Raise A Glass to Wikileaks 125


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.


125 thoughts on “Raise A Glass to Wikileaks

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  • angrysoba

    “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?”

    Well, if you think about it I wouldn’t want to be the guy who said, “Let’s put cyanide in Fidel Castro’s tea when he trots off to the loo!” would you?

    Thankfully, all those emails in which the J…Zionists had said they had a great idea to blow up the WTC and Pentagon haven’t leaked yet.

    Naturally, I am a bit suspicious about Julian Assange who may be some kind of secret agent man and part of the cover-up. In fact, it is really the only explanation.

  • craig

    angrysoba

    That is precisely my point. If public scrutiny stopped people from suggesting things like assassinating Castro, it would be a good thing.

  • Dick the Prick

    Very very funny indeed. Oh good grief – Corporal Bob Ainsworth on daily politics – wanker.

  • MJ

    “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”.

    Nicely put. On an utterly unconnected matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if your old pal Charles Crawford shows up soon. Red rag to a bull.

  • angrysoba

    “On an utterly unconnected matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if your old pal Charles Crawford shows up soon. Red rag to a bull.”

    Charles Crawford or not, I have given a counter-example that I think would be worth considering. Is it or is it not?

  • ingo

    In very angrysoba’s example the perception of international public responses and scrutiny seems to have changed policy, from a military attack to sending leaflets and using psychological means, a far more responsible attitude, although the content will probably be a pile of BS and total propaganda.

    The two are not comparable,imho, angry.

  • MJ

    “Charles Crawford or not, I have given a counter-example that I think would be worth considering”.

    Bully for you. I was responding to Craig’s post not yours, which I have not read.

  • Johan van Rooyen

    By far the best commentary on the current leaks I’ve read so far! I just wish Wikileaks would release all the material and be done with so that we don’t have to be forcibly grateful for the selectively spoonfeeding by The Guardian, et. al.

  • Dick the Prick

    You can see why Assange is doing it peacemeal though. He’ll need the cash and must be a bit of a life insurance risk due to an accidental shaving decapitation.

  • Geoffrey

    Wikileaks wrote to the the US ambassador in London asking which of the 250,000 plus cables might be a threat to life, offering to redact such information in consultation with US govt.

    Some lawyer from the State dept responded, repeating the same dreary tale of a general threat to life but no specifics. None whatsoever.

    Wikileaks, rightly in my opinion, took the view that the US govt was little more than a cheap liar caught out and trying to hide its embarrassment at what it was up to and they went ahead and published.

    In sharing their information with respected publications like the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times etc, and in giving the US govt ample opportunity to give information about any specific threats that may result from publication, Wikileaks have acted responsibly.

    The US govt has of course acted like the jumped up street thug and bully that day and daily threatens the lives of innocent people all over the world.

  • Cato

    Oh look. Those brave Australians are threatening to investigate Wikileaks for criminal breaches and perhaps cancel Assange’s passport.

    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/world/australian-federal-police-to-investigate-wikileaks-cablegate/story-e6frf7lf-1225962895317

    Hilarious. Funny the way these brave Australians never want to investigate mass murder and slaughter by their colleagues in crime.

    The Western world is now run by a vast criminal conspiracy totally disconnected from even the remotest semblance of the democracy that give rise to our modern civilisation.

    That generally means it’s all over.

  • mrjohn

    The story is that a 22 year old member of the US military acquired all this information. I find it incredible that such a young person could have so much access to supposedly sensitive material. The US establishment’s bluster over these leaks is a face saving attempt, it isn’t just the content that puts them in a poor light, it is the fact that this content was so easy to take and distribute.

    I think we will shortly be hearing this cited as a reason for governments to take firm control of the internet.

  • alan campbell

    Damp squib:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-11-29/wikileaks-diplomatic-document-dump-is-banal-sabotage/

    The new WikiLeaks document dump is fun in a voyeuristic sort of way?”a Putin-Berlusconi bromance!?”but fails to add much to the public debate about American foreign policy, says Peter Beinart.

    The hype to payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s tomb. “Leaked Cables Uncloak US Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

    Then The Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

    But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained The Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world… They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda… They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon?”and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights?”if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

    Oh yeah, and the dump will do real harm. Everybody knows that the Obama administration is worried about loose nukes in Pakistan, but not everyone knew that a U.S. technical team was trying to remove highly enriched uranium from one particular research reactor. Until now. A WikiLeaks cable quotes the U.S. ambassador as warning that “if the local media got word of the fuel removal,” it would scuttle the operation. Consider it scuttled. Similarly, it’s one thing to assume that when a suspected al Qaeda operative gets blown up in Yemen, it was probably the U.S.?”not the Yemenis?”that did the deed. It’s another to quote the Yemeni president joking with Gen. David Petraeus about how he lies about such operations. Maybe U.S. strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are a bad idea. Let’s hope so, since they’re going to be a lot harder to carry out now.

    The point is that in foreign policy, even more than other aspects of government, secrecy is both necessary and dangerous. It’s necessary because concealing things from your adversaries often requires concealing them from your own people. There’s no way to tell the American people everything Washington is doing to battle al Qaeda without telling al Qaeda as well. But secrecy is dangerous because without public knowledge and oversight, battling adversaries can become a blank check for all manner of self-defeating and immoral behavior. Journalists shouldn’t simply trust government officials to draw the line, since government officials have a professional self-interest in secrecy. But journalists need to draw that line themselves, recognizing that their professional self-interest may tempt them to violate secrecy more than is necessary to keep the government honest. That’s exactly what WikiLeaks does not do?”for Julian Assange, virtually everything is fair game. And since Assange doesn’t care one whit about foreign policy secrecy, it no longer really matters if The Times does. People will see the documents no matter what.

    The latest WikiLeaks dump is to American foreign policy what the Starr Report was to presidential politics.

    For better or worse, this is the world we now live in. But living in it is one thing; celebrating it is another. When journalists gather information that genuinely changes the way we see some aspect of American foreign policy, or exposes government folly or abuse, they should move heaven and earth to make sure it sees the light of day. But that’s a far cry from publishing documents that sabotage American foreign policy without adding much, if anything, to the public debate. The latest WikiLeaks dump is to American foreign policy what the Starr Report was to presidential politics?”fun, in a voyeuristic sort of way, revealing, but not about important things, and ultimately, more trouble than it is worth.

  • Paul

    Craig,

    Have you examined the documents for anything relevant to the situation in Uzbekistan? Has there been anything that sheds new light, or adds supporting evidence of complicity in torture?

    That said, the ‘Diary Digs’ link in WikiLeaks seems not to be working at the moment. Probably overloaded – or possibly being attacked.

  • somebody

    “The mainstream media in the UK are serial offenders. Newspapers that have no compunction about invasions of privacy or about shrill comment devote precious little time or energy to challenging authority through rigorous investigative journalism. Most political “scoops” are merely stories planted by politicians on pliant lobby hacks. Editors and senior journalists are habitually invited into MI5 and MI6 for briefings. These are affable occasions, often over lunch. There is no harm in that. What tends to happen, however, is that journalists are tickled pink by the attention. They love being invited to the “D-notice” committee to discuss how they can all behave “responsibly”. It makes them feel important. Many suspend their critical faculties as a result.

    Far from being “feral beasts”, to use Tony Blair’s phrase, the British media are overly respectful of authority. Newspapers and broadcasters tend to be suspicious of those who do not play the game, people like Mr Assange who are awkward outsiders. Some editors are quite happy to help the authorities in their denunciations of him, partly out of revenge for not being in his inner circle.”

    John Kampfner: Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/john-kampfner-wikileaks-shows-up-our-media-for-their-docility-at-the-feet-of-authority-2146211.html

  • Arthur

    @alan campbell

    Well at least that article is a slight improvement on the tiresome “lost lives” drivel these people normally trot ot.

    Its problem though lies in its rather curious assumption that the US is somehow a goodie, defending us against all the baddies out there.

    Anyone who believes that just hasn’t been paying attention.

    To put it at its simplest, US policy over the past few years has turned a Britain that was once the most liberal of the western countries into the most authoritarian and surveilled.

  • alan campbell

    Another take on the squib:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/guywalters/100065834/the-biggest-losers-from-wikileaks-will-be-historians-%e2%80%93%c2%a0thanks-assange/

    Is there a bigger self-aggrandizing pillock in the world than Julian Assange? I doubt it. Thanks to his naive and reckless championing of freedom of information, Assange’s actions will ?” in the long term ?” make information far less free. Although what has been released by Wikileaks will be of benefit to historians, the effect of the leaks will, in the words of my friend Charles Cumming, “drive already fairly open, accountable institutions into greater secrecy”.

    Unsurprisingly, diplomats, intelligence agents and other government employees will now be less likely to commit information to paper or screen. As Michael Binyon observes in today’s Times, “as in Soviet Russia, important information may no longer be written down, especially not on computers, so that there will be no record”. Naturally, this will make matters considerably more difficult for historians of the future.

    Mr Assange feels that he has struck a blow for liberty and freedom. In fact, he’s done the very opposite. He has sacrificed future knowledge of today’s events in return for a quick information hit that merely titillates. Countries, just like people, are entitled to keep some things secret. Covert activity does not necessarily mean criminality. Why does Mr Assange not understand this?

  • Clark

    Ha Ha. The mainstream media find themselves in an awful bind. they haven’t been doing their job properly, and have been completely outclassed by Wikileaks. Hence the love/hate relationship: the mainstream media love WikiLeaks as a source, but hate being upstaged.

  • Clark

    Here is the WikiLeaks Cable Viewer:

    http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/

    Note the holes in the record of dates down the left side. I’d be interested to know why that is. Only a tiny fraction of the cables have been released so far, so maybe the timeline will be gradually filled in.

  • Debbie Evans

    At last a sensible person who survived being in company ( for that read government in some way) but still realises ordinary people do need to know what is being done in their name, and when they are attacked or killed through terrorist actions or war they may – no always – know why. Until today I admit had never read anything you published but your blog is one I will be catching up on and reading from now on. Here’s hoping they don’t stop you

  • Paul

    “I find it incredible that such a young person could have so much access to supposedly sensitive material.”

    Why? In an I.T.-centric environment some people often have access to large volumes of supposedly secure data for a variety of reasons. It shouldn’t be assumed that he had access because he needed knowledge of the *content* of the documents as part of his role.

    Perhaps Manning (or whoever gave him the information) was responsible for backing up computer systems, managing a large database, transferring data for archival, statistical analysis or data-mining, or something similar.

    It could also be entirely a matter contingency. Perhaps someone handed someone the wrong CD or tape, or accidently granted the wrong access to a server’s shared folder structure, or some other resource. Perhaps someone filed a CD or tape in a filing cabinet when it should have gone in a safe, or handed it to the wrong courier.

    There are any number of ways large volumes of data can breach security, as frequently be accident as by intent Maybe they just lost the data. There was a period a year or so ago were this was happening almost monthly in the UK. I.T. security (including in the military) is often brittle, generally less good than is often presumed and daily subject to human error. There’s also a tendency for security systems and policies that worked once to devolve (or the situtation around them to change) so that they become less secure. And it is often difficult to identify the next scenario that might result in a breach (until it has already happened).

    During the data breaches that happened in the UK, I heard someone (it may have been ‘David Cameron’ speaking in opposition( asking why, in the age of the internet and encryption technology, this data was being passed around on a CD. He was (of course) taking a cheap shot. But the worrying thing was that he had completely the wrong answer. The safest way to get large volumes of data from one department to enough (or to achival) is to put it, encrypted, on disc or tape, then send it in an armed car with an escort. It is simple and the failure points are obvious, and hence more able to be planned for. Each extra level of complication added to a security system makes the system harder to understand and therefore more likely to have unnoticed holes.

    This is one good thing that has come out of the Con/Dem government (or, more realistically, the current financial situation) in the UK: the national citizen surveillence database (often, inaccurately labelled the ‘ID card’ scheme) has been abandoned (for now). So has the ContactPoint database of millions of children which would have allowed (quite legitimately, and by policy) hundreds of thousands or government and other workers access to personal data about children.

    The best way to secure your own personal data, by the way, is to give as little of it to as few people as possible. Corporations or government departments who request – or more commonly, assume your tacit agreement to collect – more data than they actually need to provide the services in question should be viewed with a great deal of suspicion. The degree to which corporations (or governments) can use apparently innocuous personal data to infer alligencies, poitical or other beliefs, and future behaviour, from the unnecessarily large amounts of data they collect would surprise many people, I suspect.

  • Akheloios

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen basic democracy and accoutability summed up so well, if it’s that important it should be peer reviewed at the very least.

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