With the website WikiLeaks set to release a new trove of sensitive information, the U.S. government is already bracing for the worldwide fallout, preemptively warning allies in the hope of lessening the blow after classified documents go public.
WikiLeaks and its controversial founder, Julian Assange, are reportedly prepared to publish a cache of information including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that could embarrass the U.S. government as well as other governments around the world.
WikiLeaks said its next release will be seven times the size of its most recent leak, in October, which contained about 400,000 Pentagon documents about the war in Iraq. WikiLeaks also published roughly 70,000 documents in July about the war in Afghanistan.
Senior U.S. officials warn that the next round of WikiLeaks documents would be considerably more damaging than the two previous WikiLeaks document dumps.
"This is outrageous and dangerous," a senior U.S. official told ABC News. "This puts at risk the ability of the United States to conduct foreign policy. Period. End of paragraph."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also weighed in today, telling CNN he hoped these kinds of leaks will eventually be plugged.
"I would hope that those who are responsible for this would, at some point in time, think about the responsibility that they have for lives that they're exposing and the potential that's there and stop leaking this information," Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview set to air Sunday.
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Although the State Department said it did not know specifically what could be released, the scope of the documents goes far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, essentially detailing day-to-day operation of U.S. foreign policy, including summaries of confidential discussions with foreign officials and intelligence sources, and dissidents and opposition figures.
The big worry among U.S. authorities is that the documents would reveal names and detailed discussions with individuals who expected that their conversations with U.S. officials would be kept confidential. In the case of intelligence sources and dissidents in oppressive countries, this could put lives of U.S. sources at risk, authorities say.
"It's very worrisome. We don't want to see people taken out and shot on the streets of Kabul or Baghdad because they've worked with the United States," said Michael O'Hanlon, an expert on defense policy with the Brookings Institution.
As with the previous WikiLeaks documents, the source this time is believed to be Army Intelligence Spc. Bradley Manning, who was arrested for leaking the classified information in July.
The 22-year-old Army specialist had access to hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables through military computers, thanks to intelligence changes put in place after the 9/11 attacks. Those changes intended to improve intelligence sharing among different agencies and departments.
In an effort to limit the damage, the administration is working with news organizations to whom WikiLeaks has given the documents to redact sensitive names, but there is no guarantee that WikiLeaks won't simply publish unredacted documents.