Over a thousand internal US government communications concerning Cambodia, many of them classified, are to be disclosed in the coming weeks, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks announced yesterday.
The documents are part of a trove of over 250,000 US State Department cables sent between Washington and US embassies and consulates in 274 nations that were allegedly provided to WikiLeaks by a US Army intelligence analyst who was arrested in Iraq in May.
By yesterday, no records concerning Cambodia had been disclosed among the 226 posted online by the website’s operators, who said they were progressively releasing the documents in batches.
However, according to the website of the German magazine Der Spiegel, which has been granted access to the full document cache, it includes 777 cables originating at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh stretching as far back as the early 1990s, with the bulk composed since 2007.
Though 147 of the records are classified, few of the documents reach high levels of secrecy, with only four marked “secret,” the second-highest level of classification under US law.
Echoing remarks made by officials in Washington, the US Embassy yesterday denounced the WikiLeaks disclosures, calling them “an irresponsible attempt to wreak havoc and destabilize global security.”
“It potentially jeopardizes lives and global engagement among and between nations. Given its potential impact, we condemn unauthorized disclosures and are taking every step to prevent security breaches,” embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said in an e-mail.
Disclosures published yesterday by news outlets selected by WikiLeaks included US attempts to secure Pakistani nuclear fuel, Gulf Arab states’ calls for US intervention to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and candid assessments of the competence of senior foreign officials.
US officials had preemptively contacted foreign governments in advance of the disclosure, expressing regret at the leak of sensitive information and warning that they could prove embarrassing, according to media reports.
Cambodian officials in the Foreign Ministry and in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet yesterday said they had no knowledge of similar communications from the US.
“I have no information about that,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.
Asked if the US had discussed the WikiLeaks matter with Cambodian authorities, Mr Wenig of the US Embassy said he could not comment on “allegedly leaked documents.”
“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,” he said.
The time frame of the documents indicates they are likely to concern matters such as Cambodia’s national elections in 2008, the 2007 assassination of opposition journalist Khim Sambo, events at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and the increasing level of US-Cambodian military ties.
An unknown number of Cambodians are also reportedly included on a classified US State Department list of foreign officials barred from entry into the US due to suspicions that they are involved in natural resources corruption.
Since taking office last year, US President Barack Obama has won plaudits from some freedom of information campaigners for beginning what he called a “new era of openness” under the Freedom of Information Act, a 1966 law authorizing the release of government documents.
However, the State Department in March was one of only five US government agencies singled out by the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University, for disclosing less under Mr Obama than it had under his predecessor, George W Bush.
The State Department has so far only released a small number of highly redacted documents to The Cambodia Daily under the Freedom of Information Act, frequently citing diplomatic secrecy.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which receives US funding, said yesterday that he did not foresee harm to US-Cambodian relations as a result of pending WikiLeaks disclosures.
“There may be a lesser degree of sharing, but then I think that the Cambodian government needs to get used to opening information up to the public,” he said.
Adopting a freedom of information statute in Cambodia could give individual government officials less reason to leak information in an uncontrolled manner, he added.
“If anything, if people know that they can get it in their hands in 10 years, they may be more likely to wait” rather than leak information, he said.