A list of facilities around the world whose loss would "critically impact" America's ability to defend itself has been published by WikiLeaks, causing anger in the US because of fears it could help terrorists identify potential targets. The document was drawn up by the State Department in February 2009, after all of the country's overseas missions were asked to provide a run-down of critical pieces of local infrastructure.
Hundreds of pipelines, communication hubs and manufacturing plants on several continents were listed, along with some of the planet's largest nuclear and military facilities. Many are in the UK, including several satellite sites and plants owned by BAE Systems.
Last night, further leaked cables revealed that Nato has drawn up contingency plans for the defence of Eastern Europe from Russian military aggression, with British troops apparently earmarked for combat.
While many of the diplomatic documents previously published by the whistle-blowing website were merely embarrassing or inconvenient to the US, the State Department list – designed "to strengthen national preparedness, timely response and rapid recovery in the event of an attack, natural disaster or other emergency" – contains the sort of information considered vital to militant groups. It includes a cobalt mine in Kinshasa, an insulin plant in Denmark, an anti-snake venom factory in Australia, a Canadian hydro-electric plant which acts as "a critical irreplaceable source of power to portions of North-east US", and a Siemens factory in Germany which is "essentially irreplaceable" for the "production of key chemicals".
Given that the US sees itself as waging a "global war on terror", the document is among the most explosive published by WikiLeaks so far, according to security experts, who say it gives terrorists what amounts to a shopping-list of key targets. John J LeBeau, a former CIA officer who teaches security studies at the George C Marshall Centre in Germany, said it "might put ideas into jihadist heads as to what to profitably target".
Meanwhile, separate US diplomatic cables, one signed by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested that Nato has drawn up plans to defend Eastern Europe from Russian aggression.
British troops are among nine Nato divisions apparently earmarked for combat operations in the event of an attack against Poland, Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. WikiLeaks reported that British warships would also take part and said the secret proposals were approved unanimously by Nato earlier this year.
According to one US communiqué, there are concerns in Washington that news of the alliance's plans would lead to "an unnecessary increase in Nato-Russia tensions".