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WikiLeaks cables chilled U.S. human rights efforts

Aug. 2, 2013 - 06:39PM   |  

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FORT MEADE, MD. — The 250,000 diplomatic cables that Pfc. Bradley Manning disclosed through WikiLeaks endangered the lives of foreign citizens and made some international human-rights workers reluctant to seek U.S. help, a State Department official testified Friday.

Michael Kozak, acting assistant secretary in the department’s human-rights bureau, testified for the prosecution at Manning’s sentencing hearing. The soldier faces up to 136 years in prison for giving the cables, plus 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and some warzone video, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors are trying to show that the leaks harmed U.S. interests. The defense contends there was little or no damage, and that Manning leaked the material to expose what he considered wrongdoing by the military and U.S. diplomats.

Diplomatic cables are written communications between U.S. embassies and State Department headquarters in Washington. Kozak said some of the cables that Manning downloaded from a classified government computer network identified people as sources of information that would put them at risk of death, violence or incarceration if their involvement were publicly known.

He said the department helped some of those people move, sometimes to other countries, to keep them safe. Kozak, who heads a working group dedicated to the effort, said he still gets new requests for such assistance, including one in the last two weeks.

“We had a moral obligation” to protect people who had spoken to diplomats in confidence, Kozak said.

He declined to say publicly how many people his working group determined to be at risk. He said he would provide the number in a session closed to spectators and reporters that followed his open-court testimony. Prosecutors requested the closed session to protect classified information.

Kozak said the greatest damage to State Department human-rights efforts was a “chilling effect” on foreign activists seeking U.S. help.

“They can’t be sure now whether what they say to us is going to remain confidential or whether it’s going to be broadcast around,” Kozak said.

Earlier Friday, former State Department computer chief Susan Swart testified that the security breach wasn’t the agency’s fault.

Manning’s top-secret security clearance gave him access to the network that included the cables. Swart said she had no qualms about putting the cables on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

“I believed that the intent of the system was correct: If you’re on a system and you’re cleared to handle classified information, that you’re going to handle it appropriately,” she said.

She said that after WikiLeaks began publishing the leaked cables, the department quickly responded by moving such material to a more restricted network, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, where users had to justify their desire to read the cables.

Manning, a 25-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., was convicted Tuesday of 20 of 22 counts, including Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy.

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