An innocuous-looking memory stick, no longer than a couple of fingernails, came into the hands of a Guardian reporter earlier this year. The device is so small it will hang easily on a keyring. But its contents will send shockwaves through the world's chancelleries and deliver what one official described as "an epic blow" to US diplomacy.
The 1.6 gigabytes of text files on the memory stick ran to millions of words: the contents of more than 250,000 leaked state department cables, sent from, or to, US embassies around the world.
Information in the first tranche of cables released on 28 November 2010 included the following:
Middle East issues
Strong Arab distrust for Iran referring to them as “evil”, as well as encouragement for a military strike on the nuclear facilities in Iran.
US intelligence has assesed that Iran obtained from North Korea advanced missiles (derived from a Russian design) that are more powerful than publicly admitted by the United States to be in Iran's possession. These missiles, designated the BM-25, have a range of up to 2,000 miles (3,200 km).
Claims that the Iranian Red Crescent is actively controlled by the government and are involved in illicit arms smuggling and intelligence gathering on behalf of Iran.
Israel was ready to attack a nuclear-armed Iran.
Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan suggested the US make use of local fringe groups to try and topple the Iranian regime.
Increased Syrian arms shipments to Hezbollah despite their claims that new shipments have ceased.
Devastating criticism of the UK's military operations in Afghanistan.
According to a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul, Vice President of Afghanistan, Ahmad Zia Massoud, was found carrying $52 million in cash that he “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” The discovery was made in the United Arab Emirates by local authorites working with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Saudi donors remain chief financiers of militant groups like Al Qaida.
Issues related to world leaders
Harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, including comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, calling Vladimir Putin an "alpha-dog", Hamid Karzai as being "driven by paranoia" and Angela Merkel as someone who "avoids risk and is rarely creative".
Benjamin Netanyahu is "elegant and charming", according to a cable apparently penned by an official at the US embassy in Egypt, "but never keeps his promises."
Much about Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi was revealed in the documents. For example, he has a fear of flying over water and he no longer relies on his all female bodyguard force, only taking one to the UN during 2010. He is accompanied everywhere by a Ukrainian nurse who some claim are romantically linked. When her visa was not approved in time for Qadhafi’s trip to the UN he had her privately flown to him afterward.
Issues related to the United States
The United States apparently used bargaining to move prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to other countries. In one case, if Slovenia did not take one of the prisoners, President Obama would not agree to meet with Slovenian officials. Other offers include economic incentives or even a visit from President Obama.
Secret US military missions flown from a UK base, which Britain alleged could involve torture.
A directive from Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to gather biometric information on the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.
Issues related to China
A Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing that the Chinese government was responsible for instigating the January 2010 Google hacking incident.
Chinese government operatives have waged a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage targeting the United States and its Western allies.
Grave fears in the United States and Britain over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.
Special intelligence campaigns were run to spy on the leadership of the United Nations including secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK, as well as many other countries.
Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British Royal Family.
WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents, has made good on its promise to release a huge cache of confidential American diplomatic cables. The documents dump, which includes a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the U.S. State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, pulls back the curtain on the sometimes messy business of diplomacy.
Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks says it has come under attack from a computer-hacking operation, ahead of a release of secret US documents.
"We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack," it said on its Twitter feed earlier.
It added that several newspapers will go ahead and publish the documents released to them by Wikileaks even if the site goes down.
The US state department has said the release will put many lives at risk.
Saudi King Abdullah has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran's nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.
The more than 250,000 documents, given to five media groups by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, provide candid, tart views of foreign leaders and sensitive information on terrorism and nuclear proliferation filed by U.S. diplomats, according to The New York Times.
Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.
A classified directive which appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton's name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.