Daily Archives: November 29, 2010


Raise A Glass to Wikileaks

The Guardian CIF has radically shortened and buried in a panel a piece I wrote for them – at their request – on Wikileaks.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/nov/29/us-embassy-cables-middle-east

Here is the original:

The well paid securitocracy have been out in force in the media, attacking wikileaks and repeating their well worn mantras.

These leaks will claim innocent lives, and will damage national security. They will encourage Islamic terrorism. Government secrecy is essential to keep us all safe. In fact, this action by Wikileaks is so cataclysmic, I shall be astonished if we are not all killed in our beds tonight.

Except that we heard exactly the same things months ago when Wikileaks released the Iraq war documents and then the Afghan war documents, and nobody has been able to point to a concrete example of any of these bloodurdling consequences.

As these are diplomatic telegrams, we have also had a number of pro-secrecy arguments being trotted out. These are arguments with which I was wearily familiar in over twenty years as a British diplomat, six of them in the Senior Management Structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is seriously argued that Ambassadors will not in future give candid advice, if that advice might become public. In the last twelve hours I have heard this remarkable proposition put forward on five different television networks, without anybody challenging it.

Put it another way. The best advice is advice you would not be prepared to defend in public. Really? Why? In today’s globalised world, the Embassy is not a unique source of expertise. Often expatriate, academic and commercial organisations are a lot better informed. The best policy advice is not advice which is shielded from peer review.

What of course the establishment mean is that Ambassadors should be free to recommend things which the general public would view with deep opprobrium, without any danger of being found out. But should they really be allowed to do that, in a democracy?

I have never understood why it is felt that behaviours which would be considered reprehensible in private or even commercial life ?” like lying, or saying one thing to one person and the opposite to another person ?” should be considered acceptable, or even praiseworthy, in diplomacy.

When Ambassador to Uzbekistan, I was rebuked by the then head of the Diplomatic Service for reporting to London by unclassified email the details of dreadful human rights abuses by the Uzbek government. The FCO were concerned that the Uzbeks, who were intercepting our communications, would discover that I disapproved of their human rights violations. This might endanger the Uzbek alliance with British forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. For the FCO, diplomacy is synonymous with duplicity.

Among British diplomats. this belief that their profession exempts them from the normal constraints of decent behaviour amounts to a cult of Machiavellianism, a pride in their own amorality. It is reinforced by their narrow social origins ?” still in 2010, 80% of British ambassadors went to private schools. As a group, they view themselves as ultra-intelligent Nietzschean supermen, above normal morality. In Tony Blair (Fettes and Oxford), they had both leader and soulmate.

Those who argue that wikileaks are wrong, believe that we should entrust the government with sole control of what the people can and cannot know of what is done in their name. That attitude led to the “Dodgy dossier” of lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Those who posit the potential loss of life from wikileaks’ activities need to set against any such risk the hundreds of thousands of actual dead from the foreign policies of the US and its co-conspirators in the past decade.

Web commenters have noted that the diplomatic cables now released reflect the USA’s political agenda, and there is even a substantial wedge of the blogosphere which suggests that Wikileaks are therefore a CIA front. This is nonsense. Of course the documents reflect the US view ?” they are official US government communications. What they show is something I witnessed personally, that diplomats as a class very seldom tell unpalatable truths to politicians, but rather report and reinforce what their masters want to hear, in the hope of receiving preferment.

There is therefore a huge amount about Iran’s putative nuclear arsenal and an exaggeration of Iran’s warhead delivery capability. But there is nothing about Israel’s massive nuclear arsenal. That is not because wikileaks have censored criticism of Israel. It is because any US diplomat who made an honest and open assessment of Israeli crimes would very quickly be an unemployed ex-diplomat. I don’t want to bang on about my own case, but I wouldn’t wish the things they do to whistleblowers on anybody. .

It is is no surprise that US diplomats are complicit in spying on senior UN staff. The British do it too, and a very brave woman, Katherine Gunn, was sacked for trying to stop it. While the cables released so far contain nothing that will shock informed observers, one real impact will be the information available to the arab peoples on how far they are betrayed by their US puppet leaders.

The government of Yemen has been actively colluding with the US in lying – including to its own parliament ?” that US drone attacks that have killed many civilians, were the work of the Yemeni air force. The King of Saudi Arabia shows no concern over the behaviour of Israel or the fate of the Palestinians, but strongly urges the bombing of Iran. It is not only, or primarily, in the Western world that we need to know more about what is done in our name. Wikileaks have struck a great blow against the USA’s informal empire.

The people discomfited by these leaks are people who deserve to be discomfited. Truth helps the people against rapacious elites ?” everywhere.

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