WikiLeaks list of 'critical' sites: Is it a 'menu for terrorists'?
WikiLeaks releases a 'secret' US diplomatic cable on 'critical infrastructure' around the world. Was it an overlong 'raw list' of obvious key sites, or a menu for 'every extremist group in the world'?
Undersea cable landings off Japan, Hong Kong, and China; vital energy terminals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait; natural gas pipelines from Canada to United States population centers; transformer plants in Mexico; vaccine manufacturers across Europe.Skip to next paragraph
It's a laundry list of "critical infrastructure" – a global grab bag as big as the world – hundreds of sites listed in a cable marked "secret." It was compiled by US embassies and sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a cable in February 2009 – but released over the Internet by WikiLeaks Sunday.
In all, the list includes well over 200 energy pipelines, undersea cables, strategic metal mines, vaccine suppliers, dams, ports, and power generators along with the names of 35 companies spread across 59 nations. The cable sought to identify "critical US foreign dependencies" that "if destroyed, disrupted or exploited, would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States."
Just how much damage will this list do to infrastructure security or US relations with the countries where these sites reside? Will terrorists benefit a lot – or not much at all – from knowing what the US considers critical, a list some say could be pulled together by just about anyone using Google, or even an almanac and an atlas?
For instance, Saudi Arabia’s Ras Tanura port, which processes more than 4 million barrels of oil each day, the biggest oil-exporting port in the world, made the list. So did the Abqaiq Processing Center, considered the biggest crude oil processing plant in the world. Yet anyone could have found this out years earlier just by reading "Sleeping with the Devil," a bestseller by former CIA operative Robert Baer.
"Much information today that is classified as 'secret' is often available publicly (online or otherwise), even without WikiLeaks," writes Terry O'Sullivan, a University of Akron researcher who has analyzed global critical infrastructure for the Department of Homeland Security. "It's not the items on that list that are secret, per se. It's the fact that someone in the State Dept. thinks they are worthy” of that designation.