Wikileaks: How the reverberations will be felt in Downing Street and far beyond

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The Independent Online

Britain: US kept a close eye on Alan Duncan

relations between London and Washington were under growing strain last night as the extent of the US intelligence-gathering operation about Britain began to emerge.

The leaked cables reveal that American diplomats took a close interest earlier this year in Alan Duncan, who at the time was shadow prisons minister, a relatively junior position.

Elizabeth Pitterle, the US head of intelligence operations, thanked the London embassy for its information about Mr Duncan, a former oil trader with detailed knowledge of the Middle East. She said that her analysts found its comments on his friendship with William Hague "particularly insightful and exceptionally well-timed". The two men's friendship dates back to when they shared a London flat.

The cables confirm that US diplomats regularly compiled reports on a range of senior British figures. They disclose that detailed information about leading Conservatives was compiled in the run-up to the general election in May and record that a member of the Royal Family was alleged to have been involved in "inappropriate behaviour".

British officials at the United Nations in New York were among the senior diplomats targeted by the US intelligence services. The Government is braced for further damaging disclosures tomorrow. They are expected to include a damning assessment of David Cameron's personal qualities and strong criticism of the British military operation in Iraq.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has already alerted Mr Cameron to the likely contents of the cables. Last night the Foreign Office insisted that the Wikileaks material would not affect the "very strong relationship" between the two countries. NIGEL MORRIS





Spying: Diplomats sent after credit card numbers

Diplomats are not supposed to be spies – that's the purview of the CIA and its sister agencies. But when the job description includes snaffling frequent-flyer numbers, the line between the two professions seems to have blurred.

A number of cables sent from the State Department, signed either by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or her predecessor Condoleezza Rice, make clear that those posted either at the UN mission in Manhattan or at embassies in Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, should obtain as much personal information on foreign officials and dignitaries as possible. That information should include, one says, "office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cellphones, pagers and faxes", as well as "internet and intranet 'handles', internet email addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent-flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information".

A more specific recent cable from Ms Clinton to embassy staff in New York suggests that they find "biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats". It is not clear whether North Koreans have frequent-flyer accounts. But diplomats from other countries do and with the digits, the folks at the State Department could be able to track their every movement. DAVID USBORNE







Iran: Neighbours target Ahmadinejad

"Cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi King advised the US in dealing with Iran's nuclear programme. Military action was the only way, declared Abdullah, to stop Tehran acquiring the bomb.

The leaked emails also showed that a number of Arab countries were not only acquiescing to strikes on Iran but actively encouraging it with the undoubted knowledge that Israel, the supposed common enemy in the Middle East, may play a part.

The Saudi King was recorded as having "frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme" during a meeting with the US General David Petraeus in April 2008. Officials in Jordan and Bahrain openly called for Iran's nuclear programme to be stopped by any means, including military. Most senior figures in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as "evil", an "existential threat" and a power that "is going to take us to war".

The antagonism between Sunni Arab states and Shia Iran is a well-known fact in the realpolitik of the region and a situation which has become increasingly fraught in recent years due to the sectarian strife in countries such as Iraq and Pakistan. What has come out will not be of any surprise to the regime in Tehran.

It is, however, hugely embarrassing to the Americans and will lead to grave disquiet among the Arab powers who had been urging Washington to act against a fellow sovereign Muslim state. KIM SENGUPTA







Afghanistan: Fears corruption in Kabul was ignored

The revelation of the precarious nature of the relationship between the Afghan government and its Western backers will highlight suspicions of corruption at the heart of the Kabul regime.

In candid remarks from America's diplomatic mission in the Afghan capital, officials relate how Ahmed Zia Massoud, the vice-president of Afghanistan until last year, was discovered to be carrying $52m (£33m) in cash during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The discovery was made in 2009 by UAE officials working with the US Drug Enforcement Agency but Mr Massoud, who has denied taking any money out of Afghanistan, was allowed to continue his journey. The memo noted it was a sum that the vice-president "was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money's origin or destination".

The unvarnished nature of diplomats' views about the regime is made even clearer in a description of meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, half brother of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. Noting that "AWK" was eager to express his views, the cable continued: "Note: While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker."

The note refers to his "shady dealings" adds that Mr Karzai, who has always denied such claims, seems to be unaware of the depth of US intelligence gathering in Afghanistan, adding that he "demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs". CAHAL MILMO







Germany: CIA 'torture guards' were protected

The case still amounts to one of the most disturbing Central Intelligence Agency blunders on record. It involved an innocent German citizen who was wrongly kidnapped on CIA orders and held for months in an Afghan jail where he was tortured and sexually abused.

Khaled el-Masri is a German citizen of Lebanese descent. He became the focus of international attention in 2004 after he was released from US captivity and dumped on a road in Macedonia where he was told by guards: "Don't bother telling anybody what happened to you – they won't believe you."

He later revealed to the US media that the CIA had mistaken him for an al-Qa'ida suspect and arranged for him to be kidnapped while he was travelling through Macedonia on a coach.

The case provoked outrage in Germany. But the State Department tapes revealed yesterday that American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for the CIA agents involved. A senior US diplomat told a German official that "our intention was ... to urge that the German government weigh carefully ... the implications for relations with the US". TONY PATERSON







Putin and Berlusconi: Pair's closeness worried Washington

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are presented as an unlikely and unpalatable political double act in the leaked cables.

US officials in Rome formed a particularly unflattering view of Mr Berlusconi, who is described as an "ineffective" leader with a tendency to party the night away.

Elizabeth Dibble, the charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Rome, reported back to Washington that Mr Berlusconi was "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader".

But what seems to have most interested US officials was evidence, as they saw it, of the deepening relationship between Mr Berlusconi and his fellow political strongman, Mr Putin. Italian contacts of the American diplomats believed that the two men had unusually close ties and make mention of lavish gifts, lucrative energy contracts and a "shadowy" Russian-speaking Italian go-between. The diplomats concluded that Mr Berlusconi "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe. CAHAL MILMO

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