The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has launched a new database containing 1.7 million documents from the U.S. State Department that were declassified, but were difficult for the public to access.
WikiLeaks is calling the searchable collection the “Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy," bringing together diplomatic and intelligence documents that previously could only be accessed through the National Archives.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told reporters via video link from the Ecuadorian embassy in London that the documents were hidden in what he called the borderline between secrecy and complexity.
“This material that we have published today is the single most significant geopolitical publication that has ever existed," he said.
The database gives the public access to diplomatic cables from the beginning of 1973 to the end of 1976, including communications sent by then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
At a media briefing in Washington, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson called the new database a public service.
“In my mind when you look at this material, 1.7 million public documents, they are not easily available. It is extremely hard to approach them even though they have been declassified. So making them available to people is basically taking the secrecy away and uncovering the stories," she said.
Although the documents have long been in the public domain, their release in a searchable archive has generated some headlines internationally because their publication was coordinated with a number of media outlets.
For example, India’s Hindu newspaper cited the cables in a report about Rajiv Gandhi, whose family still dominates the country’s ruling party, as a middleman for an arms deal in the 1970s.
Gandhi was assassinated in 1991and his wife Sonia is now head of the ruling Congress party.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell declined comment on the archive. “Our understanding is that there are some very old documents here. We are still looking to see what all of this may be…I cannot comment on neither their authenticity nor their status of classification," he said.
The new WikiLeaks database contains 250,000 classified cables leaked by the website in 2010.
Those documents infuriated the international community as they provided blunt and unflattering U.S. views of world leaders.
Assange has been seeking refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in an effort to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault, accusations Assange has denied.
U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning admitted to giving WikiLeaks the first set of cables. His court martial is set to begin in June.