FORT MEADE, Md. — The more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables Army Pfc. Bradley Manning disclosed through WikiLeaks have had a chilling effect on American foreign relations, a high-ranking State Department official testified Monday.
Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy said at the soldier's sentencing hearing some foreign government officials, business leaders, educators and journalists remain reluctant to speak freely in private with U.S. diplomats more than two years after the cables were published.
"In several cases, people have said, `We're not going to share with you like we used to.' Others feel they are not getting the same kinds of exchanges they had before," said Kennedy, who testified as a prosecution witness.
Kennedy said the State Department never completed a damage assessment but he insisted the harm was real.
"It's impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security," he said.
Kennedy's testimony came during the second week of a hearing to determine Manning's sentence for leaking the cables, 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and some warzone video to the anti-secrecy group while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010. WikiLeaks began publishing the cables in November 2010 and eventually posted almost all of them on its website.
Manning was convicted last week of 20 offenses, including six Espionage Act violations, five theft counts and a computer fraud charge. The crimes carry a combined maximum prison term of 136 years.
Manning says he leaked the material to expose wrongdoing by the military and U.S. diplomats. He contends he selectively released material that wouldn't harm service members or national security.
Prosecutors have presented evidence the disclosures fractured U.S. military relationships with foreign governments and Afghan villagers, endangered the lives of foreign citizens who had confided in diplomats and chilled State Department discussions with some overseas human-rights workers.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney David Coombs, Kennedy said his opinion didn't conflict with public statements by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting the impact was not severe.
Clinton said in a BBC interview Dec. 3, 2010, shortly after WikiLeaks released the first batch of cables, that the documents were not always accurate. "They are passing on information for whatever it's worth. And I think most leaders understand that, and I have found no hesitancy," Clinton said.
Gates implied at a December 2010 Pentagon briefing the cables had not had a large impact on foreign policy.
"I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought," he said.
Kennedy said the cables Manning leaked, dated 2005 to 2010, were only about 10 percent of all the diplomatic cables handled by the State Department during that period. He also acknowledged only about half of the leaked cables were classified, even though Manning obtained them through a classified government computer network.