Washington's biggest state secrets - from Arab leaders privately begging for air strikes on Iran to American diplomats spying on UN officials - were laid bare Sunday in a massive online document dump.
The WikiLeaks publication of 250,000 diplomatic cables stripped the veil from long-classified projects, exposed back-channel communications and revealed unflattering comments about foes and friends alike.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called it "the 9/11 of world diplomacy."
An angry White House said people trying to help the U.S. abroad may die because of the leak. Secretary of State Clinton was calling allies in full damage-control mode.
Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to designate WikiLeaks a "foreign terrorist organization," saying it "posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States," and to prosecute founder Julian Assange for espionage.
WikiLeaks says it plans to release more documents "in stages over the next few months."
Among the many eye-opening revelations:
- Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to launch air strikes on Iran to destroy its nuclear program.
"Cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington urged Gen. David Petraeus, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Officials in Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have all also secretly pushed for military strikes against Tehran's nuke plans, according to the secret cables. "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it," said Bahrain's King Hamad.
By revealing such frank conversations with secretive Arab leaders who usually enjoy a lack of press freedom at home, the leaks may end up having a more profound effect on the Middle East than on Washington.
- The Yemeni government has been covering up U.S. air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda militants.
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told Petraeus in January, according to one cable.
- A Feb. 24 account of a top-secret meeting with the Russians revealed that Moscow believes Iran has outdated missiles that pose only a regional threat and is unlikely to acquire better technology. Russia disputed U.S. claims that North Korea smuggled 19 mega-missiles to Iran in2005 that might be able to hit Europe.
The two sides argued over whether the missiles even existed, with the U.S. saying North Korea showed them off in a military parade and Russia saying spy photos of the parade show it was a different kind of missile.
- In July 2009, diplomats assigned to the UN were asked to gather technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including computer passwords, and detailed biometric information on all the top UN officials.
Washington also wanted credit card numbers, email addresses and phone, fax and pager numbers - plus frequent-flier numbers - for top UN figures.
- Washington has been secretly battling Pakistan over nuclear fuel in a Pakistani reactor that the U.S. wants to remove for fear it could fall into the wrong hands. Pakistan fears the public will think it is giving up its nukes to America.
- China hacked into Google's computer systems as part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage.
- Unflattering descriptions of foreign leaders by U.S. diplomats: French President Nicolas Sarkozy is "an emperor without clothes"; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likened to Adolf Hitler; Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is "pale, hesitant"; Afghan President Hamid Karzai is "driven by paranoia," and German Chancellor Angela Merkel "avoids risk and is rarely creative."
- American diplomats are suspicious of the close personal relationship between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, including the exchange of "lavish gifts."