As transparency website WikiLeaks began publishing more than 500,000 Saudi diplomatic documents to the Internet, one such document translated by the Associated Press on Saturday revealed significant concern over a visit by Saudi students to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
In the August 14, 2008 message marked “classified and very urgent,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry wrote to the Saudi Embassy in the US capital to warn that dozens of students from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries had visited the Israeli Embassy in DC as part of an international leadership program.
“They listened to diplomats’ briefings from the embassy employees, they asked questions and then they took pictures,” the message said, asking the embassy for a speedy update on the situation.
Another leaked Saudi document quoted by the Sudan Times, which highlighted Riyadh’s concerns over Iran’s push for increased regional influence, claimed that the Sudanese government was asked by Tehran to host an Iranian military base in its territory.
The document states that Khartoum gave “preliminary approval” to the request, though government officials stressed to their Iranian counterparts that the timing was not right for such action and suggested postponing the discussions to a later date. The date of the document, or the talks described therein, were not provided.
Another leaked document showed diplomats at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran talking about kicking up trouble among disenchanted youth using Facebook and Twitter.
WikiLeaks said in a statement that it has already posted roughly 60,000 files. Most of them appear to be in Arabic.
There was no immediate way to verify the authenticity of the documents, although WikiLeaks has a long track record of hosting large-scale leaks of government material. Many of the documents carried green letterheads marked “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” or “Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Some were marked “urgent” or “classified.” At least one appeared to be from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
If genuine, the documents would offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the notoriously opaque kingdom. They might also shed light on Riyadh’s longstanding regional rivalry with Iran, its support for Syrian rebels and Egypt’s military-backed government, and its opposition to an emerging international agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program.
One of the documents, dated to 2012, appears to highlight Saudi Arabia’s well-known skepticism about the Iranian nuclear talks. A message from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran to the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh describes “flirting American messages” being carried to Iran via an unnamed Turkish mediator.
Another 2012 missive, this time sent from the Saudi Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said the United Arab Emirates was putting “heavy pressure” on the Egyptian government not to try former president Hosni Mubarak, who had been overthrown in a popular uprising the year before.
Another eye-catching item was a document addressed to the interior and justice ministers notifying them that a son of Osama bin Laden had obtained a certificate from the American Embassy in Riyadh “showing (the) death of his father.”
Many more of the dozens of documents examined by The Associated Press appeared to be the product of mundane administrative work, such as emails about setting up a website or operating an office fax machine.
The AP was able to partially verify a handful of documents’ authenticity by calling the telephone numbers included in many of them. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson told AP he was confident that the material was genuine.
It is not clear how WikiLeaks got the documents, although in its statement the website referred to a recent electronic attack on the Saudi Foreign Ministry by a group calling itself the Yemen Cyber Army. Hrafnsson declined to elaborate on the statement or say whether the hackers subsequently passed documents on to WikiLeaks.
“As a matter of policy we’re not going to discuss the source of the material,” he said.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately return repeated messages seeking comment.
In its statement, WikiLeaks said the release coincided with the three-year anniversary of its founder, Julian Assange, seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Assange took refuge in the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning about alleged sex crimes. Assange has denied any wrongdoing.