x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UK leads condemnation of WikiLeaks

Britain led the international condemnation yesterday of the latest leak of US diplomatic cables, which listed scores of facilities worldwide that Washington considers vital to national security.

LONDON // Britain led the international condemnation yesterday of the latest leak of US diplomatic cables, which listed scores of facilities worldwide that Washington considers vital to national security.

The document released by WikiLeaks was considered the most serious of the recent revelations so far and has been described as providing terrorists with a "shopping list" of potential targets worldwide.

Liquefied natural gas plants in the Gulf, underwater pipelines in Britain, Japan and China, transport hubs across the globe, and even an anti-snake venom factory in Australia, were among the infrastructure and manufacturing plants identified.

Other facilities named in the 2009 document, compiled by US embassies for the US State Department, included a gas pipeline junction in western Siberia - described as "the most critical gas facility in the world" - a cobalt mine in Congo and a pharmaceutical plant in Denmark that produces insulin.

A spokesman for the UK prime minister, David Cameron, said yesterday: "We unequivocally condemn the unauthorised release of classified information. The leaks and their publication are damaging to national security in the United States, Britain and elsewhere. It is vital that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information."

The leak listed three UK sites owned by BAE Systems, the aircraft and weapons manufacturer, satellite monitoring sites, a transatlantic undersea cable junction and the location of a Scottish naval engineering firm.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the House of Commons intelligence and security committee, said no proper attempt had been made by WikiLeaks to determine if the material could help anyone planning terrorist attacks.

"This is further evidence that they have been generally irresponsible, bordering on criminal," he said. "This is the kind of information terrorists are interested in knowing."

None of the sites was a military or diplomatic facility but all were considered crucial to US national interests.

Philip Crowley, the US assistant secretary of state, was quoted by The Times of London as describing the leaks as "irresponsible", adding: "There are strong and valid reasons information is classified, including critical infrastructure and key resources that are vital to the national and economic security of any country.

"Julian Assange [the founder of WikiLeaks] may be directing his efforts at the United States but he is placing the interests of many countries and regions at risk."

Kristinn Hrafnsson, a spokesman for WikiLeaks, said: "This further undermines claims made by the US government that its embassy officials do not play an intelligence-gathering role. In terms of security issues, while this cable details the strategic importance of assets across the world, it does not give any information as to their exact locations, security measures, vulnerabilities or any similar factors, though it does reveal the US asked its diplomats to report back on these matters."

Jonathan Marcus, a BBC correspondent, said that this document was probably the most controversial yet after more than a week of leaks.

"What the list might do is to prompt potential attackers to look at a broader range of targets, especially given that the US authorities classify them as being so important," he said.

dsapsted@thenational.ae