The State Department is warning hundreds of human rights activists, foreign government officials and businesspeople identified in leaked diplomatic cables of potential threats to their safety and has moved a handful of them to safer locations, administration 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 the organisation WikiLeaks has damaged American interests by exposing foreigners who supply valuable information to the US.
Administration officials said 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 New York Times and several other publications, many with some names removed.
But they caution that many dissidents are under constant harassment from their governments, so it is difficult to be certain of the cause of actions against them.
The State Department is mainly concerned about the cables that have yet to be published or posted on websites - nearly 99 per cent 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.
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 ambassador to Libya, who was recalled from his post last month after his name appeared on a cable describing peculiar personal habits of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
While no decision has been made on Cretz's future, officials said he was unlikely to return to Tripoli. In addition, one midlevel diplomat has 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 V. Putin - appeared to have weathered the disclosures.