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State Dept. was ‘horrified’ by WikiLeaks releases

FORT MEADE — State Department workers were horrified by WikiLeaks’ publication of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an agency official testified Thursday.

Elizabeth Dibble didn’t give any evidence in open court of how the unprecedented leak of classified information damaged U.S. foreign relations, but she did testify in a session closed to the public to protect classified information. She was summoned to talk about the impact of Manning’s actions on U.S. relations with Iran, Lebanon and Libya.

Dibble was the No. 2 official in the agency’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs when WikiLeaks began publishing the leaked cables on its website in the fall of 2010. She was the prosecution’s third witness at a sentencing hearing to determine Manning’s sentence for leaking the cables, plus more than 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and some battlefield video, while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Manning faces up to 136 years in prison following his conviction on 20 counts, including Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. He has said he leaked the material to expose wrongdoing by the military and U.S. diplomats.

Dibble said people in her office reacted with “horror and disbelief that our diplomatic communications had been released and were revealed on public websites for the world to see.”

She said diplomatic cables — written communications between U.S. embassies and agency headquarters — contain sensitive information about U.S. foreign relations.

“Cables not only provide the facts but they provide the analysis, the synthesis and the embassy’s judgment of what is going on in a particular country,” Dibble said.

The U.S. ambassador in Tripoli, Gene Cretz, was recalled because of the Libyan government’s strong reaction to the leaked cables, according to a May 2011 report by the State Department’s inspector general’s office.

State Department officials said in January 2011 that relations were strained by the cables’ disclosures about Cretz’ candid reporting on the eccentricities of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Another U.S. diplomat, John D. Feely, the No. 2 official in the Western Hemisphere bureau, testified the leaked cables had an impact on U.S. relations with Latin American nations. He saved the details for a closed session following his open-court testimony.

U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual left Mexico in May 2011 amid furor over leaked cables that angered the Mexican government. Mexican President Felipe Calderon had publicly criticized a cable in which Pacual complained about inefficiency and infighting among Mexican security forces in the campaign against drug cartels.

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in November 2010 that the leaks endangered people’s lives, threatened national security and undermined U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Manning’s lawyers maintain the leaks did little to no harm.

Former State Department spokesman Philip “P.J” Crowley, who resigned in March 2011, said in a telephone interview Thursday the leaked cables had no lasting impact on a strategic level.

“For most part, we overcame any bruised feelings and got back to business,” he said.

But at a personal level, people’s lives and careers were put at risk, Crowley said.

“There is a narrative that there was no harm done, but that narrative is false,” he said.

Dibble said on cross-examination that she disagreed with these sentiments expressed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in December 2010: “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.”

Gates also said 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.”

Dibble acknowledged only that governments deal with the United State because it’s in their national interest.