The WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables, as detailed in
Throughout the story, I wondered what exactly constituted "cables," as more than half of the diplomatic messages released are from 2007 or later. The NYT
offers this brief explanation near the end (on page 4
) of the story:
"In an era of satellites and fiber-optic links, the diplomatic cable retains the archaic name of an earlier technological era. It has long been the tool for the secretary of state to dispatch orders to the field and for ambassadors and political officers to send their analyses back to Washington."
The paragraph after that details some of the specialized lexicon still used to describe different types of "cables." But what I want to know is, how are "cables" transmitted and stored? Is there a proprietary system that connects the U.S. to its embassies? I feel like that's an important part of trying to understand the story of their unauthorized release, and the Times
account confused me with its omission of those sorts of technical details.
of the story notes that some of the cables go back as far as 1979. So it sounds like the body of U.S. diplomatic cables must have been moved from system to system, archive to archive, over the years, as it seems like there's no way the government could still be using the same computer systems to send cables as they were back in 1979—could it?
To recap, these are the things I'm wondering:
1. What is a "cable" today, and how are they transmitted? Is there a specific, proprietary system in place that connects the U.S. government to its embassies, via which such messages are sent?
2. Given today's technology, how does a cable now differ from, say, an email or text message? Are such messages only accessible via government-owned software and/or terminals on either end? Are they specially encrypted in transit or sent via some other special protocol as well? Do they go over special government-owned fiber-optic links, or through special government-owned satellites?
3. Does anyone—any government archivists out there?—know anything about how U.S. diplomatic cables have generally been transmitted, stored, and archived over the years? Is it possible that the U.S. is using a legacy system for these communications that goes back decades? Or is it more likely that the U.S. has simply moved the messages from system to system as it's upgraded over the years?
4. How far back does digitization of U.S. archives of diplomatic cables go?
Thanks in advance for any light anyone can shed on this—I'm just really curious about the technology behind the story!