'Horror' Over Leaked Cables, Diplomat Says
FT MEADE, Md. (CN) - Speaking only in generalities in open court, a diplomat testified Thursday that Pfc. Bradley Manning's leak of cables brought "horror and "disbelief" to the U.S. Department of State's European office.
The testimony came in Day 2 of the sentencing phase for the young soldier who was convicted this week after committing the biggest intelligence breach in U.S. history. These proceedings aim to show the actual impact that the disclosures caused on the ground.
Facing more than a century in prison, Manning argues that the leaks caused little to no harm on national security. He made headway on that argument yesterday when former Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, who headed the Information Review Task Force investigating the leaks, admitted that he found no evidence that any intelligence source was harmed or killed because of the leaks.
Amnesty International has credited "Cablegate" - the name WikiLeaks gave to more than a third of the sensitive files that Manning exposed - with helping fuel the so-called Arab Spring. Manning's supporters note that these documents exposed U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, spying on the United Nations, and an allegation of child sexual abuse by a military contractor in Afghanistan. Critics blame the releases, however, for spurring repressive regimes such as Belarus to crack down of democratic reformers.
While chatting with Adrian Lamo, an online confidante turned informant, Manning repeatedly described publication of the cables as an experiment in "open diplomacy."
Elizabeth Dibble, who has spent more than three decades within the State Department, testified that the Bureau of European Affairs greeted that experiment with "horror and disbelief that our diplomatic communications had been released and had been available on a public website for the world to see."
She spoke about that effect only generally in an open court session Thursday morning.
"The role of an embassy overseas is to be the eyes and ears of the U.S. on the ground," Dibble said. "If you read the newspapers you can get the facts, but [diplomats try to get] the backstory, the context. [They try] to delve behind a policy decision - for example, why a decision was made - and to elicit from our contacts overseas the color and the context that goes with the facts."
Dibble agreed under cross-examination that she has never publicly questioned the system of classification that shields cables from disclosure for decades.
Manning's military defender, Maj. Thomas Hurley, asked: "You just accepted the classification at face value?"
"Yes, I did," Dibble replied.
Hurley also confronted the diplomat with a quotation by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, opining that exposure of the cables would not affect U.S. statecraft.
"Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time," Gates wrote in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Dibble replied, "I would say that makes a good sound byte, but I don't agree with it."
Gates had also called it "fairly significantly overwrought" to call Cablegate a "game-changer" for U.S. diplomacy.
"The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets," the former defense secretary wrote.
To that, Dibble replied, "I don't necessarily agree with that, no."
Capt. Angel Overgaard, one of the prosecutors, had Dibble opine on how a leak could potentially affect international relations. The witness spoke about the need to "get your contacts to give you the backstory" and the importance of "establishing credibility and establishing trust."
In open court, however, Dibble referred to this process only with a hypothetical "Country X."
None of the government's arguments about how the release of a specific cable either potentially or actually caused damage to U.S. foreign relations has been publically released in the court record.
Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over Manning's court-martial, then called a closed session for Dibble to continue testifying.
Manning has long admitted to sending WikiLeaks more than 700,000 confidential files, including U.S. embassy cables, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.
His supporters, who have attended nearly every court session, sprinkled the courtroom today wearing T-shirts branded with the word "truth." Their numbers were smaller than usual on this rainy Thursday here at Ft. Meade.