The huge trove of documents released today by the whistle-blowing Website WikiLeaks reads like something out of a spy novel and lifts the curtain on the secret communications between Washington and U.S. diplomats stationed around the world.
The Website says it will eventually release more than 250,000 documents in all, many of them confidential messages containing candid, often embarrassing observations about foreign leaders.
Some of the most fascinating documents are about Iran, depicting Arab governments practically begging the United States to prevent the Iranian government from getting nuclear weapons.
"That program must be stopped," Bahrain's King tells Gen. David Petraeus in November 2009 according to one of the documents. "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it."
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emerites says "Ahmadinejad is Hitler" and tells a top State Department official "the threat from al-Qa'ida would be minor if Iran has nukes," according to another.
In these private dispatches posted online today by the New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde ahead of a full release over the next several days on the WikiLeaks site, several Arab governments take a line virtually identical to Israel's.
In another meeting with Petraeus, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. describes King Abdullah urging the U.S. to attack Iran and saying, the "use of military pressure against Iran should not be ruled out," another document says.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates is quoted telling France's defense minister in February that an an attack on Iran "would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker."
Many of the documents are simply embarassing.
For example, in the effort to close the detention center at Guantanamo, the State Department plays what the New York Times calls "Let's Make a Deal," offering foreign government rewards for agreeing take in prisoners.
Slovenia was told it if it wants to get a meeting with President Obama, it needs to take a prisoner, according to one of the documents, and according to another, the island nation of Kiribati was offered millions of dollars in incentives to accept a group of prisoners.
Libyan leader Muhammar Qadaffi's visit to New York last year is the subject of several documents detailing his strange behavior, including his relationship with "a voluptuous blonde" described as "his senior Ukrainian nurse" who is always by his side.
One of the most damaging documents describes a meeting in January between Petraeus and President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, where the United States has conducted several secret drone attacks on suspected al Qaeda targets.
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh tells Petraeus, according to one of the documents. The cable says another Yemeni official then "joked that he had just 'lied' by telling parliament" that Yemeni forces carried out the attack.
U.S. officials have condemned the leak as outrageous and dangerous. They also say they are taking steps to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again.
Under changes already implemented, for example, it is now impossible for a single person to take classified information off a government computer.