From JAMES HOULE
The marvelous display of backstairs gossip at US Embassies by WikiLeaks has upset the American Empire in ways that are both amusing and frightening. We have seen nothing that reveals current US strategies or overseas operations in these low level cables. Yet the reaction of the State Department and the Attorney General’s Office has amounted to an all-out attack not only upon the bearer of these messages, an Aussie named Julian Assange, but also upon the freedom of access to information that has made the Internet a great bulwark of our freedom to know.
Background: 1112 cables have been released (Dec. 10th) out of a total of 251,287 inWikiLeaks possession. Of the total held, 97% were originated by US Embassies overseas and the remainder at Foggy Bottom in Washington where our State Department is permanently mired. None of the cables are classified as ‘Top Secret’, and only 6% are ‘Secret’. The remainder (94%) are merely ‘Confidential’ or ‘Classified’. None are cables between various branches of our military and none involve our 16 Intelligence Agencies. Approximately 23 million people are already cleared for access to these three levels of confidentiality by the US Government. They were written over the past several years and up through February 2010. Nothing more current is displayed.
Are These Cables All That Explosive? None of these cables seem to cover discussions of policy, but are mainly focused upon providing information about meetings and local events, or passing along gossip about the activities of foreign dignitaries and their discussions with US Senators and Congressmen on foreign junkets. They pass on the rumors and allegations gathered by the imperial diplomats of the United States and seem to represent quite well this groups interests and mind-set but do not seriously question our imperial objectives or recommend changes in policy. It seems very unlikely that anyone would be exposed and subject to retaliation if mentioned in these cables, but in any case, WikiLeaks has employed the five newspapers (Der Spiegel (Berlin), The Guardian (London), Le Monde (Paris), El Pais (Madrid) and the New York Times to whom the complete files were sent so as to vet them thoroughly to assure that this sort of thing did not happen. Items needing redacting are sent back to WikiLeaks before clearance is given for publication in the five newspapers. The McClatchy Newspapers reported (TruthOut 11-28-10) that “US officials conceded that they have no evidence to date that the release of documents so far by WikLeaks has led to anyone’s death”.
The CIA routinely employs foreigners as undercover agents to provide information on the activities and plans of their government officials. None of this sort of data is likely to be included in this low level State Department cable traffic. We also have found no information on WikiLeaks about military programs and capabilities. Some low-level sleuthing and credit card stealing by State Department employees is about as close to espionage as it gets. In addition to snooping abroad by government employees, the US routinely employs US firms to gather data in foreign countries where they would not wish to be seen gathering information directly. Even your Editor at Obama-Watch.com was used in this way early in his career and would be debriefed upon return from foreign missions.
What Have We Read So Far? Although it would all make for great TV, it is hardly a scoop that US diplomats have strong opinions about the weakness and corruption of foreign officials to whom they must outwardly display deference and respect. The Cables include reference to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad as “Hitler”; suggesting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is probably paranoid; French President Nicolas Sarkozy is an “emperor with no clothes”; that the “vain and feckless” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is fond of “wild parties” and dangerously close to Russia’s Putin; that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Batman”; that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “rarely creative”; that North Korea’s ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-il is a “flabby old chap” suffering from “physical and psychological trauma”; and that Muammar Gaddafi applies botox and just can’t get enough of his sexy Ukrainian nurse.
But to believe, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claims she does, that these disclosures constitute “an attack not only on American foreign policy interests but on the international community”; or that WikiLeaks, as President Barack Obama has put it, has committed a serious crime, is to display nothing but tacky imperial arrogance. Everyone who tries to keep up with international news know that our diplomatic corps continually spies upon their counterparts abroad. Those of us who make use of the Internet to find blog sites and foreign publications willing to report openly on American shenanigans are already informed that: Washington conducted a bazaar to force small countries to accept Guantanamo inmates; that the Pakistani military/intelligence establishment (ISI) is intertwined with the Taliban; that President Saleh of Yemen has agreed to take the blame for Drone attacks on Al-Qaeda camps that were actually carried out by the US; or that that paragon of democracy and human rights Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz urged the US to attack Iran. Fear of a strong Shi’ite Iran is not surprising amongst that gaggle of unpopular Sunni Arab autocrats and dictators constantly harping and begging for the US to sell them the weapons they can use against their citizens to keep themselves in power. But the vast majority of Americans, well-bred to depend upon Fox News, CNN, and the three networks: ABC, NBC and CBS, as their window on the world, seldom get more than an occasional whiff of the staggering hypocrisy beyond our government’s international diplomatic posturing.
But when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs appeared on the Today Show and angrily denied that Secretary of State Clinton ordered spying against Ban Ki-Moon, his credibility was instantly in doubt. Even when the specific order signed by Secretary Clinton appeared on WikiLeaks, the official denial still seemed to convince a lot of people to let the matter drop. But we were provided with evidence of how little the White House Press Secretary’s words were worth when Secretary Clinton was then forced to speak with Ban and express regret over trying to steal his credit card. A spokesman for Ban expressed grave concerns about these plans which were a clear violation of both US and international law. The bizarre combination of the high profile denial and the immediate, apparently not for domestic consumption, pseudo-apology points to an Obama Administration that clearly has not learned its lesson about the consequences of so transparently lying to the American public. Surely Press Secretary Gibbs will now face calls for his resignation based upon for his failure to truthfully inform the press corps of governbment actions, which is supposedly his only job.
Measuring the discrepancies between what the Administration has been saying and what it is actually doing is the responsibility of an inquiring press. Yet, one must search well beyond the major media to find reports of this today. Consequently, the Internet has emerged as a most valuable resource for people who want to penetrate beyond what is broadcast on the Evening News or published in the NYTimes. A good example of this is the case of a supposed US commitment to dealing with Iran through diplomatic channels. It has now been touted as a revelation by The Christian Science Monitor (11-30-10) that the US was not sincere in its espousal of diplomatic engagement with Iran and that it was secretly pressuring other nations to apply harsh sanctions designed to ruin the Iranian economy. The WikiLeaks release showed that the US had always expected diplomatic efforts to fail. Obama had proposed to the Russians that if they dropped their opposition to Iranian sanctions, he would drop plans to deploy anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe. This was known and reported by Sasan Fayazmanesh in June (Counterpunch 06-13-10). Obama also attempted to convince the Saudis to sell oil to China to replace their dependence upon Iran, if they would also support tough sanctions on Iran. Much of what now appears in the news media as sensational stories concerning US-Iran relations, presumably revealed by WikiLeaks, was readily available online through major electronic news sources quite some time ago if one was merely willing to look.
The WikiLeaks reality show will go on for weeks and months as new gossip is dumped online. At least the show once again proves that the real information is most often only on the Internet – not through the global corporate media. It is salutary to learn that the emperor, in secret, bad-mouths his friends and sycophants as much as his enemies and also to learn that he is no friend of democratized information. But now that the emperor is indeed naked, we should all celebrate these cable-writers for bringing us this priceless reality show – a sort of extended version of the recently-departed Leslie Nielsen’s The Naked Gun.
Kill the Messenger, Plug the Leakage! Quickly Now! A desperate attempt to prevent government employees from reading WikiLeaks releases has now been mounted at the State Department and the Attorney General’s office. At Columbia University in New York City, the School of Public and International Affairs sent an email to students warning them not to link to or comment on the WikiLeaks cables if they plan on trying to get a job at the State Department after graduation. Now, after this Email warning was publicized, the school’s dean, John Coatsworth, sent a second email reassuring students that “Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution”.
“If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically,” Mr. Assange said in a question-and-answer session on the Web site of the British newspaper The Guardian. His threat is not idle, since less than 1% of the 250 thousand cables have been released so far.
In a first thrust at killing the messenger, Senator Feinstein proposed in the Wall Street Journal that Assange should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 which makes it a felony to transmit information that could be used to cause injury to the US or give advantage to a foreign nation. Yet if most of this information is already known to the careful observer of international politics and to diplomats employed by the governments involved, then it becomes damned near impossible to demonstrate how the transmittal of this data could in itself cause injury to the US. Secretary of Defense Gates admitted earlier in a letter to Congress concerning WikiLeaks cables about the Afghan War, that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence of anyone being harmed and NATO in Kabul said it could not find anyone who needed protection as a result of the leaks. (Chris Floyd 12-7-10 Counterpunch).
The attempt to kill the messenger and his agents has now extended to Visa Card, Mastercard, PayPal, Amazon, Google, and Swiss and Swedish bank accounts of WikiLeaks even though no criminal charges have been filed against it nor its founder Julian Assange. But why do the big guns only come out now? No deliberate offensive to shut down WikiLeaks was mounted when they were only publishing information about atrocities, wanton murder of civilians on the streets of Baghdad, torture of prisoners in violation of international law, and genocide against defenseless civilian populations in Afghanistan. Chris Floyd suggests (Counterpunch 12-7-10) that “the State Department doesn’t mind being unmasked as accomplices in mass murder but are actually proud of it when it involves a bunch of worthless peons in Afghanistan or Iraq. But tell a truth that discomfits power, that challenges its dominion over our lives and you will be destroyed. The most powerful entities, private and public, will be arrayed against you backed up by overwhelming force”.
The majority of journalists working for the main stream media have focused mainly upon the fascinating story of tracking down and imprisoning Assange so far. They have spent little time analyzing the findings about our impoverished foreign policy released by WikiLeaks. As mentioned earlier, much of what is now revealed was available to anyone willing to look around for a year or more. Corporate journalists and editors have been derelict in their responsibilities for some time and still do not get paid to dig up much dirt about the State Department and our foreign shenanigans. They have allowed themselves to be guided by our government when searching for the news and are all too willing to print what has been especially prepared for them as “handouts”. They are not likely to change their ways just because of one audacious Julian Assange.
There is a type of behavior exhibited here that Craig Murray, former British Ambassador in Uzbekistan, calls ‘the cult of Machiavellianism’, a pride in one’s own immorality. (Andrew Gavin Marshall in Global Research, 12-6019). “This belief in their professionalism exempts them from the normal constraints of decent behavior. They are also a class that very seldom tell unpalatable truths to politicians, but rather report and reinforce what their masters want to hear, in hope of receiving preferment.”
Assange told ‘The Australian’ newspaper (12-5-10) that “Democratic societies need a strong media that helps keep government honest”. I doubt that it is as straightforward as that. Governments will never, never be honest with their citizens. The media’s function is to at least allow citizens to be well-informed, if they wish to be. Unfortunately, as many as 80% of the citizens do not really wish to take the time or to make the effort to be truly well-informed. Joseph Stalin once wrote that “sincere diplomacy is no more possible than dry water or wooden iron.” (STRATFOR 12-7-10). These releases by WikiLeaks will not reform diplomacy nor suppress hypocrisy and double dealing. The State Dept. will merely change the security codes somewhat, but leaks will continue. The question that remains for me is why nothing labeled ‘Top Secret’ is amongst the released cables? Further, why are no CIA nor Pentagon cables being released? Could these not be hacked in the same way? Was the price too high? Is the security too good?