Image: Newspaper report on WikiLeaks
Grace Kassab  /  AP
A man shows an inside page of Lebanon's daily Al-Akhbar carrying a report leaked by the website WikiLeaks, in Beirut's commercial Hamra street, Lebanon, on Thursday. Omar Nashabe, an editor of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar says the newspaper's website suffered severe technical problems after being attacked apparently over its publishing of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/10/2010 5:29:21 AM ET 2010-12-10T10:29:21

U.S. diplomats expressed concern about cooperation between Myanmar and North Korea on nuclear technology and the potentially "fatal" economic situation in Cuba, according to cables published by WikiLeaks on Friday.

Meanwhile, authorities in the Netherlands said their websites appeared to be under attack one day after the arrest of a teen who had allegedly taken part in the widespread cyberattacks by WikiLeaks supporters on websites of corporate giants which had cut off services to the controversial organization.

In a November 2009 cable, Western diplomats are alarmed at cooperation between Myanmar and North Korea but have not confirmed fears Pyongyang is sharing nuclear technology, U.S. cables published by WikiLeaks on Friday showed.

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Written by Larry Dinger, U.S. charge d'Affaires in Yangon, it said cooperation between the two countries, regarded as pariahs by most of the international community, "remains opaque."

"Something is certainly happening," the cable said. "Whether that something includes 'nukes' is a very open question which remains a high priority for embassy reporting."

Myanmar's military government has long been suspected of trying to develop nuclear capability with help from Pyongyang, but most analysts believe the impoverished southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, remains well short of its goal.

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In September, Myanmar told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had no aspirations to develop nuclear weapons and that its nuclear activities were purely for peaceful uses. It did not specify exactly what kind of nuclear work was taking place inside Myanmar.

A series of cables from the U.S. embassy in Yangon, part of a new batch of documents released by Wikileaks, shows diplomats have been monitoring the mysterious activities of North Koreans in Myanmar for years, particularly at a site near the town of Mimbu persistently rumored to be a planned nuclear facility.

'Up to something'
A cable in January 2004 said a foreign businessman had told the embassy of rumors that a nuclear reactor was being built near Mimbu, and that he had seen massive barges being unloaded near the site as well as a new airport in the area with a runway so large that "you could land the space shuttle on it".

The cable noted that rumors of a planned nuclear facility in the area had begun circulating in 2002, and there had been an increasing number of sightings of North Koreans in Myanmar.

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An August 2004 cable said an informant had reported that North Korean workers were assembling surface-to-air missiles and constructing an underground facility at a Burmese military site near Mimbu. It said that while the report was not verified, it matched information gathered from other sources.

"This account is perhaps best considered alongside other information of various origins indicating the Burmese and North Koreans are up to something, something of a covert military or military-industrial nature," it said. "Exactly what, and on what scale, remains to be determined."

Another newly released confidential U.S. diplomatic cable predicts Cuba's economic situation could become "fatal" within two to three years, and details concerns voiced by diplomats from other countries — including China — that the communist-run country has been slow to adopt reforms.

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The cable was written in February this year, a few months before Cuban President Raul Castro announced a major revamp of the island's economy, laying out plans to fire a half million state-workers and open up the island to expanded forms of private enterprise.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains instead of an embassy, sent the cable. It was apparently written by America's chief diplomat on the island, Jonathan Farrar.

Potentially 'fatal' financial situation
It details a breakfast meeting held by the Interests Section's chief economic officer with diplomats from some of Cuba's main trading partners, including China, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Italy, as well as France and Japan, both of which are among the island's top creditors.

"All diplomats agreed that Cuba could survive this year without substantial policy changes, but the financial situation could become fatal within 2-3 years," the cable said, adding that Italian diplomats cited sources within the Cuban government as predicting that the island "would become insolvent as early as 2011."

The Chinese complained about problems getting loans repaid, and in particular a Cuban request to extend from one year to four years the amount of time it has to repay credit.

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The cable said Cuba's attempts at agricultural and other reform up to that point had been ineffective, and said more changes were unlikely.

"There is little prospect of economic reform in 2010 despite an economic crisis that is expected to get even worse for Cuba in the next few years," it said, citing Cuba experts.

It is no secret that Cuba's economic situation is increasingly dire, yet the cable's confidence that the government would not enact economic reforms did not pan out. The reforms announced by Raul Castro in September are considered the most significant in a generation. Still, it is unclear if they will be enough to save the island's perennially weak economy.

'Hactivist' backlash
The newly released cables are part of a steady stream of documents that started trickling out of WikiLeaks's cache of some 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables last month.

Pressure has been mounting for both WikiLeaks and its 39-year-old Australian founder, Julian Assange, since then. The WikiLeaks site has come under attack, while Assange, who is now in a British jail fighting extradition to Sweden on sex-crime allegations, has been threatened. He denies the Swedish accusations.

A string of institutions has ended services to WikiLeaks after the website began publishing the cables, the release of which has caused tension between Washington and several of its allies.

Swiss Postfinance, MasterCard Inc., Visa Inc., PayPal Inc. and others have cut ways to send donations to the group, impairing its ability to raise money.

The companies' decision sparked a backlash among online hackers, who unleashed coordinated cyberattacks to take down the websites of some of the financial giants and government sites as well.

Police said Friday they are investigating if hackers were responsible for taking down websites of police and prosecutors in the Netherlands after the arrest of a 16-year-old for involvement in a cyberattack on several prominent financial payment websites.

"We assume it is hackers. We are not sure yet," said National Police Service spokesman Dennis Janus.

Dutch media reported that the "hacktivist" group Anonymous tried to take down the two sites with a so-called denial of service attack. Both sites were sporadically online Friday morning.

National Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Desiree Wilhelm said prosecutors also are investigating the problems with their website.

'No one can stop us'
Prosecutors said the young hacker police arrested Thursday confessed to participating in attacks by WikiLeaks sympathizers. Some campaigners communicating on Internet channels also called for attacks on official Dutch websites following the teen's arrest.

In addition to thwarting government sites, cyber activists continued to strike at companies seen as enemies of WikiLeaks on Friday, temporarily blocking the website of online payment firm Moneybookers.

Moneybookers acknowledged the hack, but said it had restored service. The activists promised to continue their assault and cited Interpol's site as a possible target.

"If we don't panic, and we get bigger, no one can stop us," wrote a participant in a chat room used by what the activists call the Operation Payback campaign.

The activists, who collectively call themselves Anonymous, said in a statement they were not hackers but rather "average Internet Citizens."

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"We do not want to steal your personal information or credit card numbers. We also do not seek to attack critical infrastructure of companies such as MasterCard, Visa, PayPal or Amazon," the statement said.

"The point of Operation Payback was never to target critical infrastructure of any of the companies or organizations affected. Rather than doing that, we focused on their corporate websites, which is to say, their online 'public face'.

"It is a symbolic action," it said.

The Anonymous statement followed one by WikiLeaks which said the website had no links to the cyber attacks, and neither supported nor condemned them. The statement quoted WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson as saying the attacks were "a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Hometown turns back on suspected leaker

  1. Closed captioning of: Hometown turns back on suspected leaker

    >>> the american army private who was the alleged source in the wikileaks case is now awaiting court-martial in what's described as a massive cust -- nbc's mike tiabbi explains.

    >> reporter: bradley manning was the undersized sax player in the band, the straight a student, and his lifelong friend jordan davis who says he often got under classmates words. now he's the alleged source in the middle of the wikileaks firestorm, an army intelligence officer entrusted with downloading and distributing classified documents made public by wikileaks . in his hometown of crescent, oklahoma some are already judging him, like former marine roger campbell.

    >> i think he should be executed for doing what he did?

    >> reporter: and if he did it, why? a former computer hacker says he had a -- i want people to see the truth, manning wrote about war strategy, air strikes that killed civilians in iraq and about all those cables in the state department database. it belongs in the public domain , he said repeatedly, he says i couldn't be a spy, spies don't post things for the world to see.

    >> he described himself at one point to be a hacktivist.

    >> reporter: he sometimes refused to say the pledge of allegiance at school.

    >> that was one of the things that was a little different about him.

    >> reporter: he talked about his parents divorce, about a boy who joined an army who would not allow him to serve as a gay man. i was the only one in town who was nonreligious, i am godless.

    >> if found guilty, he deserves all he gets.

    >> reporter: given the current charges he faces, that could be 52 years. for today, mike tiabbi, nbc news, crescent, oklahoma.

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