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U.S. calls a WikiLeaks posting a hit list for al-Qaeda

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials expressed alarm Monday over a WikiLeaks posting of a confidential State Department list of facilities in foreign countries that are considered vital to national security.

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials expressed alarm Monday over a WikiLeaks posting of a confidential State Department list of facilities in foreign countries that are considered vital to national security.

The list includes a rabies-vaccine maker in Germany, a cobalt mine in Congo, an undersea communications-cable station in Australia, and the Panama Canal.

All are potential targets of extremist attacks that are outside the United States but would hurt the United States if they are crippled.

Because of a WikiLeaks posting of confidential State Department cables, the full list - hundreds of potential targets in more than 60 countries - is now as easy to get as the nearest Internet connection.

Publication of the list has infuriated U.S. officials, although they refuse to discuss it in any detail.

The vast range of installations with national security implications also underscores how deeply the United States is enmeshed in the global economy, and its dependence on foreign suppliers of critical materials.

Randall Larsen, an adviser at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, pointed to U.S. reliance on foreign vaccine-makers as a particular vulnerability.

"Would we rely on the Chinese or the Brazilians to make our next-generation fighter jet?" he asked. "In the 21st century that capability to produce vaccines is just as important as the ability to produce our own fighter jets."

The Department of Homeland Security list, known as the Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative, includes oil and gas pipelines; telecom cables; rare metal and other mines; military contractors; ocean navigation chokepoints; and such obscure facilities as an Australian laboratory described as the sole supplier of polyvalent crotalid antivenin - an antidote to rattlesnake venom.

The list of sites, "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States," the cable said, is maintained by the DHS, which was seeking to update the file in February 2009 by seeking recommendations from U.S. diplomats.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Monday condemned the disclosure of the cables, saying they contained information that could "jeopardize our national security."

DHS officials would not confirm whether department officials have taken action in response to the leak to increase protection of the sites.

"Releasing such information amounts to giving a targeting list to groups like al-Qaeda," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

The leaked cable on overseas sites is among hundreds posted on the Internet in recent days by WikiLeaks, a self-described international nonprofit media organization that claims to possess 250,000 sensitive U.S. government documents.

The February 2009 note instructed diplomats to focus on key energy and telecommunications links, sites that produce hard-to-get goods or raw materials important to U.S. industry, as well as maritime bottlenecks.

The 2008 list, which was part of the cable, includes graphite, tungsten, and rare-earth metal mines in China; military components manufacturers in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Israel; and a Siemens plant in Germany described as responsible for "essentially irreplaceable production of key chemicals."

It also mentions key ocean passageways, including the Panama Canal, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Straits of Malacca, and the landing points of numerous undersea telecom cables crisscrossing the globe. Also on the list are oil and gas pipelines, including Russia's Naydm Gas Pipeline Junction, described as "the most critical gas facility in the world."

The list underscores the heavy U.S. dependence on foreign pharmaceutical firms for vaccines, among them rabies-vaccine producers in Germany and France; a whooping-cough vaccine producer in France; a typhoid-vaccine manufacturer in Switzerland; Swiss and French flu-vaccine producers; and a Danish smallpox-vaccine facility.