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WikiLeaks Faces Fresh Criticism After Releasing U.S. List Of 'Strategic' Infrastructure

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The WikiLeaks website

The WikiLeaks website

WikiLeaks has divulged what is purportedly a secret U.S. government list of key infrastructure sites around the world that could pose a critical threat to U.S. national security if they are targeted by terrorists.

The diplomatic dispatch from February 2009 is one of the most controversial classified documents to be leaked on the Internet by WikiLeaks.

As such, it adds to a political storm engulfing WikiLeaks and its 39-year-old founder Julian Assange. WikiLeaks has become the subject of a criminal investigation in the United States aimed at determining how it obtained more than 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables that it has been releasing, and whether it violated any laws in doing so.

The cable includes oil and natural-gas pipelines, communication hubs, shipping terminals, pharmaceutical and chemical plants, and mines.

Critics say publication of what is essentially a list of targets for terrorists raises fresh questions about whether WikiLeaks has committed the criminal offense of supporting terrorism. Assange was arrested by British police on December 7 on an international arrest warrant from Sweden on allegations of sexual crimes.

Critics include Malcolm Rifkind, a former British defense and foreign secretary, who said the latest leak is "further evidence that [WikiLeaks has] been generally irresponsible, bordering on criminal" by publicizing "the kind of information terrorists are interested in knowing."

'Damaging To Security'

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron's office described the "unauthorized release of classified information" as "damaging to national security in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere" -- adding that it is "vital that governments are able to operate on the basis of confidentiality of information."

Australia's Federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland, said that as an Australian citizen, Assange would be entitled to consular assistance overseas "in respect to any criminal allegations that he may face, and he is entitled to procedural fairness in respect to those allegations."

But McClelland also indicated that Australia would cooperate with the United States, Britain, and other allies on criminal investigations into Assange's activities.

"He is also entitled to, as an Australian citizen, return to Australia. That is the fact," McClelland said. "But equally...he is aware that Australia has obligations pursuant to agreements we have signed that ensure we will provide mutual assistance to countries investigating criminal law enforcement matters."

Critical Impact

The sensitive diplomatic cable asks U.S. missions around the world to update a list of infrastructure and key resources whose loss "could critically impact" public health, economic life, and the national security of the United States.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
The list details undersea cables, oil and natural-gas pipelines, key communications hubs, shipping ports, mineral resources, drug suppliers, and firms considered to be of strategic importance. The sites are in countries ranging from Canada and Britain to the Caucasus, the Middle East, Africa, and China.

The list includes the world's longest oil pipeline network -- the Druzhba pipeline linking eastern Russia to points in Ukraine, Belarus, and Central European countries.

The Nadym natural gas pipeline junction in western Siberia is described as "the most critical [natural] gas facility in the world."

Two Russian oil export terminals -- one at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk and another at Russia's Primorsk port on the Gulf of Finland -- are on the U.S. list of strategic national interests.

The list includes Azerbaijan's Sangachal Terminal -- an industrial complex with a natural gas processing plant and an oil production plant on the Caspian coast about 45 kilometers south of Baku.

Also mentioned is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline linking the Caspian Sea with the Mediterranean through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey.

Oil terminals in the Persian Gulf region are on the list, including an Iranian oil terminal in the Strait of Hormuz on Kharg Island, about 25 kilometers off the coast of Iran.

Also included is Iraq's Al-Basrah Oil Terminal, about 50 kilometers off the coast of Iraq. Oil shipments that comprise about 80 percent of Iraq's gross domestic product are pumped through pipelines and onto tankers at the Al-Basrah facility.

Meanwhile, the shipping lane that links the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean is seen by the U.S. State Department as being vital to U.S. national security because it is part of a "critical supply chain." That has prompted the inclusion on the list of Yemen's Straight of Bab el-Mandeb -- a six-kilometer-wide sea lane connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden between the horn of Africa and the Middle East.

Oil tankers coming out of the Persian Gulf must pass through Strait of Bab el-Mandab to reach the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean. Nonclassified analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that the closure of Bab el-Mandeb also would block non-oil shipments from using the Suez Canal except for limited trade within the Red Sea region.

A chromite mine in Kazakhstan -- known as the Ferrochromium Khromtau Complex in Kempersai -- also is on the U.S. list.

Swiss PostFinance bank has announced that it closed down accounts set up by Assange, saying he had provided "false information" regarding his place of residence.

written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports