AP In this Oct. 23, 2010 file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaks during a news conference in London.
A bipartisan filibuster, led by unified Republicans and joined by four Democrats and one independent, proved there isn't enough support to back Mr. Obama's preferred option to extend income tax cuts for couples making less than $250,000 and tax increases for those making more than that.
With that vote out of the way, attention turns back to the high-level working group Mr. Obama and congressional leaders set up this week to try to work out a solution. That group met three times already, but Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and one of the negotiators, said it was clear to him that Democrats weren't going to negotiate until they had gone through the votes to prove to their political base that raising taxes on the wealthy wasn't viable.
"It's been very clear that we're not going to be negotiating anything until all of this political process is over, until the partisan votes have been cast," he said an hour before the votes in a rare weekend Senate session.
The negotiators seem to be headed toward an agreement that would extend all the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts temporarily. Still to be decided was what sweeteners Democrats would secure to make swallowing the tax cuts more palatable. Possible options included extended unemployment benefits.
But emotions on both sides are running high, which is complicating matters.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, lashed out at Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor, saying she didn't know how Democrats were supposed to negotiate with him after the Kentucky Republican said before the elections that his top priority is to see Mr. Obama defeated in 2012.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Mr. Obama accused Republicans of holding the middle-class "hostage" in their push to extend all tax breaks.
"I am very disappointed that the Senate is not going to pass legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives that would make the middle class tax cuts permanent," he said. "Those provisions should have passed."
Tax cuts are just one of a host of issues still unresolved by Congress even after two weeks of a lame-duck session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Senate must act on tax cuts and the outstanding spending bills, and said he wants to see it take up a nuclear arms reduction treaty, a massive immigration bill, the defense policy bill that would overturn the ban on gay and lesbian troops, and several other measures sought by his party's liberal base.
In January, Republicans take control of the House and increase their clout in the Senate, likely cutting off chances for Democrats to secure many of those priorities.
The Senate on Saturday first rejected an option that would have extended the Bush tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000, but let the rates rise back to pre-2001 levels for everyone else. The vote was 53-46, leaving Democrats seven votes shy of the 60 needed to end the filibuster.
Next, senators blocked an option that would have raised the threshold for extended tax cuts to $1 million. That also fell seven votes shy of the threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.
"Republicans are willing to hold hostage the middle class tax cut so they can get a tax cut for the very wealthy," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who offered the higher income threshold.
With Republicans unified for months, the votes' outcome was not in doubt. But Democrats held the votes anyway in response to liberal lawmakers who said they wanted to show the country exactly where lawmakers stoof.
On Thursday, House Democratic leaders used their tight control of the rules and their soon-to-expire overwhelming majority to force through the president's position.
Talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger your job prospects, a State Department official warned students at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs this week.
An email from SIPA's Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.
"[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter," the Office of Career Services advised students. "Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government."
While the massive disclosure of once-classified documents detailing some of the nation's most tightly-guarded secrets has inflamed allies and enemies alike, the move by the State Department represents a new front in the administration's campaign against unauthorized leaks.
Philip J. Crowley, spokesman for the State Department, denied in an email message any federal involvement:
This is not true. We have instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents using an unclassified network since these documents are still classified. We condemn what Mr. Assange is doing, but have given no advice to anyone beyond the State Department to my knowledge.
When asked why Columbia — which confirmed to the New York Times earlier today that an email had been sent from its offices — would have sent the message, Crowley said, "If an employee of the State Department sent such an email, it does not represent a formal policy position."
Earlier this week, companies like Amazon and PayPal shut off the services they provided to WikiLeaks, threatening the site's survival and impeding further dissemination of its treasure trove of classified documents.
Now, however, it appears the federal government has moved beyond staunching the flow of leaked information, to suppressing even the very mention of WikiLeaks online by prospective employees.
While republishing the leaked documents could indeed raise legal issues for students, it was the admonition against social media chatter that riled some at Columbia.
"They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret," said Hugh Sansom, a masters student from New York.
Students were taken aback by the email, said Sansom, who described his non-American classmates -- nearly half of this year's incoming class at Columbia speaks a native language other than English -- as "amused and surprised."
By late in the week, word of the email had reached the blogosphere.
"Seems the ambitious young things studying IR and considering a foreign service careers are being warned not to touch Cablegate," wrote Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist. A comment posted to that story said that Georgetown University had been similarly put on notice.
Stephen D. Biddle, a professor at the school, said that the email amounted to counseling on the university's part.
"It strikes me as entirely plausible that some government officials would take a dim view of people appearing to use WikiLeaks material for professional gain," Biddle said.
But as for commenting on the leaked information on Facebook or Twitter, Biddle acknowledged, "once it's out, it's out."
A Greenpeace activist in a hot air ballon ahead of the current UN climate summit in Cancún. WikiLeaks cables expose US use of espionage before the 2009 Copenhagen summit. Photograph: Luis Perez/AFP/Getty Images
Embassy dispatches show America used spying, threats and promises of aid to get support for Copenhagen accord
- WikiLeaks cables: Cancún climate talks doomed to fail, says EU president
- Cancún climate change summit: Week one in pictures
Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.
The US diplomatic cables reveal how the US seeks dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming; how financial and other aid is used by countries to gain political backing; how distrust, broken promises and creative accounting dog negotiations; and how the US mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial "Copenhagen accord", the unofficial document that emerged from the ruins of the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.
Negotiating a climate treaty is a high-stakes game, not just because of the danger warming poses to civilisation but also because re-engineering the global economy to a low-carbon model will see the flow of billions of dollars redirected.
Seeking negotiating chips, the US state department sent a secret cable on 31 July 2009 seeking human intelligence from UN diplomats across a range of issues, including climate change. The request originated with the CIA. As well as countries' negotiating positions for Copenhagen, diplomats were asked to provide evidence of UN environmental "treaty circumvention" and deals between nations.
But intelligence gathering was not just one way. On 19 June 2009, the state department sent a cable detailing a "spear phishing" attack on the office of the US climate change envoy, Todd Stern, while talks with China on emissions took place in Beijing. Five people received emails, personalised to look as though they came from the National Journal. An attached file contained malicious code that would give complete control of the recipient's computer to a hacker. While the attack was unsuccessful, the department's cyber threat analysis division noted: "It is probable intrusion attempts such as this will persist."
The Beijing talks failed to lead to a global deal at Copenhagen. But the US, the world's biggest historical polluter and long isolated as a climate pariah, had something to cling to. The Copenhagen accord, hammered out in the dying hours but not adopted into the UN process, offered to solve many of the US's problems.
The accord turns the UN's top-down, unanimous approach upside down, with each nation choosing palatable targets for greenhouse gas cuts. It presents a far easier way to bind in China and other rapidly growing countries than the UN process. But the accord cannot guarantee the global greenhouse gas cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming. Furthermore, it threatens to circumvent the UN's negotiations on extending the Kyoto protocol, in which rich nations have binding obligations. Those objections have led many countries – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to vehemently oppose the accord.
Getting as many countries as possible to associate themselves with the accord strongly served US interests, by boosting the likelihood it would be officially adopted. A diplomatic offensive was launched. Diplomatic cables flew thick and fast between the end of Copenhagen in December 2009 and late February 2010, when the leaked cables end.
Some countries needed little persuading. The accord promised $30bn (£19bn) in aid for the poorest nations hit by global warming they had not caused. Within two weeks of Copenhagen, the Maldives foreign minister, Ahmed Shaheed, wrote to the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressing eagerness to back it.
By 23 February 2010, the Maldives' ambassador-designate to the US, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, told the US deputy climate change envoy, Jonathan Pershing, his country wanted "tangible assistance", saying other nations would then realise "the advantages to be gained by compliance" with the accord.
A diplomatic dance ensued. "Ghafoor referred to several projects costing approximately $50m (£30m). Pershing encouraged him to provide concrete examples and costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance."
The Maldives were unusual among developing countries in embracing the accord so wholeheartedly, but other small island nations were secretly seen as vulnerable to financial pressure. Any linking of the billions of dollars of aid to political support is extremely controversial – nations most threatened by climate change see the aid as a right, not a reward, and such a link as heretical. But on 11 February, Pershing met the EU climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, in Brussels, where she told him, according to a cable, "the Aosis [Alliance of Small Island States] countries 'could be our best allies' given their need for financing".
The pair were concerned at how the $30bn was to be raised and Hedegaard raised another toxic subject – whether the US aid would be all cash. She asked if the US would need to do any "creative accounting", noting some countries such as Japan and the UK wanted loan guarantees, not grants alone, included, a tactic she opposed. Pershing said "donors have to balance the political need to provide real financing with the practical constraints of tight budgets", reported the cable.
Along with finance, another treacherous issue in the global climate negotiations, currently continuing in Cancún, Mexico, is trust that countries will keep their word. Hedegaard asks why the US did not agree with China and India on what she saw as acceptable measures to police future emissions cuts. "The question is whether they will honour that language," the cable quotes Pershing as saying.
Trust is in short supply on both sides of the developed-developing nation divide. On 2 February 2009, a cable from Addis Ababa reports a meeting between the US undersecretary of state Maria Otero and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who leads the African Union's climate change negotiations.
The confidential cable records a blunt US threat to Zenawi: sign the accord or discussion ends now. Zenawi responds that Ethiopia will support the accord, but has a concern of his own: that a personal assurance from Barack Obama on delivering the promised aid finance is not being honoured.
US determination to seek allies against its most powerful adversaries – the rising economic giants of Brazil, South Africa, India, China (Basic) – is set out in another cable from Brussels on 17 February reporting a meeting between the deputy national security adviser, Michael Froman, Hedegaard and other EU officials.
Froman said the EU needed to learn from Basic's skill at impeding US and EU initiatives and playing them off against each in order "to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future train wrecks on climate".
Hedegaard is keen to reassure Froman of EU support, revealing a difference between public and private statements. "She hoped the US noted the EU was muting its criticism of the US, to be constructive," the cable said. Hedegaard and Froman discuss the need to "neutralise, co-opt or marginalise unhelpful countries including Venezuela and Bolivia", before Hedegaard again links financial aid to support for the accord, noting "the irony that the EU is a big donor to these countries". Later, in April, the US cut aid to Bolivia and Ecuador, citing opposition to the accord.
Any irony is clearly lost on the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, according to a 9 February cable from La Paz. The Danish ambassador to Bolivia, Morten Elkjaer, tells a US diplomat that, at the Copenhagen summit, "Danish prime minister Rasmussen spent an unpleasant 30 minutes with Morales, during which Morales thanked him for [$30m a year in] bilateral aid, but refused to engage on climate change issues."
After the Copenhagen summit, further linking of finance and aid with political support appears. Dutch officials, initially rejecting US overtures to back the accord, make a startling statement on 25 January. According to a cable, the Dutch climate negotiator Sanne Kaasjager "has drafted messages for embassies in capitals receiving Dutch development assistance to solicit support [for the accord]. This is an unprecedented move for the Dutch government, which traditionally recoils at any suggestion to use aid money as political leverage." Later, however, Kaasjager rows back a little, saying: "The Netherlands would find it difficult to make association with the accord a condition to receive climate financing."
Perhaps the most audacious appeal for funds revealed in the cables is from Saudi Arabia, the world's second biggest oil producer and one of the 25 richest countries in the world. A secret cable sent on 12 February records a meeting between US embassy officials and lead climate change negotiator Mohammad al-Sabban. "The kingdom will need time to diversify its economy away from petroleum, [Sabban] said, noting a US commitment to help Saudi Arabia with its economic diversification efforts would 'take the pressure off climate change negotiations'."
The Saudis did not like the accord, but were worried they had missed a trick. The assistant petroleum minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told US officials that he had told his minister Ali al-Naimi that Saudi Arabia had "missed a real opportunity to submit 'something clever', like India or China, that was not legally binding but indicated some goodwill towards the process without compromising key economic interests".
The cables obtained by WikiLeaks finish at the end of February 2010. Today, 116 countries have associated themselves with the accord. Another 26 say they intend to associate. That total, of 140, is at the upper end of a 100-150 country target revealed by Pershing in his meeting with Hedegaard on 11 February.
The 140 nations represent almost 75% of the 193 countries that are parties to the UN climate change convention and, accord supporters like to point out, are responsible for well over 80% of current global greenhouse gas emissions.
At the mid-point of the major UN climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, there have already been flare-ups over how funding for climate adaptation is delivered. The biggest shock has been Japan's announcement that it will not support an extension of the existing Kyoto climate treaty. That gives a huge boost to the accord. US diplomatic wheeling and dealing may, it seems, be bearing fruit.
Related News From UK Guardian
BERLIN – WikiLeaks has lost a major source of revenue after the online payment service provider PayPal cut off its account used to collect donations, saying the website is engaged in illegal activity.
The announcement also came as WikiLeaks is struggling to keep its website accessible after service providers such as Amazon dropped contracts, and governments and hackers continued to hound the organization.
The weekend move by PayPal came as WikiLeaks' release of hundreds of thousands of United States diplomatic cables brought commercial organizations on the Internet that have business ties with the organization under more scrutiny.
WikiLeaks also is under legal pressure in several countries, including the U.S., and a former colleague of founder Julian Assange has said he will launch of a competing platform.
Donating money to WikiLeaks via PayPal was not possible anymore on Saturday, generating an error message saying: "This recipient is currently unable to receive money."
PayPal said in a blog posting that cutting off WikiLeaks' account was prompted by a violation of the service provider's policy, "which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity."
The short notice was dated Friday, and a spokeswoman for PayPal Germany declined on Saturday to elaborate and referred to the official blog posting.
WikiLeaks confirmed the latest trouble in its Twitter account, saying: "PayPal bans WikiLeaks after U.S. government pressure."
WikiLeaks has embarrassed Washington and foreign leaders by releasing a trove of brutally frank U.S. diplomatic cables.
PayPal, a subsidiary of U.S.-based online marketplace operator EBay Inc., offers online payment services that are one of several ways WikiLeaks collects donations — and until now was probably the most secure and convenient way to support the organization.
The other options listed on WikiLeaks' website are through mail to an Australian post office box, through bank transfers to accounts in Switzerland, Germany or Iceland, as well as through one "credit card processing partner" in Switzerland.
WikiLeaks' PayPal account redirects users to a German foundation which provides the organization with the money. The Wau Holland Foundation, named after a German hacker, confirmed Saturday in a Twitter message that its PayPal account had been taken down because of the "financial support to WikiLeaks."
The foundation's president, Winfried Motzkus, earlier this week was quoted by the local newspaper Neue Westfaelische in his hometown of Bielefeld as saying that Wau Holland has collected euro750,000 ($1 million) for WikiLeaks, covering the organization's expenses.
WikiLeaks' recent releases seem to have been a boon for the foundation, which had previously described itself as the organization's main financial backer.
On its website, the foundation said "the huge and in this form unique amount of donations has caused the delay of issuing contribution receipts" — which allow Germans to deduct donations from their taxes.
Messages left for the foundation and for Motzkus were not immediately answered.
While WikiLeaks vows to make the world a more transparent place, very little is known about its day-to-day functioning. It has no headquarters, few if any paid staff and its finances remain opaque.
Wau Holland's vice president, Hendrik Heye Fulda, last month told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that WikiLeaks operates on a tight annual budget of about $200,000. Fulda could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Meanwhile, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks' spokesman, has announced plans to launch a new and more transparent platform on his own, German news magazine Focus reported.
It will provide the technical infrastructure for anonymous postings and allow informants to choose themselves how and by whom to publish the information, Focus quoted Domscheit-Berg as saying. The 32-year-old Domscheit-Berg, who also has used the name Daniel Schmitt, said he will soon publish a book about his time with Assange at the website.
On Friday, WikiLeaks was forced to move from one website to another as governments and hackers hounded the organization, trying to deprive it of a direct line to the public.
EveryDNS, a company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, stopped directing traffic to the website wikileaks.org late Thursday, saying cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network.
But while wikileaks.org remained unreachable Saturday, it has found new homes. Its German website wikileaks.de was reachable Saturday, and so was its Swiss domain.
The Swiss address directs traffic to servers in France, where political pressure quickly mounted with Industry Minister Eric Besson on Friday, saying it was unacceptable to host a site that "violates the secret of diplomatic relations."
The web hosting company OVH confirmed that it had been hosting WikiLeaks since early Thursday, after a client asked for a "dedicated server with ... protection against attacks," adding it was now up to the courts to decide on the legality of hosting the site on French soil.
French newspaper Le Monde — which was among the publications that were granted full access to the diplomatic cables beforehand — said in one of its online articles Saturday it could not provide links to the relevant cables "as a result of the computer attacks WikiLeaks has suffered and the refusal of some Internet hosts and countries to take in the site."
Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Saturday condemned the personal attacks on Assange and "the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure" in what it called the first "attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency."
WikiLeaks has been brought down numerous times this week by what appear to be denial-of-service attacks. In a typical such attack, remote computers commandeered by rogue programs bombard a website with so many data packets that it becomes overwhelmed and unavailable to visitors. Pinpointing the culprits is difficult. The attacks are relatively easy to mount and can be performed by amateurs.
The attacks started Sunday, just before WikiLeaks released the diplomatic cables. To deal with the flood of traffic, WikiLeaks moved to Amazon.com's Web hosting facility.
But Amazon booted WikiLeaks from the site on Wednesday after U.S. congressional staffers started asking the company about its relationship to WikiLeaks.
The U.S. is currently conducting a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks' release of the diplomatic cables.
Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report. .