to lengthen the range of missiles that could carry heavy loads, such as a one-ton nuclear warhead, that might threaten the region or beyond. The Russians said their basic conclusion is that "Iran's ballistic missile program continues to be directed toward developing combat ready missiles to address regional concerns," not targets like the United States.
This was also the assessment made in May by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
In the December meeting, there was a sharp disagreement about the U.S. claim that North Korea sold to Iran a batch of 19 missiles, known as the BM-25. The transfer was first reported publicly in 2006; the BM-25 missile is supposedly based on a Soviet naval ballistic missile design, the R-27, known in the West as the SS-N-6. This missile was first developed in the 1960s and later modernized; it was in service in the Soviet Union until 1988. Iran has not tested any of the missiles it imported. The U.S. officials speculated that Iran may have purchased it to reverse-engineer the technology (although North Korea has been known to ship parts, expertise and manufacturing facilities as well as the missiles themselves.) The U.S. officials said photos of the Iranian space launch rocket, the Safir, show an engine which looks like the one on the R-27, as well as fuel tanks and welds that resemble it. The U.S. officials said they had received "direct evidence" of the missile transfer from North Korea to Iran.
But the Russians strongly dismissed the BM-25 as a mirage, according to the summary. They said Iran would not have purchased an untested missile, and they doubted whether it even existed. "For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile," the summary says. "Russia does not think the BM-25 exists." They asked why North Korea would sell an untested missile; the Americans responded: for cash.
Both the Russians and Americans acknowledged the limitations of Iran's older, liquid-fueled missiles, based on the Soviet Scud and its modifications, including the Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3. Both sides also seemed to agree that the Safir is not a military threat because of the small size of the payload.
The key issue is Iran's pursuit of more modern and powerful solid-fuel missiles that could hit medium-range targets, such as those in the Middle East or Europe. Iran has been working on such a missile, called the Sajjil-2, which it has flight tested. (See my earlier post about it.) In the meeting, U.S. officials were more worried about this than the Russians, who said Iran continues to stumble with solid fuel technology. "In Russia's view, Iran appears to be having very serious problems with engine development," the summary says. U.S. officials countered that Iran has a decade of experience with short-range missiles using solid fuel, importing equipment from China, and could now extend it to larger missiles.
The Russians said Iran was a long way from building intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the United States. "Russia said its bottom line is that Iran lacks appropriate structural materials for long-range systems, such as high quality aluminum," the summary says. "Iran can build prototypes, but in order to be a threat to the U.S. or Russia, Iran needs to produce missiles in mass quantities, and it lacks materials sufficient for the type of mass production needed to be a security threat. Russia further noted that the technology for longer-range missiles is sophisticated and difficult to master."
At another point, the Russians said they think the North Koreans are working on a new, 100-ton capacity rocket engine using older technology, clustering the motors or stacking them. But Russia said the technology hasn't been actually spotted.
AFP/Getty Images; from Iran's ISNA agency, the two-stage solid-fuel missile, Dec. 16, 2009