- WikiLeaks releases 250,000 documents
- Embarrassing verdicts on world leaders
- Australian police to investigate the leak
POLICE are investigating whether the leaking of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables broke Australian law.
The cables, obtained by whistleblower group WikiLeaks, have been described as the biggest intelligence leak in history.
They contain blunt assessments of world leaders and reveal everything from secret discussions on bombing Iran to "inappropriate" behaviour by a British royal.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland today said the leaking may have broken "a number of criminal laws" and federal police were investigating.
The US is in already in damage control over the cables, which were released early to several news publications around the world.
However it could be weeks or even months before it becomes clear what the cables mean for the nation's relationship with Australia.
WikiLeaks has so far revealed just 220 of the 251,287 documents to the wider public. It says the rest will be released "in stages over the next few months".
An overview of the cables provided by Wikileaks shows that 1442 documents mention Australia and nearly 1000 documents originated at the US embassy in Canberra.
Of the 933 cables from the Canberra embassy, 470 are marked "unclassified", 385 "confidential" and 79 "secret".
Wikileaks has hinted that it may grant other media organisations access to the cables before they are publicly released.
Mr McClelland said he had been briefed by the US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, on what to expect from the publication of the cables.
Here are some of the most damning assessments of world leaders contained in the cables:
ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is "feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader", whose "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest".
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel "avoids risks and is rarely creative".
IRANIAN President Mahmoud Amhadinejad is compared to "Hitler".
TURKISH Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to govern with "a cabal of incompetent advisers".
NORTH Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il is a "flabby old chap" who suffers from "physical and psychological trauma".
AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai is "driven by paranoia" and "an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him".
ZIMBABWEAN Prseident Robert Mugabe is dubbed a "crazy old man".
RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is an "alpha dog" while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is "pale and hesitant" and "plays Robin to Putin's Batman".
LIBYAN leader Muammar Gadaffi is "strange" and "accompanied by voluptuous blonde Ukranian 'nurse'".
FRENCH President Nicolas Sarkozy "has a thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style" and is an "emperor with no clothes".
Cables released by WikiLeaks name Prince Andrew as the member of the British royal family accused of inappropriate behaviour.
The prince, who is a UK trade envoy, reportedly shocked Americans with his "rude behaviour abroad".
Another cable reports that China’s top political leaders ordered the hacking attacks on Google’s network there, and that it was carried out by government IT experts along with what The New York Times calls "internet outlaws" who have been attacking the online systems of companies from America and other countries since 2002.
Russia is accused of becoming a "virtual mafia state" because of close links between government officials and crime bosses.
Tensions with Iran are likely to run high this week, with the cables revealing leaders of other countries in the Middle East urging the US to launch an airstrike to debilitate the rogue nation’s nuclear program.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly calls in one cable for the US to "cut the head off the snake" and stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
US embassy staff were ordered by Ms Clinton to obtain the frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even iris scans, fingerprints and DNA of foreign officials.
WikiLeaks ignored last-minute warnings from the White House that releasing the classified documents would put lives at risk.
As was the case with two previous major document releases by WikiLeaks, the website provided advance access to a number of media organisations including The New York Times and Britain’s Guardian newspaper ahead of their release, officially scheduled for 8.30am AEDT.
The New York Times reports that the "anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict".
The White House has condemned Wikileaks’ decision to release the files, calling it "dangerous and reckless action".
"By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals," the White House said.
At least one US lawmaker called for the prosecution of Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistle-blower website.
US Republican congressman Peter King, the ranking member of the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, urged the US attorney general to prosecute Assange for espionage.
The latest release "manifests Mr Assange's purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan", he said.
WikiLeaks has so far only revealed 220 of the 251,287 cables to the wider public. It says the documents will be released "in stages over the next few months".
The WikiLeaks mastermind
Julian Assange, 39, is an Australian computer programmer and hacker. He founded whistleblowing website Wikileaks in 2006.
In the early 1990s Assange pleaded guilty to a range of hacking offences and was placed on a good behaviour bond.
In August this year an investigation was opened by Swedish authorities into claims he raped one woman and assaulted another.
Assange has repeatedly denied the claims.
This month Swedish prosecutors applied for an international arrest warrant in connection with the investigation.
Shortly after the allegations first came to light, Mr Assange's 21-year-old son Daniel, who lives in Melbourne, commented on the claims on a social networking website.
"That man does have a way of making a lot of female enemies," he wrote on Facebook, according to the New York Post.
A handful of media outlets in Europe and North America were given access to the leaks ahead their release. Here is a collection of their reporting on the cables:
- The Guardian (UK): The US embassy cables
- The Guardian: Explore the leaked cables by country, subject or name
- The New York Times (USA): State Secrets
- The New York Times: See selected documents
- Der Spiegel (Germany): A Superpower's View of the World
- Der Spiegel: Online FAQ - what do the cables really reveal?
- El Pais (Spain): Documentos Secretos (in Spanish)
- Le Monde (France): Confidentiel - Iran, Obama, Etats-Unis
- The Guardian: How the cables were leaked
- New York Times: Why the leaks should be published