Updated 2.15pm, 30th November with added analysis of tags

“The first is that, in Sri Lanka, it would never be possible for any one to play “Julian Assange” and dare face an open media briefing in Colombo, to justify his or her claims on war crimes and torture. Right or wrong, excessive or not, that “democracy” is nowhere within the shores of Sri Lanka and would not be, for many decades to come. There is also no possibility of any lawyer, any public litigant, requesting Courts to “order” relevant authorities to begin investigations into allegations of crimes committed during war, as in Britain. Relevance if any on such democratic practices, is almost naught.” – From WikiLeaks to WikiLanka: War Is Definitely Savage Though “Accusations” Differ, Kusal Perera

The unprecedented release of US diplomatic cables (i.e. confidential briefings) by Wikileaks is, at the time of writing this, only just making it to global news media. Called Cablegate by Wikileaks (which was subject to a massive denial of service attack earlier in the day, but is now back online), it is quite simply the world’s largest classified information release, breaking a record Wikileaks itself had set earlier with the release of documents pertaining to the Iraq war earlier in 2010. As noted on Wikileaks,

“The cables, which date from 1966 up until the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret… The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.”

What is interesting for us is that material about Sri Lanka, and from the US Embassy in Colombo, constitutes a significant section of the dataset. This includes thousands of cables classified Confidential, hundreds classified Secret and many more that are unclassified, but not obviously meant for public consumption.

Image courtesy Wikileaks, Cables by Origin

Contained in the dataset are 3,325 of cables from the US Embassy in Colombo, from 1986 to 2010. There is one cable on 19 May 2009 (the end of the war) and 4 on 26 January 2010 (the day of the presidential election in Sri Lanka). The last 3 cables are from 26 February 2010.

This visualisation / infographic by The Guardian gives an idea about how large the dataset is.

High resolution version here.

Meta descriptions and associated tags of all the cables from the US Embassy in Colombo can be accessed here. Groundviews has also compiled this list as an Excel spreadsheet. The full body text of the cables is part of the original data file that no one save the likes of the New York Times in the US, The Guardian in the United Kingdom and Der Spiegel in Germany have had access to at the moment. Wikileaks itself says that,

“The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next few months. The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.”

Groundviews visualised the classification tags of all the 3,325 cables since 1986.

CE stands for Sri Lanka. Cables on PREL (External Political Relations), PGOV (Internal Government Affairs), PTER (Terrorists and Terrorism) and PHUM (Human Rights) feature heavily, with ECON (Economic Conditions) also significant. Cables tagged with LTTE and Peace Process, unsurprisingly, also feature heavily.

However, from 1 January 2010 to the date of the last cables in late February, neither the tag LTTE nor peace process make a significant appearance. Revealingly, what the US is more concerned about during this time – which also saw the presidential election, the re-election of Mahinda Rajapaksa and in early February, the arrest of Sarath Fonseka – is human rights, internal government affairs and external political relations. Given that the war is now long over, it is also interesting that a significant tag in these cables is MOPS, military operations. One assumes these cables deal with military operations from the previous year(s). There is also a significant increase in the mention of EAID, or Foreign Economic Assistance, which when read together with the other key tags, suggests contextualisation of aid within analyses of internal government affairs and its military operations of yesteryear.

A full glossary of the tags can be accessed here.

Through Google, one can see an overview of the frequency of the cables over 2009 – 2010.

But it is not just through the US Embassy in Colombo that Sri Lanka falls into the spotlight in Cablegate. As reported in The Guardian, the US state department asked US diplomats around the world and at UN heaquarters to provide detailed technical information, including passwords and personal encryption keys for communications networks used by UN officials. This included,

“Views and intentions of UNSC, UN human rights entities, and members regarding Sri Lankan government policies on human rights and humanitarian assistance; UN views about appointing a Special Envoy for Sri Lanka.”

Clearly then, the US is very interested in war crimes in Sri Lanka. But what does this mean for human rights defenders and activists in Sri Lanka, particularly those who may have confidentially, or in fora under the Chatham House rule, divulged information reflected in these cables that even today, if revealed, places their lives at great risk?

The New York Times, in what it already has and will publish, first sent material to the State Department for them to react, though it did not always follow ‘recommendations’ for content to not be disclosed. Questions posed by readers to the NYT Editorial Board are essential reading in this regard. As noted in an editorial note justifying the publication of the Wikileaks cables, the New York Times avers,

“The Times has taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security. The Times’s redactions were shared with other news organizations and communicated to WikiLeaks, in the hope that they would similarly edit the documents they planned to post online.”

But the point is that the dataset is even today available as a torrent file directly from Wikileaks. It is unclear to what extent Wikileaks itself has redacted information that can compromise the safety and security of individuals, and this includes human rights defenders. It is likely they have not, since it is impossible for any one organisation to make a judgement call about this kind of information without deep, localised knowledge and context. This means that over the coming weeks and months, there is a high probability that some of the cables – and these include cables from the US Embassy in Colombo – will place human rights activists, already under scrutiny and a Damoclean Sword at even greater risk.

Here again we recall Kusal’s words,

“The Obama and Cameron governments are no different to the Rajapaksa regime in denying and accusing those who throw up issues relating to war crimes and breach of international human rights law, where they conduct war. Their “national safety and security” rhetoric, politically allies with “patriotism” in Sri Lanka. They too therefore imply the “war against terrorism” they are involved in, “is a humanitarian war” in liberating the people from “terrorism” as Rajapaksa claimed his war was.”

On 22nd November 2010, Wikileaks on its Twitter feed noted, “The coming months will see a new world, where global history is redefined.” They weren’t kidding. The implications of Cablegate are global and profound. For professional journalism, as the questions to the New York Times alone suggest, it is new ground they too are struggling to define and defend. For data visualisation, the dataset offers an unprecedented array of information to make sense of, and present. OWNI’s outstanding work in particular with Cablegate stands out in this regard, and will only grow in utility and usefulness over time.

For the US in particular, that which it would have loved to keep secret is now in the open. Not all of this is progressive. Much of it will in fact be very problematic and ironically, immensely helpful for the very governments Wikileaks seeks to name and shame. It raises the question as to whether what is in the public interest in the US, and defined by say the New York Times, is in the public interest for other countries. Without editorial oversight, mature judgement, curation and contextualisation, this information can be used in any number of ways to further erode democracy and human rights. How this will play out will be interesting, but there is no closing Pandora’s box.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Bloody brilliant analysis, GV! congratulations!

    PHUM: Human rights/ humanitarian?

  • Rohini Hensman

    Intelligent and nuanced.

  • visiter

    most of these info.may have been sent by Mr.Blake
    anyway can’t we view the content of these cables.

  • Acromantula

    the founder of wikileaks cant travel to US or UK of fear of assassination arrest..

    and isnt it nice to see NYT doing “self” censorship.. this proves that there’s no freedom of media in the US

  • @Dayan, yes, PHUM turns out to be Human Rights. See full glossary here. Analysis above also updated.

  • Sampath

    @Acromantula: Julian Assange seems to be not foolish as US diplomats, he has already taken precaution by releasing 2GB torrent called “Insurance File”, which is heavily encrypted. Wikileaks urged to download this file and it is now virtually everywhere around the world. If Assange is assassinated the Encryption Key (like a password) will be released into the public domain and the “Insurance File” will then be opened and a hell of secrets will then be revealed.

    Now US govt. must be trying to save Assange’s life rather than trying to assassinate him.

    isn’t it so interesting? this is just like an American Movie, ha? 😀

  • Punitham


  • Savi Hensman

    According to the Guardian, one of the handful of publications with access to the cables, ‘Redactions have been made principally to protect individual sources where publication could put them or their families at personal risk. We have also considered questions of national security and military sensitivity, as well as legal considerations of defamation. Where the cables have proved simply embarrassing to western diplomats, we have usually considered them “fair game” and left those in…. There has been discussion as far as practical between the media partners on particularly sensitive cables and these concerns have been shared with WikiLeaks in the hope they will adopt a consistent approach.’

  • layziebone

    How can i view the files on Sri-Lanka on the website, I cannot find them

  • isuru lakpura

    It is well known that USA catigories tererizem as good and bad and they fertilize what they consider as good for their own benefits. In other hand they try to apply their military solutions against bad terarizam according to their own classifications. They harvested shame full defets from Vietam to Afganithan. it seems USA is feeling very badly over the glorious victory of SRI LANKA over the LTTE. USA has to undestand that they will get the harvest according to what they have cultivated.

  • It is time for the Human rights violators and other brutal regimes to wake up and undo their mistakes. This is the sign of the coming of the judgement day. Repent and do remedy to your wrongs. The sign is clear now. financial Crisis, Enviroment and climate change,
    earth quakes, cheating, World Big Powers will be worthless soon.
    Those against humanity will be wiped out. Dec. 2012 is nearing.

  • longus

    O Father forgive’em 4 they d’t kno what they r doing! He who hath not sinned shalt cast the first stone! Leave poor fricking Siri Lanka alone!

    The Silence at the UN is deafening here!

    The silence of guardian angels and kindred spirits like Sams, Lambs and Anebelles is intruiging here!

  • dingiri

    What a load of humbug all this is. I am in total agreement with Ahmadinajad. These “leaks” I suspect have been planted by the US State Department themselves in a psy ops campaign against their friends Iran and North Korea.

    The US desparately need a face saving exit from Afghanistan. Everyone knows there has been heavy collateral damage due to the reliance of air power. So showing a clip of a similar incident does not cause too much additional damage but lends credibility to the rest of the leak, some of which could be misinformation or just stuff they want to tell their allies but cannot due to diplomatic constraints. Also, it strengthens the case for withdrawing from Afghanistan prematurely.

    Disparaging remarks about foreign heads of state will only offend politicians with super thin skins. One doesnt get to be a head of state with a thin skin. So basically they have found a way of saying what they really think of them without having to tell it to their faces. Berlesconi and Sarcozi have been called far worse things. I doubt if these “disparaging” comparisons would hardly have registered with them.

    The “clever” bit is how they buried the two important messages or threats to their enemies Iran and N. Korea in this truck load of inconsequential tittle tattle dressing it up to be something sensational, even getting all the major news services to spend hours of air time analysing this heap of worthless rubish as if it were some prized gem of intelligence.

    I see only two important messages here
    1. To Iran, that the Saudis want the Americans to bomb them. This to isolate Iran. Remind them that Sunnis will join the Americans in an eventual war against them. Also possibly to further widen the Sunni – Shiite rift so they destroy each other leaving the rest of the world alone.

    2. To North Korea, that the Chinese will not oppose the South Koreans if they Annex the North. Designed to cause further paranoia among the ruling class in the hope that they will collapse on themselves.

    The rest of the “leaks” is but chaff to buttress and give credibility to these two messages.

    If the US really wished to launch a denial of service attack on Wikileaks they could do it in seconds. They have shutdown many Islamic terrorist websites and they have successfully silenced numerous whistle blower CIA agents who were ready to sell or publicise their stories. So why not Assange? We are told he is in hiding where the US cant find him. My theory is that if the CIA really wanted to shut him up he would have been gagged or disposed of before he ever got close to publishing this stuff. Unless of course he is part of the CIA and has been istructed to publish this stuff while Hillary Clinton runs around pretending to be horrified.

  • Conscience

    All this bru ha ha is over just 330 files. Wait till the promised 350,000 files are revealed. All hell may break loose then.

    The happiest leader is probably Muamaar Gaddafi becsause he is “continuosly being accompanied by a voluptuos Ukrainain nurse”. So said a green eyed envious diplomat! Not much of a security leak either.

  • The Mervyn Silva

    If the Wiki is leaking anything about me, the Assange is hanging from the nearest mango tree!

  • wijayapala

    Dear The Mervyn Silva, could you kindly give us an idea of what could be leaked about you? Thank you.

  • The Mervyn Silva

    The Wijayapala,

    My leaks are sealed.

    Or so I am thinking.

  • SD

    Assange already being prepared for the mango tree!

  • Observer

    FREE Bradley Manning!

    I love it when conspiracy theories get credence. People used to snicker about a paranoid Western conspiracy theory that the current administration seemed to suffer from especially during the last presidential elections. I guess these cables prove how badly they wanted MR to lose.

    Anyway I still don’t understand why people are making a big fuss. This is not even raw intel. There is nothing here to lose sleep over. But I can’t wait to get my hands on all the SL cables to get a picture of what they were really thinking. Especially how they felt about India & China’s involvement.

    Btw it seems SL is not the only one suspicious of the UN! Hillary wanted Banki’s credit cards numbers? bahahaha

    @Conscience, I think the happiest leader would be Putin. Americans calling him an Alpha Dog? Now that’s GOLD!

  • Observer

    I find it rather amusing that GV is so concerned about leakage of information! Isn’t liberation of information a good thing in your philosophy? Wouldn’t you be ecstatic if classified documents from the SL intelligence services came into the publics hands? Why is it when these docs being revealed that you chastise the whistle blowers – who are as we speak being court marshaled? Damn double standards!

  • Dr Ganda P

    I will give it a decade before we really hear the truth about 9/11 through another leak.

    As for war crimes against SL, what a bloody joke !! The US has destroyed almost every nation with one form of terrorism or the other. High time the US govt took a moral standard on war crimes and start prosecuting their ex presidents and the present incumbent. I would like to see a top down approach when it comes to war crimes.

  • Dr Ganda P

    May I also add: The global protectors of the so called freedom of speech are running scared from Mr Assangne and wants him arrested on some false allegation(probably another false intelligence dossier).

  • The Mervyn Silva

    The SD,

    Ha ha,

    White body swinging in the southern breeze
    The strange fruit hanging from the mango tree!


    The biggest Terrorst in the word is America. So lets drive away( cut off) the America embacy from our Great Mother Land SRI LANKA.

  • Janusis

    How were you able to get the dates and tags of the Colombo embassy cables?
    The complete data set is not out yet and their torrent file had only two cables referencing Sri Lanka.


    • Check the links above for the information.

  • Professor Kumar David

    As that Dingiri chap says only the leak about the Saudi’s wanting Iran’s nuclear sites bombed and the Chinese giving the green light for the South to take out the North in Korea are reavealing. The rest that I have looked at (so far admittedly that’s only a minuscule fraction) are self-evident stuff. It’s just like a conversation between you and I about politicos, situations, our ministers, etc. It’s titilating stuff, but that’s all. Would an after dinner conversation in the Rajapakse household about SF, or Manhohan Singh, or Hilary be any different in style? [This is no complaint about GV; I am referring to W’leaks].

  • yapa

    Oh! The Model Democracy and Liberal state of of the western world!

    This shows the real face of the much valued “world renowned political ideologies” of the western world too that they want all of us to follow as absolute principles without leaving a single letter. Will see the responses of the blind political followers of this country, who repeated the each and every glossary word of western political theories like parrots and wanted us to be like Americans from all the corners.

    Now the model is in “King’s Clothes”. We will see how the followers walk their cat walks.


  • yapa

    Oh! The Model Democracy and Liberal state of of the western world!

    This shows the real face of the much valued “world renowned political ideologies” of the western world too that they want all of us to follow as absolute principles without leaving a single letter. Will see the responses of the blind political followers of this country, who repeated the each and every glossary word of western political theories like parrots and wanted us to be like Americans from all the corners.

    Now the model is in “King’s Clothes”. We will see how the followers walk their cat walks.


  • An excellent contribution to the debate by London, Lanka and drums. Wikileaks And The Lankanosphere, http://londonlanka.blogspot.com/2010/12/wikileaks-and-lankanosphere.html.

  • ahamed

    those who ratted on SL maybe named? get ready for a wich hunt………

  • allen

    goodbye David !!_ “The diplomatic campaign by former foreign secretary David Miliband to champion aid and human rights during the Sri Lankan humanitarian crisis last year was largely driven by domestic political calculations, according to a Foreign Office official.


  • kkarunan
  • kkarunan

    if anyone’s having trouble accessing wikileaks cablegate website… visit their IP address directly : or

    they’ve been under DNS/DDoS attacks

  • Very troubling – and disappointing, that so very many men and women, some of them of proven ‘academic’ stature, almost ganging upm as it were in a spree of US bashing over WikiLeaks patently mala fide exposures. The common thread seems to be that of double standards purportedly practiced by the US in the spheres of human right [ civic, political, religious, whatever..] To me it all sounds like the government has quite a number of volunteer medai/cyber vocal defenders. Some, like Dayan Jayatilleke; have been ‘fast on the draw’. It’s not really US bashing , for the sake of baching ,coming in a sequel to the WikiLeaks exposures. No. The exposures are merely used to release the pent-up hatred for the US.

    The point is that all the US and Uk and UK bashing will not help us keep our s eyes shut , day or night, for as long as the spectre of blood on our hands, the blood of human rights violations, taunts our every waking and sleeping moment.. I am also amazed at the naivete of all the jackals baying for US,US and UN blood . So what does Wikileaks exposures do ? They show what any fool should know – that any country, very especially Sri Lanka, [ heck, let’s stop all this bloody pretending about how moral and righteous we are, the whole bloody country stinks and we still vocalize a defense for the indefensible, what bloody humbugs we are] has to use the tools of diplomacy in bilateral relations. Be careful, Wikileaks just might be havign some startl;ign expsures that just might send all our local defenders of make-believe innocense running for cover.

    A word about the Oxford fiasco – has anuone givena thought to the immediate fears at OU about the retaliatory fallout on all its undergradfs and staff had the Oxford Union gone ahead with the rajapaksa event? What comes first ? jeopardizing the safety of your students and staff or pampering a visiting head of state and his cheerr leaders who seem to think that the whople world must pamper their egos at every turn. From where I’m looking at things, the juvenile and self-centered peevishnes with which Rajapaksa and his minions as usual see only what they want to see is a further revelation of their inclusiveness, may I say ?

    None are so blind that having sight, do not yet see !

  • wijayapala

    Dear Winston de Valliere

    has anuone givena thought to the immediate fears at OU about the retaliatory fallout on all its undergradfs and staff had the Oxford Union gone ahead with the rajapaksa event?

    Interesting statement. So you are acknowledging that the threat of pro-LTTE violence led to the cancellation? Doesn’t that clearly show how the pro-LTTE elements are a threat to democracy in the UK?

  • Kumar David

    I have been following international TV, Web and print media coverage of W’leaks carefully for several days. Pro-establishment types in the West are becoming increasingly pleased that this is how the US thinks. W’leaks may not be a plant, but of this I am sure: the US is the main beneficiary. The US has been able to get stuff off its chest that it would have loved to say openly, but the “yes sir, no sir, 3 bags full sir” niceties of formality prevented. So it has let out (or somebody else has let out) everything it wanted to say and it can “pretend” its diplomatic chatter, a leak.

    Anyway 99% of the stuff is exactly what everyone knew the US thinks. Take for example the Colombo US Ambassador’s views on our triumvirate (MR, GR, SF) and war crimes. I never had the slightest doubt that this is what 99.9% of US diplomats (and 999 million other people) believe. Now they got the chance to say it openly. Take Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Brit soldiers, the Kremlin mafia, the Americans have had their say. Embarassment? Bollocks, get real!

    My small reservation about why it may not be a plant is revelation of activities against US law. That is the ONLY thing disadvantages to the Administration.

  • Dear Wijeyepala,

    If you were responsible for the safety of all undergrads and staff at OU – AND IMEDIATELY, FOR THE SAFETY OF A VISITUING HEAD OF STATE AND HIS ‘DELEGATION’ , WOULD YOU STILL GO THROUGH WITH THE EVENT?


  • wije

    Dear French Fries


    I might not even had the event to begin with, as I’m not a great Mahinda fan. But my commentary was directed toward the pro-LTTE elements not OU.


    So you agree with the outcome of Nanthikkadal? A “justifiable weapon for Sri Lankan survival?”

    • Of course I agree. All offensives are violent,aren’t they? Butis all violence legitimate? Until we have the answers to some questions – genuine answers – I personally feel we cannot, and must not, express any finite opinion born of stupid , and an intentionally couldn’t-care-less approach to unpleasant facts. Such ‘analysts’ abd ‘ apologists’ merely snarl up the traffic in the pursuit of truth. Truth is what was, is and will be.

      In the Lankan case, I am persuaded that truth has been a casualty because it has been looked at through the distorting prism of a false sense of patriotism and, I suspect, vested interests which are ALLOWED to corrupt integrity in thought and purpose. I say ALLOWED because many commentaries come from the pens of people WHO KNOW THAT THEY ARE LYING ABOUT THE TRUTH.So, the national debate has sadly corrupted some potentially great minds and translated them into sickeningly fawning minions. Well, it’s said that true grit is tested in the furnace of such trials and if I might say so, true itegrity and morality are being tried, an found wanting, in this national debate.

      Looks like we’ve ‘won’ a war and lost our dinity, integrity and morality and hoinesty in the process. A huge price tompay indeed. We’ve lost immeasurably more than what we’ve won. And as to that, what have we won. A few months before his death,I asked him whether in retirement,in retrospect, he saw himself as a political success or failure. Pensively rubbing his chin, he took a couple of minutes to say ” Not a qualified success.The blood of our youth from north to south will laugh at me if I said I was a success.Why ? Becasue I am told that not all of them died in the process of confrontation.Some things succeeded because of logistics. Any fool with superior numbers can win a war. I once lost a boxing bout to a boy lesser than I was in build but not in strength.And I beat a boy a good 50 pounds heavier but weaker and not well trained. no great feat really.The thing is this, I should have stopped fighting when I knew he was weaker and could not go the distance. But the roar of my ‘friends’ around the ring egged me on. I think I lost that fight from the humane angle though I won it on professional points.Let’s talk of something else.

      You see my friend, JR was trying to held on to what eh thought he’d lost : Integrity and Morality.Without these qualities we are but brute forces. A British Mp was ridiculed for his sexual impotence by another MP known for his excesses and rumored sexual potencies. Said the ridiculed Mp ” the member preens himself on an ability at which my pet dog is infinetly his superior – and even my pet dog is infinitely superior in other facets too which are lacking in this member.”

      Perhaps we ennoble in men that which we would not even in an animal?

  • ordinary lankan

    As Dire Straits sang in 1979

    He says it’s a shame
    You know it may be a game
    Ah, but I won’t play to loose

    Yeah, sticks to his guns
    He take the road as it comes
    It take the shine off his shoes

    He’s too fast to stop
    He take it over the top
    He make a line in the news

  • Thanks wikileaks to leak all those information to the world

  • If only Lasantha Wickramatunge had some “Insurance Files” like Julian Assange, ‘we know hoo’ would not have dared to kill him. I’m looking forward to what wikileaks has to say about who the US suspects killed Lasantha! LONG LIVE Julian Assange and Wikileaks!

  • aney

    yes i saw it’s in the members area. they will add more.

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