Wikileaks' Latest Release Is a Public Record Archive

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 8 2013 3:17 PM

Wikileaks' Latest Release Is a Public Record Archive

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Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger attends a a session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Wikileaks released a searchable database of over 1.7 million diplomatic cables from the years 1973 to 1976 today. Because so many of them — over 200,000 — are connected to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the collection is being informally dubbed the "Kissinger Cables." But unlike previous Wikileaks document collections, this release isn't a whistleblower leak. Instead, it's the result of an effort to obtain and organize public documents obtained from the National Archives and Record Administration.

So, what's in them? The findings, so far, are more interesting than they are damning. In that light, the "Kissinger Cables," officially called "PlusD," seem most notable as a well-organized, historical archive of the scope, tone, and depth of U.S. diplomacy around the world. The new collection, which does not include Top Secret cables, is searchable with Wikileaks's 2010 "Cablegate" release.

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As is now the routine for massive releases of documents, journalists are still churning out stories based on the massive document dump, but there are already some highlights. Given her death today, let's start with a 1975 cable containing "First Impressions" on Margaret Thatcher:

"...Unfortunately for her prospects of becoming a national, as distinct from a party, leader, she has over the years acquired a distinctively upper middle class personal image. Her immaculate grooming, her imperious manner, her conventional and somewhat forced charm, and above all her plummy voice stamp her as the quintessential suburban matron, and frightfully English to boot. None of this goes down well with the working class of England (one-third of which used to vote conservative), to say nothing of all classes in the Celtic fringes of this island."

Thatcher, of course, would become Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 until 1990.

Here's a round-up of some of the other early nuggets being reported:

The Vatican on Pinochet killings: "Communist Propaganda." This was a find by the AFP. An October 18, 1973 cable summarized a conversation between then deputy Secretary of State, Giovanni Benelli, and the U.S. Embassy. The cable was addressed to Kissinger. In the conversation, Benelli relayed "his and [Pope Paul VI's] grave concern over successful international leftist campaign to misconstrue completely realities of Chilean situation," calling "exaggerated coverage of events as possibly greatest success of Communist propaganda." The "events" referred to by Benelli were the imprisonment and murder of Pinochet's political opponents. The cable was created five weeks after Pinochet's military coup against President Salvador Allende. This, it should be noted, isn't the first time the Vatican has faced criticism for its response to the Pinochet regime.

Russians loved Joni Mitchell. From the "Atlantic Wire": "Plug in "Joni Mitchell," for example, and you'll find communications between the U.S. embassy in Moscow and the State Department, asking for more Mitchell and Don McLean in their lives — and to a lesser extent Neil Young — because, well, that's the Russians wanted in January 1975."

Kissinger didn't like the Freedom of Information Act: In a transcript of a conversation, Kissinger joked, "Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, 'The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.' [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I'm afraid to say things like that."

Wikileaks is calling the release "the single most significant body of geopolitical material ever published." But this release contains, basically, public records, albeit ones that aren't terribly easy to get (and, given the embarrassment factor of their contents, we're assuming that's not entirely accidental). In any case, Wikileaks's new release is apparently a database they hope to expand with more cables, should anyone else decide to leak more diplomatic material to them.

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Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.