WASHINGTON — U.S. diplomats and officials said they're bracing Sunday for at least three newspapers and WikiLeaks to publish hundreds of thousands classified State Department cables that could drastically alter U.S. relations with top allies and reveal embarrassing secrets about U.S. foreign policy.
U.S. diplomats frantically have been reaching out to their counterparts around the world as intelligence officials pleaded with WikiLeaks and the newspapers, including The New York Times, the Guardian in London and Der Spiegel, a German newsweekly, to not publish information that could endanger lives and U.S. policy. Some of the documents are expected to reveal details about how some U.S. diplomats feel about top foreign leaders.
While this is the third time this year that WikiLeaks has released a large batch of documents related to U.S. foreign policy, officials told McClatchy that Sunday's expected release will be far more damaging than the first two combined.
The first batch dealt with Afghanistan and the second with Iraq. Both releases largely gave details about what many thought the U.S. military was doing in those wars. This batch however, is expected to include never released private cables between diplomats.
Publicly, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley warned that releasing the documents could put "lives and interests at risk." But privately, administration officials are far more concerned about what they contain and implications of releasing them.
NBC News reported Friday that some of the documents would reveal damaging details about U.S. efforts to renegotiate the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia and U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in Yemen.
Speculation is rampant in Washington about what's in the documents.
Germany's Der Spiegel briefly published a story on its website Saturday saying that the documents include 251,287 cables and 8,000 diplomatic directives, most of which date after 2004. About 9,000 documents are from the first two months of this year, the newspaper said.
About 6 percent of the documents were classified as secret, the newspaper said before taking down its story. The majority was unclassified, the newspaper said, but all were intended to remain confidential.
The newspaper said it would release all the documents at 4:30 p.m. EST. WikiLeaks and the newspapers are expected to release the documents and their findings at the same time. However, the release time has changed several times over the past few days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reached out Friday to leaders in Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and Afghanistan, Crowley said via Twitter. Diplomats throughout the State Department have spent days reaching out and warning allies of what's coming.
Newspapers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, India, Pakistan, Israel and Belgium, among others, said they expect the leaked documents to include details about U.S. relations with their countries.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN in an interview to be broadcast Sunday that: "I would hope that those who are responsible for this would, at some point in time, think about the responsibility that they have for lives that they're exposing."
Although WikiLeaks hasn't said how it obtained the documents, U.S. officials think that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, while a 22-year-old intelligence office stationed in Iraq, downloaded thousands of documents, at times pretending he was listening to music by Lady Gaga.
Manning and other soldiers had access to the documents as part of an effort by the military to get as much information as possible to soldiers on the battlefield about their communities so that they had the best intelligence possible.
Manning has been charged with illegally downloading thousands of classified documents and is being held in a military jail.
(Shashank Bengali contributed to this article from Baghdad.)
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