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US cautions people named in WikiLeaks cables

The US has warned hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and also moved a handful of them to safer locations, officials said.

world Updated: Jan 07, 2011 16:24 IST

The US has warned hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and also moved a handful of them to safer locations, officials said.

The operation, which involves a team of 30 in Washington and embassies from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, reflects the administration's fear that the disclosure of cables obtained by WikiLeaks has damaged American interests by exposing foreigners who supply valuable information to the US, The New York Times reported.

State Department officials said Thursday they were not aware of anyone who has been attacked or imprisoned as a direct result of information in the 2,700 cables that have been made public to date by WikiLeaks, The Times and several other publications, many with some names removed.

But they caution that many dissidents were under constant harassment from their governments.

The officials declined to discuss details about people contacted by the State Department, saying a few were relocated within their home countries and that a few others were moved abroad.

The State Department is mainly concerned about cables that have yet to be published or posted on websites - nearly 99 percent of the archive of 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

With cables continuing to trickle out, they said, protecting those identified will be a complex, delicate and long-term undertaking.

The State Department said it had combed through a majority of the quarter-million cables and distributed many to embassies for review by diplomats there.

"We feel responsible for doing everything possible to protect these people," said Michael H. Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour who is overseeing the effort. "We’re taking it extremely seriously."

Contrary to the administration's initial fears, the fallout from the cables on the diplomatic corps itself has been manageable.

The most visible casualty so far could be Gene A. Cretz, the US ambassador to Libya who was recalled after his name appeared on a cable describing peculiar personal habits of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

While no decision has been made on Cretz's future, officials said he was unlikely to return to Tripoli. In addition, a mid-level diplomat had been moved from his post in an undisclosed country.

But other senior diplomats initially considered at risk - for example, the ambassador to Russia, John R. Beyrle, whose name was on cables critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - seemed to have weathered the disclosures.

An American diplomat in Central Asia said recently that one Iranian contact, who met him on periodic trips outside Iran, told him he would no longer speak to him.

Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said people in Afghanistan and Pakistan had become more reluctant to speak to human rights investigators for fear that what they said might be made public.

A Pentagon spokesman said Thursday that the military was not aware of any confirmed case of harm to anyone as a result of being named in the Afghan war documents.

But he noted that the Taliban had said it would study the WikiLeaks documents to punish collaborators with the Americans.

WikiLeaks’s founder Julian Assange has said the group will continue to release additional cables on its own website as well.