Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks: How could one person leak so much classified material?

By Marc Ambinder
National Journal
To date, Bradley Manning stands accused only of providing a classified video of U.S. operations in Iraq to WikiLeaks. But U.S. government officials say they consider Manning the prime suspect behind the flood of documents that have wound up being promulgated by the group determined to bust U.S. secrecy.
Manning, 23, seems like an unlikely culprit. Trained as an intelligence analyst, awarded a Top Secret clearance, deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 10th Mountain Division in 2007, he's a mere PFC, or Private First Class, not an Aldrich Ames, the elite spy who leaked to the Soviets. Instead of working at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., or doing secret drops in Vienna, Manning's days were spent in an air-conditioned shack inside a small forward-deployed compound in Iraq.

Skeptics of the government's case against Manning wonder how one young soldier, operating with a couple of computers in the middle of desert, could access and download so much classified information and do so undetected for so long. Indeed, it appears Manning might not have come under suspicion at all had he not confided in a reformed hacker named Adrian Lamo, and had Lamo, a civilian, not reported Manning's musings to the U.S. Army.
But in the modern military, which relies on information as much as bullets and bunkers, it's easier than one might think to gain access to classified material and to disseminate it, according to interviews with numerous officials.
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Manning's job was to make sure that other intelligence analysts in his group had access to everything that they were entitled to see. That included incoming intelligence streams from across the world on something called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), the Department of Defense's computer network for Top Secret information. Manning also had access to another information stream dubbed the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), the Pentagon's server for information classified as Secret. (Secret and Top Secret are differing levels of classifications for materials.)
Using keyword searches and a knowledge of routing nomenclature, any intelligence analyst -- even if he's sitting in a shack in Iraq -- can access pretty much any piece of data classified at the level of access he has. Analysts are given updated documents like this unclassified list of every military operating unit and its e-mail designator. The lists can be accessed through an unsecure and unpublicized Joint Chiefs of Staff file transfer network. Another document lists every single mail routing address by location, even for unacknowledged locations like the Air Force test site in "Area 51" near Las Vegas.
Information and intelligence at the Top Secret level can't be transferred off of those computers easily. To transfer information from the SIPRNet to unclassified networks, analysts like Manning use proprietary computers called SNAP. About 1,500 are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to TeleCommunications Systems, the company that builds them. SNAP, which stands for SIPR-NIPR Access Point, "allows you to bring stuff from the low side to the high side and vice versa, securely," one current user of the program said. The user asked to remain anonymous in order to share sensitive but unclassified insights into how analysts perform their work. Information on an unclassified computer can be transferred to a stick drive, burned onto a CD or simply e-mailed away.
The important thing to know is that diplomatic cables are no longer transmitted over wires to clattering teletype machines. They're sent via e-mail over secured networks, and they are also stored on servers until they're erased. Cables and incident reports from the field are stored on servers in the form of PST files -- PS stands for "personal storage" -- e-mail archives that Microsoft's Outlook program uses to compress and store data.
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So how did Manning allegedly manage to get access to the diplomatic cables? They're transmitted via e-mail in PDF form on a State Department network called ClassNet, but they're stored in PST form on servers and are searchable. If Manning's unit needed to know whether Iranian proxies had acquired some new weapon, the information might be contained within a diplomatic cable. All any analyst has to do is to download a PST file with the cables, unpack them, SNAP them up or down to a computer that is capable of interacting with a thumb drive or a burnable CD, and then erase the server logs that would have provided investigators with a road map of the analyst's activities. But analysts routinely download and access large files, so such behavior would not have been seen as unusual.
Manning is alleged to have started to provide WikiLeaks with the information in the fall of 2009. His access to computer systems was cut off in late May of 2010. The Army's charging document accuses him of downloading "more than" 50 classified State Department cables to his personal computer.
The Department of Defense has tried to make sure that analysts don't abuse the privilege of all-source access while ensuring that they don't operate under an umbrella of constant fear and suspicion or suffer from the kind of stovepiping or compartmentalization that led to pre-9/11 intelligence failures when one agency wouldn't talk with another.
About 60 percent of DoD computers now are monitored by a Host-Based Security System that detects unusual patterns of download and access activity on SIPRNet, according to Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. SNAP tools have also been modified. Analysts seeking to upgrade or downgrade information must do so in a supervised setting, Whitman said in an e-mail to defense reporters on Sunday.
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The U.S. Central Command has begun security reviews of protocols at forward-deployed settings like Hammer in Iraq, where Manning spent several years. "Insider threat working groups" have been established, and commanding officers are being trained to detect behavioral changes in their young analysts.
And the Office of Management and Budget has ordered "each department or agency that handles classified information" to establish a security assessment team that would make sure that users don't have "broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively."
But the tension between access, which is critical for tactical intelligence, and operational security, which is critical for protecting secrets, is tight. In wartime, the number of young, fresh-out-of-school analysts granted security clearances skyrockets as demand for intelligence increases exponentially. In this instance, if Manning is indeed the culprit, all it took was one disaffected young man with a rudimentary knowledge of computer systems to bring down an entire edifice of code names, secret networks, compartmented channels, and protected information.
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Obama, GOP optimistic after post-election meeting

WASHINGTON – Reaching no quick fixes, President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress on Tuesday vowed to seek a compromise on their sharply different views about tax cuts before year's end.
"The American people did not vote for gridlock," Obama said following the session. "They did not vote for unyielding partisanship. They're demanding cooperation and they're demanding progress and they'll hold all of us, and I mean all of us, accountable"
There was no consensus on whether to keep Bush era tax cuts in place for the middle class and wealthy alike. But the eight bipartisan congressional leaders and the president agreed to break through their differences by appointing a working group to negotiate a tax cut agreement.
The president appointed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and budget director Jacob Lew to the group while party leaders will appoint their own representatives. Obama said he expects to hear back from them within the next few days.
The meeting lasted two hours, one hour longer than originally planned. The first 90 minutes included congressional aides, but Obama and the elected officials retreated into the president's private dining room for a more intimate 35 minutes of discussion.
The president said that while differences remain over how to address the expiring tax cuts, there was "broad agreement" that both parties can work together to resolve the issue.
"We agreed that there must be some sensible common ground," Obama said.
Obama said he also planned to hold more sessions with lawmakers, a point that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia took note of and applauded. "I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding his perhaps not having reached out enough to us in -- in the last session," Cantor said, "and that this meeting was the beginning of a series in which he hoped that we could work together in a different fashion for the benefit of the American people, given the problems that we face."
Obama promised to invite the leaders to Camp David, an offer that he said especially pleased Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who pointed out that in his 28 years in Congress he had never been to the presidential retreat in the mountains of northern Maryland.
Obama said he also emphasized the importance of ratifying a new nuclear treaty with Russia, a treaty that he said has "broad bipartisan support" from national security advisers and secretaries of Defense and State.
"It's absolutely essential for our national security," Obama said. "We need to get it done."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after the meeting that Senate Republicans first wanted to address the expiring tax cuts and pending spending legislation before tackling other issues. He also said the GOP remains "100 percent" against any tax increases and said they oppose any policy of leaving tax cuts in place for middle class people while raising rates for the wealthy.
House Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner called it a "nice meeting," but said the hard work of achieving bipartisan agreement still lies ahead.
While Obama called the meeting extremely civil, he also spoke of the political realities that often emerge from such meetings — how the leaders of both parties typically fall back on talking points, go before the cameras, try to win the news cycle and paint the other side as unyielding and uncooperative.
"I think there was recognition today that that's a game we can't afford. Not in these times," Obama said. "In a private meeting that I had without staff — without betraying any confidences — I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, 'Let's try not to duplicate that.' "

Now North Korea boasts advances in nuclear program

SEOUL (Reuters) – Secretive North Korea boasted advances in its nuclear program on Tuesday, making sure it held the world's attention, saying it had thousands of working centrifuges, as pressure built on China to rein in its ally.

Nuclear-armed Pyongyang's revelations about its uranium enrichment, which gives it a second route to make a nuclear bomb, came a week after it fired an artillery barrage at a South Korean island, killing four people, including two civilians.

Experts have voiced surprise at the sophistication of a uranium enrichment plant and light-water reactor at the North's main nuclear complex, which were shown to a U.S. scientist earlier this month. There has been no way to verify the North's claims.

The North is also seen as a proliferation risk, accused by the West of supplying Syria, and possibly Iran, with nuclear know-how.

"Currently, construction of a light-water reactor is in progress actively and a modern uranium enrichment plant equipped with several thousands of centrifuges, to secure the supply of fuels, is operating," the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported.

"Nuclear energy development projects will become more active for peaceful purpose in the future," added the paper, according the state news agency KCNA.

New revelations by whistle-blower WikiLeaks, meanwhile, suggested that some Chinese officials did not view North Korea as a useful ally and would take no action if it collapsed.

By staging provocations and flexing its nuclear muscle, analysts say the isolated North is seeking to increase its leverage as it pushes for a resumption of talks with regional powers, which it walked out of two years ago, in return for aid.

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University, said Pyongyang was simply following a typical pattern.

"For the last two years, both Washington and Seoul have tried to ignore them, so now they use both artillery and centrifuges to say: 'we are here, we are dangerous, and we cannot be ignored. We can make a lot of trouble, but also we behave reasonably if rewarded generously enough'," Lankov wrote on the East Asia Forum website.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests to date and is believed to have enough fissile material from its plutonium-based program to make between six and 12 bombs.

It is impossible to verify the North's uranium enrichment program, which it first announced last year. International inspectors were expelled from the country last year, but Washington has said since 2002 that it suspected Pyongyang had such a program.

Analysts say its actions are also linked to family politics, as ailing leader Kim Jong-il seeks to burnish a military image for his inexperienced son and chosen successor Kim Jong-un.


South Korea's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the North's nuclear program, last week's attack on Yeonpyeong island and a Chinese proposal for emergency talks would be raised at meeting of foreign ministers in Washington in early December.

South Korea, Japan and the United States, three of the six countries involved in the on-off disarmament talks, will attend.

Talks host China has proposed a summit meeting of the six parties that have been trying to rein in North Korea's nuclear program. Russia and North Korea are also part of that group.

"Returning to consultation and talks is in the interests of all sides," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing.

"Ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula is the shared responsibility of all sides. We call on all sides to do more to stabilize the situation."

Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted diplomatic sources in Beijing as saying Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who advises leaders on foreign policy, would visit North Korea as early as Wednesday, likely to urge North Korea to take part in the talks.

South Korea has already said now was not the time for talks. Kyodo quoted Akitaka Saiki, Japan's chief envoy to the six-party talks, as also saying it was too soon for talks.

The new Wikileaks revelations, purporting to be from U.S. State Department cables and published by several Western papers, raised questions about the future of the relationship between China and North Korea described in the past as being as close as "lips and teeth."

In one cable by the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, a top South Korean official is described as saying in February that some Chinese officials would not intervene if North Korea collapsed.

Ambassador Kathleen Stephens wrote that Chun Yung-woo, then the vice foreign minister for South Korea, said the younger generation of Communist leaders in China would not risk new armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the Guardian reported.

Some analysts were skeptical.

"My personal advice is that the report has been misplaced, said Wang Dong, a professor at Peking University. North Korea is a strategic question for China, not a financial or economic one. They've made a mistake about Chinas viewpoint.

The United States wants Beijing to use its leverage to restrain its ally North Korea, whose shelling of Yeonpyeong last week was the first attack on civilians on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean war in 1953.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries started a third day of large-scale joint exercises off the peninsula's west coast on Tuesday in a show of force they say is meant to deter Pyongyang from staging further provocations.

(Additional reporting by Yoo Choonsik in Seoul; Chris Buckley in Beijing; and Patrick Worsnip in New York; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Thatcher)

Rude Royal: WikiLeaks Reveals Prince Andrew's Undiplomatic Remarks

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, fourth in line to the British throne and special U.K. representative for international trade, apparently does not have a very high opinion of some foreigners - not to mention certain journalists. So it is with an overwhelming sense of irony that the same reporters he has allegedly accused of "poking their noses everywhere" have revealed his embarrassing - some would say offensive - Royal remarks as part of the latest WikiLeaks cables.

On Tuesday, the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper published a 2008 cable from U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, in which she revealed how the Prince expressed his views on corruption investigators, the French, Americans and - hence the irony - Guardian journalists during a brunch with U.K. and Canadian businessmen. "Rude language a la British... [Andrew] turned to the general issue of promoting British economic interests abroad," Gfoeller wrote. "He railed at British anticorruption investigators, who had the 'idiocy' of almost scuttling the al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia." (See the top 10 leaks.)

Those investigators, who were with the Serious Fraud Office, had been looking into alleged kickbacks paid to a senior Saudi royal in return for a major contract with arms company BAE Systems to provide equipment and training to Saudi security forces. The probe was halted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2007 on the grounds it could compromise security co-operation with the Saudis. (A wider investigation did proceed, however, and ended in February with the company pleading guilty to minor accounting offences and paying $440 million in fines.)

According to the leaked cable, the businessmen at the brunch, "roared their approval. [Andrew] then went on to 'these [expletive] journalists, especially from the National [sic] Guardian, who poke their noses everywhere' and [presumably] make it harder for British businessmen to do business. The crowd practically clapped." (See more on WikiLeaks.)

Then, wrote Gfoeller, when one of the guests, discussing potential investment in Kyrgyzstan, said: "Doing business here is 'like doing business in the Yukon' in the 19th Century, i.e. only those willing to participate in local corrupt practices are able to make any money ... [Andrew] laughed uproariously, saying that: 'All of this sounds exactly like France.'"

For good measure, Andrew also took a pop at the U.S. "Americans don't understand geography. Never have," the cable quotes him as saying. "In the U.K. we have the best geography teachers in the world." Summing up her impressions, Gfoeller said the Duke of York spoke "cockily," "verging on the rude" and often with "almost neuralgic patriotism". (See pictures of Royal weddings.)

None of this will have come as any great surprise to the Brits, who have routinely read stories about Andrew's allegedly brusque manner. His father, Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip, also has a reputation for putting his foot in his mouth during foreign trips. On a state visit to China in 1986, he famously told a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed". In 1998, while chatting with a student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea, he asked: "You managed not to get eaten, then?"

Apart from providing a catalogue of cringe-worthy diplomatic gaffes, Philip's comments are more likely to spark mirth over his blundering than to cause offence. But his son's remarks have raised questions over how well Andrew can do his job boosting British trade overseas if he holds such attitudes. Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on the latest cable revelations and David Cameron's official spokesman said Downing Street would "not be providing a commentary" on the leaks, which the Prime Minister has already condemned, claiming they could potentially damage national security.

After telling the BBC that Andrew has "always been known to be a blunt speaker," former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind says that the Duke of York just needs to be more careful in the future. "Prince Andrew is a superb representative for the U.K.," he tells TIME. "But just like presidents and prime ministers, he will have to assume that what he says in private may in due course become public. We are all on a learning curve." (See how Britain's King of Sting nabbed the Duchess of York.)

Prince Andrew is unlikely to have revised his opinion of journalists as a result of these latest revelations. The danger for Britain's image abroad is that others might revise their opinion of the U.K. - and not in a good way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Musharraf faces questions in Bhutto probe

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 23 (UPI) -- Investigators looking into the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto are questioning former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a director said.

A U.N. report on the assassination implicates the government of the former president, claiming Pakistani officials at the time "failed profoundly" to protect her.

The U.N. report on the Dec. 27, 2007, death of Bhutto in Pakistan's garrison city of Rawalpindi also dismissed a subsequent investigation into her death as prejudiced.

Bhutto was killed following a campaign rally for her Pakistan People's Party. She had returned to Pakistan from exile to run in January 2008 parliamentary elections.

Pakistani investigators said they have a 32-point questionnaire that they were sending to Musharraf in London, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reports.

"We have prepared a questionnaire for the former president to record his statement," said Waseem Ahmed, an investigator in the Bhutto probe.

Kamal Shah, Pakistan's former interior minister, said there was adequate security for the former prime minister and aides to Musharraf said he had nothing to do with security details.

A Pakistani team blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the assassination, though the U.N. panel said that was an effort to divert the investigation, Dawn added.

Bhutto was allegedly wary of Musharraf as she attempted to return to power in Pakistan.

Saudi king scathing of 'rotten' Pakistan president: US leaks

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – The Saudi king considers President Asif Ali Zardari the greatest obstacle to progress in Pakistan, according to scathing comments reported by the New York Times in leaked US diplomatic cables.

"When the head is rotten it affects the whole body," King Abdullah was quoted as saying.

Zardari is deeply unpopular at home. Tainted by corruption allegations and nicknamed "Mr 10 Percent," he spent 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder, but has never been convicted.

The Pakistani government immediately dismissed the reported insult from one of Pakistan's closest allies.

Zardari considers King Abdullah "his elder brother", presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP from Colombo where the Pakistani leader is paying an official visit.

"The so-called leaks are no more than an attempt to create misperceptions between two important and brotherly Muslim countries," Babar said.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said the "extremely negative reports" on relations with Saudi Arabia were "misleading and contrary to facts," and took a veiled swipe at US interpretations.

"It is quite evident that these mischievous reports reveal the utter inadequacy of the author to grasp the essence of the Pakistan-Saudi relationship," it said.

"Pakistan enjoys a very special and unique relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," it said, calling it one between "true friends and brothers".

Pakistan has strongly condemned the staggered release of up to quarter of a million confidential American diplomatic cables by website WikiLeaks, calling the leaks an "irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents".

Saudi king urged U.S. to attack Iran: WikiLeaks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran's nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid and at times critical views of foreign leaders as well as sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.

The White House condemned the release by WikiLeaks and said the disclosures may endanger U.S. informants abroad. WikiLeaks said its website was under attack and none of the underlying cables was visible there Sunday night, though some were posted by news organizations.

Among the revelations in Britain's Guardian newspaper, which also received an advance look at the documents along with France's Le Monde, Germany's Der Spiegel and Spain's El Pais, King Abdullah is reported to have "frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program."

"Cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes the king as saying during a meeting with General David Petraeus in April 2008.

The leaked documents, the majority of which are from 2007 or later, also disclose U.S. allegations that China's Politburo directed an intrusion into Google's computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.


As described by German news weekly Der Spiegel, the cables contain tart comments such as a U.S. diplomat's description of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as someone who "avoids risk and is seldom creative."

Another document described by The New York Times cites a U.S. embassy cable raising the possibility that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may have had a romantic relationship with his Ukranian nurse, who is described as a "voluptuous blonde."

The newspaper said many of the cables name diplomats' confidential sources, from foreign lawmakers and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning: "Please protect" or "Strictly protect."

Comments such a description of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's head of state, as playing "Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin's Batman," are sure to embarrass the Obama administration and to complicate its diplomacy.

The White House said the release of the documents could endanger the lives of people who live under "oppressive regimes" and "deeply impact" the foreign policy interests of the United States, its allies and partners around the world.

"To be clear -- such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"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," he said.


Security analysts tended to agree that the release of the documents was a severe blow to U.S. diplomacy, undermining the confidentiality that is vital for foreign leaders and activists to talk candidly to U.S. officials.

"This is pretty devastating," Roger Cressey, a partner at Goodharbor Consulting and a former U.S. cyber security and counter-terrorism official, said in an e-mailed comment.

The U.S. government, which was informed in advance of the leaked cables' contents, contacted governments including Russia, and in Europe and the Middle East, to try to limit damage.

The White House also warned readers that the field reporting in the documents is often incomplete and does not necessarily reflect, or even shape, U.S. policy decisions.

Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the dramatic revelation that Saudi King Abdullah counseled a U.S. strike on Iran may have been exaggerated for diplomatic effect.

"It's very possible that the Gulf states have in private adopted very aggressive rhetoric just to stress the urgency of the issue," Hokayem said. "But I personally doubt that there is an appetite for war as such."

Among the disclosures reported by The New York Times were:

-- suspicions Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as "building blocks" to build longer-range missiles;

-- allegations that Chinese operatives have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002;

-- talks between U.S. and South Korean officials about the prospects for a unified Korea should the North's economic troubles and a political transition lead the state to implode;

-- the South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to "help salve" Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a "benign alliance" with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul;

-- reporting that Saudi donors remain chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the "worst in the region" in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December;

-- Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball, Missy Ryan, Phil Stewart and John Whitesides in Washington; William Maclean in London and Brian Rohan in Berlin; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Philip Barbara and Jackie Frank)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Embassy cable tells of American's escape from Iran on horseback

By Tim Lister, CNN

November 28, 2010 11:08 p.m. EST

The whistle-blower site WikiLeaks began publishing more than 250,000 cables from U.S. embassies worldwide Sunday.

The whistle-blower site WikiLeaks began publishing more than 250,000 cables from U.S. embassies worldwide Sunday.


  • Story captured in diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks
  • Cable says American dentist escaped Iran in 2009
  • American rode a horse over mountainous terrain into Turkey

(CNN) -- The tens of thousands of diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and released Sunday are full of policy discussions and geo-strategic issues -- but they also tell some fascinating human stories.

One such cable, sent from the American embassy in Turkey last year, tells of an elderly U.S. citizen's escape from neighboring Iran -- on a horse.

The cable, sent on February 11, 2009, says that 75-year old Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi had been refused permission to leave Iran to return to the United States after visiting relatives the previous year.

Vahedi -- a dentist from Los Angeles, California -- had traveled to Tehran in early May 2008 and spent four weeks with family and friends without incident.

But at Tehran airport, as he prepared to return home, his passport was confiscated.

"Thus began a seven-month ordeal in which Vahedi appeared almost daily at the court to request that his passport be returned," the cable continued.

Vahedi was born in Iran but left after 1979's Iranian Revolution and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.



As he became increasingly pessimistic about getting his passport back, Vahedi considered options for slipping out of Iran, including crossing into Iraq and smuggling himself onto a ship crossing the Gulf.

In the end, he decided on the mountainous trek into Turkey.

"In spite of temperatures hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit," the cable says, "Vahedi chose the early part of January because it coincided with the Shia commemoration of Ashura and he thought it likely the police would be more preoccupied."

On January 7, 2009 Vahedi began his odyssey -- first by bus to the city of Urmia and then with a driver into the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. There he met two men with a horse who would escort him to the Turkish border.

According to Vahedi's account, related in the cable, he "did not have clothing appropriate for the weather and had a very difficult time with the cold. As an inexperienced rider hours into the climb Vahedi lost his concentration and fell off the horse tumbling into the woods."

The horse appeared to know exactly where it was going, and was often ahead of his guides, Vahedi later told U.S. officials. He speculated that it might have been used on the route many times before to smuggle drugs across the border.

After a fourteen-hour trek, he and his guides were met at the Turkish border by another man, who took him to catch a bus for the ten-hour journey to Ankara. The cable says he arrived at the U.S. Embassy's consular section with some aches and pains but was otherwise in good health. Altogether, Vahedi told U.S. officials, he had paid his guides $7,500.

As for why his passport was confiscated, Vahedi said one reason might have been extortion. According to the cable, "it was made clear to him informally by the authorities at the court that if he paid a $150,000 fine, the process would move more quickly."

Vahedi also suggested to US diplomats that the Iranian authorities may have been unhappy about two pop groups of expatriate Iranians represented by his sons. The cable notes: "According to Vahedi, while the singers are simply Persian pop singers, they have gotten crowds riled up with occasional anti-regime rhetoric."

South Korea warns of 'firm' response

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- South Korea will "firmly" respond to future provocations from North Korea, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday, declaring that his nation "cannot remain patient" in the face of continued hostility from Pyongyang.

"Fellow citizens, at this point, actions are more important than words," Lee said in a televised address Monday morning. "Please have trust in the government and the military and support us."

The divided peninsula -- tense at the best of times -- has been near the boiling point since Tuesday, when four people died in a North Korean artillery barrage that targeted the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Lee called that attack an "inhuman crime" that followed decades of previous attacks from North Korea, including the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March.

"It is difficult at this point to expect North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons or military adventurism," he said. "We are now clearly aware that we cannot stay patient and be generous. That will only give rise to bigger provocations."


Lee's address came a day after South Korean and U.S. forces started joint military exercises Sunday, prompting a furious response from North Korea. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is set to join South Korea's forces near the coasts of China and North Korea for the four-day drill, which the North called "no more than an attempt to find a pretext for aggression and ignite a war at any cost," according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

China, North Korea's closest ally, called Sunday for an emergency meeting of the six major powers involved in talks about the Korean peninsula. Top diplomats from the six nations -- which also include Japan, the United States and Russia -- need to meet soon to "maintain peace and stability on the peninsula and ease the tension" in the region, Beijing's special representative for the region, Wu Dawei, said Sunday.

A top Chinese envoy met with Lee on Sunday, and a high-ranking North Korean official will visit Beijing this week, China's Xinhua news agency said. South Korea said Sunday it did not think the time was right for a resumption of the six-party talks, but said it would "bear in mind" the Chinese proposal.

In Washington, meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson told CNN that it is consulting with its allies, but resumed six-party talks "cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations."

"Clear steps by North Korea are needed to demonstrate a change of behavior," said the spokesperson, who was not authorized to speak for attribution.

And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that the flare-up exposed the failure of "continued appeasment" of North Korea by Republican and Democratic administrations. He said the United States has given North Korea more than $1 billion in aid over the past 15 years with the goal of getting them to the negotiating table.

"It seems the purpose of everything is to get the North Koreans to the table," said McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The North Koreans' only claim to their position on the world stage is their nuclear capability. And they have a terrible, most repressive, oppressive regime in the world. They have hundreds of thousands of people in slave labor camps. And all of that seems to be sacrificed in the altar of, quote, 'negotiations.'"

In his Monday speech, South Korea's Lee said efforts to resolve the international standoff through negotiations and humanitarian assistance to the North were met with "nuclear development and the sinking of the Cheonan."

He said the attack on Yeonpyeong Island would have been unlawful even in wartime, adding, "I cannot but be angered at their cruelty."

North Korea said the South provoked the attack because shells from a South Korean millitary drill landed in the North's waters. And it has consistently denied responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

A group of 124 people left Yeonpyeong Island by boat Sunday. The South Korean defense ministry is urging journalists to leave the island voluntarily because of the instability, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Seoul said Sunday.

The North called reports of civilian casualties part of South Korea's "propaganda campaign" and accused the "enemy" of creating "a human shield by deploying civilians around artillery positions and inside military facilities before the launch of the provocation."

The violence has sparked anger and political turmoil in South Korea. The country's defense minister, Kim Tae-young resigned after the exchange of fire, and veterans of the South Korean military protested Saturday on the streets of Seoul, stating they were angry that their country's government had not done enough to respond to the North's shelling.

The tense maritime border between the two Koreas has become the major military flashpoint on the Korean peninsula in recent years.

The Yeonpyeong attack was the first direct artillery assault on South Korea since 1953, when an armistice ended fighting. North and South Korea are still technically at war.

Journalists Andrew Salmon and Jiyeon Lee and CNN's Stan Grant and Tim Schwarz contributed to this report.