A few days before the cables’ release, two senior figures from the US embassy in Grosvenor Square called in to the Guardian‘s London offices for a chat. This discussion led to a surreal transatlantic telephone call on Friday 26 November – two days before launch.
Alan Rusbridger agreed to ring Washington. He made the conference call from the circular table in his office. On the line was PJ Crowley, the US assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
The conversation began: “OK, here’s PJ Crowley. I just want you to know in this phone call we’ve got Secretary of State Clinton’s private secretary, we have representatives of the DoD [department of defence], the intelligence communities, and the national security council.” All Rusbridger could offer in reply was: “We have our managing editor here.”
Crowley set out the view from the lofty heights of US power: “Obviously, from our perspective these are stolen documents. They reveal sensitive military secrets and addresses that expose people to security risks.”
Crowley made his pitch. He said the US government was “willing to help” the Guardian if it was prepared to “share the documents” it had – in other words, tip off the state department which cables it intended to publish. Rusbridger was noncommittal.
Clinton’s private secretary chipped in. She said: “I’ve got a very direct question for you, Mr Rusbridger. You journalists like asking direct questions and I know you expect direct answers. So I’m going to ask you a direct question. Are you going to give us the numbers of the cables or not?”
“No, we’re not.”
“Thank you very much.”
Rusbridger did decide to tell the Americans the paper’s broad publication schedule. Day one was to feature Iran, he said, day two North Korea and day three Pakistan. Then the conversation was over.