The cables also suggest that the U.S. had sought to use its embassies in the global espionage network. The material, which includes information written as recently as February, shows secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice telling officials to collect personal details of political leaders like iris scans, fingerprints, DNA samples as well as to get information on military installations, weapons markings and vehicle descriptions.
Samples of some of the thousands of documents that were to be released by WikiLeaks Sunday night began leaking out midday after the German newspaper Der Spiegel and The New York Times released excerpts earlier than planned.
The WikiLeaks website tweeted out a copy of an article that appeared on the Gawker website taken from Der Spiegel, which posted copies of its newspaper ahead of time. Moments later The New York Times released some of the details of documents it had acquired. The Guardian U.K. followed suit. Spanish and French newspapers also had access to the documents.
The massive dump began after WikiLeaks announced that it had been the victim of a "denial of service" attack but that it was still releasing documents via its international newspaper partners.
WikiLeaks announced Sunday morning via Twitter that it was "currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack," which shuts down access to the site, but "El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down."
The Obama administration told the whistle-blower that its expected the release to put "countless" lives at risk, threaten global counterterrorism operations and jeopardize U.S. relations with its allies.
A statement released by Robert Gibbs, President Obama's press secretary, after the leaks began spilling, described the document release as "reckless and dangerous."
"By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," Gibbs said.
"President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal," he continued. "By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."
But while the information, which was written as recently as February, was released by the newspapers, they individually agreed to withhold personal information that could hurt individuals, and some of the information was classified for U.S. agency sharing so that more than 3 million U.S. government personnel and soldiers may have had access.
"The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match," the newspaper wrote in a release that accompanied the WikiLeaks material.
"Government officials sometimes argue — and the administration has argued in the case of these secret cables — that disclosures of confidential conversations between American diplomats and their foreign counterparts could endanger the national interest by making foreign governments more wary of cooperating with the United States in the fight against terrorists or other vital activities," The Times wrote.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the ranking Republica on the House Intelligence Committee, said the disclosure had "nothing to do with transparency," but instead aimed at "undermining American foreign policy."
"As the world's number one target for spying by foreign adversaries and now clearly other hacks, the federal government must do a better job of strengthening America's computer and cybersecurity protocols. If we do not, we risk leaving exposed an Achilles heel that could cause irreparable damage to our global partnerships and international standing," Hoekstra said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman released a statement after the newspapers began revealing the content of the documents, saying that the Pentagon is taking additional steps to "prevent further compromise of sensitive data." They include two reviews on the policy and technological shortfalls that led to the WikiLeaks disclosures.
Immediate recommendations include disabling Defense Department computers from being able to copy data to removable media, limiting the platforms to move data from classified to unclassified systems, creating a two-person handling system and developing a suspicious behavior monitoring akin to systems that help credit card fraud prevention. Several other efforts have been taken at Central Command.
But with the damage already done, the WikiLeaks information reveals some stark communications made among U.S. officials and foreign leaders. The New York Times reported that one cable captured a conversation between Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then leader of U.S. Central Command, that detailed a deal in which the Yemenis would take credit for bombing terror outposts as a means to prevent anger at the government by allowing U.S. forces to conduct operations.
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," reads one quote attributed to Saleh.
Another series of cables reported by Le Monde and The New York Times show several foreign nations imploring the U.S. to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and in November 2009, put the timeline at six to 18 months.
The king of Bahrain said Iran "must be stopped," according to the release. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia implored Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time.
Abu Dhabi Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said ground troops should be put on the ground in Iran.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer told Fox News that if WikiLeaks' intent had been to prevent war, the cables make the case against Iran stronger by showing that the Islamic regime's neighbors feel threatened by Iran.
In yet another disclosure, officials discussed ways of disrupting the North Korean regime while not overtly offending China. The proposal included included commercial offers by South Korea that would "help salve" China's "concerns about living with a reunified Korea" that is in a "benign alliance" with the United States, The New York Times reported.