DIY State Department Cable Decoder

US  State Department SealWant to investigate the cables Wikileaks has released? The National Security Archive has posted a guide to deciphering State Department Cables that should help you interpret the lingo.

How to Decipher a State Department Cable

November 29, 2010

by Nate Jones

This guide –originally written by Kristin Adair– might come in handy as you peruse the 251,287 Department of State cables recently released by wikileaks.

[As of today only 243 cables are available on the wikileaks site]


At the Archive, we have lots of practice reading declassified government documents. Since we will be using this space to share with you some documents from our trove of government releases, we thought it would be useful to give you some tips on what to look for in these documents. Several of our experienced analysts have created a series of “cheat sheets” for different types of agency records.

The State Department has an active declassification program, and we often get lots of documents in response to our FOIA requests to State. Most often, these documents come in the form of cables—communications sent between State Department headquarters in Washington and embassies around the world, or between different US government posts abroad.

FOIA tip:  You can file a FOIA request for State Department cable(s) from a particular day or time period surrounding an event that you are researching, to see what government officials knew when and how key decisions were made.

When you get those cables, here’s some advice on how to make sense of them.