Cablegate from Wikileaks: a case study

Posting to NGC4LIB


I have gotten a couple of reference questions about how to use the Cablegate site from Wikileaks: (working sporadically at the moment) but once there, you can browse by tag; e.g. if you click on “P”, you see:


and people wanted to know what all of this meant. We could not find any information on the site.

I figured that PA and PK were country codes, and from examining a few cables, it appeared that I was correct, see: but the others were mysteries.

After some rather indepth searching that surprised me, since I thought it would be easier, I found a CBC article about it and the reference list compiled by the Guardian and put into Google docs: which is a partial glossary.

Looking harder however, I found a reference (I don’t remember how at this point) for the term “5 FAH-3”, discovered a relevant page at the U.S. archives, which appears to be more or less complete:, especially the TERMDEX ( and Subject Tags Definitions ( and we can find out what the tags mean and how they are used. So, we see PTER (above) in TERMDEX, and how it is used, while in the Definitions, we see what it means

  Effective from March 1981 (Revised January 1983)
All aspects of terrorism which transcend national boundaries due to the nationality of the perpetrator, victim, place, or the incident.  (Replaces RCHB file category:  POL)”

Still, when I was checking at random, I found a code “INRB” which is not in these pdfs nor in the Guardian’s list, so there must be updates somewhere, or it may be in the other lists at

[Actually, I do remember how I found it. Using the Guardian partial listing, I searched for the code plus the meaning of some of the terms and found a reference to the “5 FAH-3”]

This is not a political message at all; I just wanted to share a real life reference question on a topic of some importance today and my amazement at being able to do something like this sitting on the top of the Janiculum Hill in Rome. Being able to find this kind of information is undoubtedly powerful, but I will assume that the average user cannot do this. I used only Google by the way. Even though I am not an expert on the US archives, and such an expert could have managed it much easier (saying “Why, of course that is in the Foreign Affairs Handbook, my training helped me find it.

Nevertheless, statistics show that the number of reference questions is definitely declining and there is no reason to believe people will start flocking back to the reference desk, no matter where it happens to exist in virtual or physical space. For all of these reasons, it seems to me that as people find Google and its offspring easier and easier to use while they find better and better materials, they will ask us for help less and less. Yet it is clear that they will always need help and therefore, it is vital that we find some way to fit our tools and our expertise into this reality.




  1. Anonymous said:

    Really useful! Thanks!

    December 9, 2010
  2. Thanks for the link, but it still doesn't include all of the tags.

    December 12, 2010

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