Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has released 250,000 diplomatic cables detailing the candid conversations between Washington and embassies around the world.They include reports that Chinese government operatives have waged a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage targeting the US and its allies, and information the Saudi king urged the United States to attack Iran and destroy its nuclear program.
The leaked memos, published by five major newspapers, including The New York Times and The Guardian, show King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz told the US to "cut off the head of the snake" and said that working with Washington to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq was "a strategic priority for the king and his government".
But a response from the Pentagon said any military action would only delay Iran's production of a nuclear weapon by a few years.
The documents also show Saudi donors remain chief financiers of militant groups like Al Qaeda.
Other cables include details of how:
- US intelligence believes Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea capable of striking Europe.
- Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh admits covering up US military strikes on Al Qaeda in Yemen by claiming they are carried out by Yemeni forces.
- A US diplomat told the State Department that German chancellor Angela Merkel is "risk averse and rarely creative".
- Since 2007 the US has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.
- Afghanistan's vice-president Ahmed Zia Massoud was carrying $US52 million in cash that a cable from the American embassy in Kabul said he "was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money's origin or destination" when he visited the United Arab Emirates last year.
- Slovenia was told to take a prisoner from Guantanamo Bay if it wanted to meet with US president Barack Obama.
- In another case, accepting more prisoners was described as "a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe".
WikiLeaks gave the cables to the newspapers despite warnings from US officials that doing so would endanger lives and was against the law.
The New York Times said the collection "provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats".
The White House has reacted angrily to the release of the documents, calling it "reckless and dangerous action".
"To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
"[President Barack Obama] supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorised disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."
WikiLeaks 'under attack'Just hours before the release, WikiLeaks said its website was under attack.
But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that would not stop the newspapers revealing the contents of the cables.
Earlier, the US State Department wrote to Mr Assange urging him not to go ahead with the release of the documents.
In the letter, the US State Department warned WikiLeaks was endangering countless innocent lives and placing ongoing military operations at risk.
But the US ruled out negotiating with Mr Assange and has been scrambling to contain the fallout.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been making calls to allies around the world to head off any possible diplomatic stoushes.
America's top military officer, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen, says lives and military operations are at risk with this latest release.
"I think it's a very, very dangerous precedent," he said.
"What I don't think those who are in charge of WikiLeaks understand is we live in a world where just a little bitty piece of information can be added to a network of information and really open up an understanding that just wasn't there before."
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and daughter of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, has called for the WikiLleaks website to be shut down.
"It could be potentially very damaging and we know the last dump of WikiLeaks documents, in fact, put people's lives at risk - people that we had been working with in Afghanistan and Iraq," she said.
"I think once again the government of Iceland ought to shut down that website. I think they ought to stop allowing this stuff to come out of the website in Iceland and I think the administration ought to be focused very much on prosecuting those responsible."
An army private who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq remains under suspicion for this latest leak.
Mr Assange makes no apologies and says as far he is aware no-one has ever come to harm because of WikiLeaks actions.