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.


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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125 thoughts on “Raise A Glass to Wikileaks

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  • anon

    What i don’t get is how wikileaks gets hold of all this material…this is all managed by the US, surely there is some ulterior motive behind this. If the US did not want this to get out then i’m sure it wouldn’t

  • Suhayl Saadi

    So, as I read it, the Telegraph’s Guy Walters is saying:

    1) It is good that information is freely available.

    2) Making such information freely available i bad because doing so will result in similar information being unavailable to future historians.

    That type of argument is called something in logic, but I can’t recall what right now.

    We do know an awful lot about Soviet Russia, in spite of what Michael Binyon reportedly says. More than enough to know that it wasn’t a very pleasant regime under which to live.

    Frankly, I think that future historians would be likely to do more-or-less what current historians do and that is to draw on many disparate sources of information.

    And in what way, pray tell, is the SIS “a fairly open, accountable institution”? Open and accountable to whom? Pauline Neville-Jones, ‘Professor’ Andrew Fulton and Margaret ‘Meta’ Ramsey? Dominic Lawson, Con Coughlin and Frank Gardner?

    If someone’s been caught with their pants down, they’ve been caught with their pants down. It may indeed be titillating, but it also happens to be true.

    Like angrysoba and some others (what, angrysoba are you being ironic, or are you seriously suggesting that Assange is part of an establishment plot? If the latter, we need to find some flags to hoist {!}), to be honest, I haven’t made up my mind yet about Wikileaks.

    However, most of the arguments against release seem entirely predictable and to lack conviction. Is the whole thing another opera, or is it that the defenders of the MI complex have few real arguments left?

  • Vronsky

    @alan campbell at November 29, 2010 1:35 PM & November 29, 2010 1:52 PM

    It’s enough just to post the link Alan, and maybe quote a sentence or two for flavour. Thanks.

    Me, I’m still struggling to understand why it’s embarassing to be caught describing the likes of Cameron, Karzai and Putin as something short of the dog’s bollocks as politicians. Wouldn’t the embarassment have arisen if it had been revealed that the US actually rated these spivs?

  • Anonymous

    Nice, so Hilary gonna be arrested for ordering the spying on the UN?

    Man gotta love the Americas and their arrongant stance on truth, democracy and the right of law…

  • Muntaka Ghana

    “This is pretty devastating. The essence of our foreign policy is our ability to talk straight and honest with our foreign counterparts and to keep those conversations out of the public domain. This massive leak puts that most basic of diplomatic requirements at risk in the future.

    Think of relations with Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan, governments who we need to work with us in defeating al-Qaeda. Their performance has been uneven in the past, for a variety of reasons, but this kind of leak will seriously hinder our ability to persuade these governments to support our counterterrorism priorities in the future.

    Whoever was behind this leak should be shot and I would volunteer to pull the trigger.” – Roger Cressey, former US cyber security and counterterrorism official

    A comment coming from counterterrorism official. This is very dangerous. I bet he always strangled terror suspects!

  • Muntaka Ghana

    “This won’t restrain diplomats’ candour. But people will be looking at the security of electronic communication and archives. Paper would have been impossible to steal in these quantities.” – Christopher Meyer, former British envoy to US


  • dreoilin

    As I understand it, the US moved these cables to new servers or a new database which then made them available to 2.5 million people. No big surprise then that someone like Manning got hold of them. Apparently they’re going to tighten up their rules regaring the use of USB sticks!

  • dreoilin

    Allegedly Manning. It’s assumed he was the source both for the helicopter video and these cables. Not proven.

  • dreoilin

    “This means that a diplomatic dispatch marked Sipdis is automatically downloaded on to its embassy’s classified website. From there it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a computer connected to Siprnet. Millions of US soldiers and officials have “secret” security clearance. The US general accounting office identified 3,067,000 people cleared to “secret” and above in a 1993 study.

    “Since then, the size of the security establishment has grown appreciably. Another GAO report in May 2009 said: “Following the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001 the nation’s defence and intelligence needs grew, prompting increased demand for personnel with security clearances.” A state department spokesman today refused to say exactly how many people had access to Siprnet.”


  • mrjohn

    alan campbell

    “Unsurprisingly, diplomats, intelligence agents and other government employees will now be less likely to commit information to paper or screen.”

    So they will have to remember it all then ?

    yeah, really.

  • mrjohn


    “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.”

    read this :


    It was childishly easy, according to the published chatlog of a conversation Manning had with a fellow-hacker. “I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing … [I] listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” He said that he “had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months”.

  • Clark

    I often liked to taunt supporters of the UK imperial system of measurements by asking them if they’d like to go back to pounds, shillings and pence; I’d remind them that they’d need a new type of calculator.

    I don’t think the US is going to abandon computer communications. Leaks are nothing new; these WikiLeaks leaks are just much larger than pre-computer leaks. Digital data was DESIGNED to enable fast, accurate and unlimited copying. It’s a new age, and governments will have to get used to it.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    Do those people who condemn the leaks really think we have no right to know that the King of Saudi Arabia has been urging the US to attack Iran? We would almost certainly become embroiled in such a war and people from this country would die. Warmongering kings can stick their right to privacy up their arses as far as I’m concerned.

  • Dr. Rebecca Wolf


    I’m sorry I didn’t have time to read your whole blog today, but these words caught my eye:

    “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.”

    Well put! The public needs hear more talk like this.

    Your friend across the pond,


    Dr. Rebecca Wolf

    Undersecretary for Community and New Media, USDOF


  • Anonymous

    so let count the blood from the Americans shall we

    how many died because of the food for oil

    how many civilians (collateral damage) being murdered by the Americans every day

    oh and lets not forget the depleted uranium deaths that will continue for decades

    lets talk proportions before you start slagging off wikileaks.

    what about the number of Americans killed by the first world Health Policy

    not enough Doves speaking up in this world

  • dfens

    “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.”

    I think the obvious reason is that diplomats have to deal with people and states who are not be considered moral by idealistic standards either. On the level of states it is not about “doing the right thing”. It is about interests. Democracy has just deceived the common people into thinking otherwise when it never really was.Consequently deception and lies are the tools of the trade not only between diplomats but also between politicians and the people.

  • Alfred

    @ KingofWelshNoir

    “Do those people who condemn the leaks really think we have no right to know that the King of Saudi Arabia has been urging the US to attack Iran?”

    I thought I already knew that the King of Saudi Arabia has been urging the US to attack Iran. Ditto, the report that the US is killing people in Yemen with Hellfire missiles fired by drones (see the Gardian report “Drones of death — Bush takes the law into his own hands” published November 6, 2002).

    So what is the real effect of the leaks? Merely, I suggest, to give the NYTimes and the Gruniard an opportunity to provide “new evidence” in support of the War on Terror.

    Amusingly, the Trikileaks release exposes the Himalayan heights of the NYTimes’ humbug. A year ago the NY Times “ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained.” As Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s stated: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.” LOL.


  • cheers


    Wed 03 Jan 2007 : Witnessing

    Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.

    If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.

    If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whos hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.

    The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering. Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.

  • KingofWelshNoir


    ‘I thought I already knew that the King of Saudi Arabia has been urging the US to attack Iran.’

    Well I didn’t, and neither did my mum. And so I stick by my assertion that we have a right to know if some warmongering king is fomenting wars that will indubitably involve us.

    That is not to say I am totally sucked in by this and am very open to the view that it may not be all that it seems, that it is in fact the work of one of the intelligence agencies, most likely MOSSAD.

    And I take the point that it all seems to be aimed at reconfiguring the tired old war on terror. Even so, I can’t quite see how divulging that the Saudis want to attack Iran helps make the case to attack Iran.

  • Peter Jenner


    Newsnight is discussing these leaks tonight with ‘senior diplomats and politicians’. Have you been invited to give your opinion? (lol)

    In any event, I have suggested they contact you for your invaluable insights into the inner workings of the diplomatic service.

    Am not holding my breath.

  • Alfred

    “‘I thought I already knew that the King of Saudi Arabia has been urging the US to attack Iran.’

    Well I didn’t …”

    But that does not make the Wikileaks release signficant. The supposed hostility of the Saudis to Iran has been long in the news, e.g.,

    “Saudis give nod to Israeli raid on Iran” The Times July 5, 2009.


    And there are many other such stories.

    All that one can conclude from your response to Wikileaks is that it serves to reinforce the message of the MSM.


    “There is a single-word search facility of what has been released so far…”

    It is amusing that $5-million-dollar-man Assange, the supposed hacker prodigy has not only failed to put the bulk of the supposedly stolen documents on line, he cannot even provide a proper search engine.

    In contrast, the Climategate emails were online with a functional search engine within hours of release (see eastangliaemails.com).

  • somebody

    From Media Lens message board

    Newsnight discussing WikiLeaks with “senior diplomats and politicians.”

    Posted by Ed on November 29, 2010, 5:00 pm

    So Newsnight have the brilliant idea of having senior diplomats and politicians s discussing the corrupt and immoral actions of other senior diplomats and politicians.

    You couldn’t make it up!


    But we’ll be leading tonight’s programme on the release by the controversial whistle-blowing site Wikileaks of a cache of secret messages sent by US diplomatic staff.

    We’ll have the latest revelations just out, will be considering what the diplomatic fall out will be. and will assess the impact this most recent release will have around the world with senior diplomats and politicians.


  • technicolour

    (possibly stupid question) How do we know they’re real? btw the Spiegel has this to say:

    “It is unclear whether a complete set of documents was provided. It is entirely possible that an overly large or small number of reports from a particular country or region made its way into the data collection. It is also theoretically possible that there has been some falsification within the documents when it comes to the times or the issues they discuss.”

    Still, I agree with KingofWelshnoir: it doesn’t seem as though this will make an attack on Iran more likely. Otherwise have no idea what to think: there’s far too much going on. Also questions like ‘why are the US more or less owning up to this?’ and so on. I tried watching the X factor, but it didn’t work.

    ps What happened to the D notice? Did I miss something?

  • alan campbell

    I know he might sound a bit Jewish for many of you, but his stuff is worth a read too.


    The Saudis Are Neocons, And Other First Wikileaks Impressions

    Nov 28 2010, 5:17 PM ET

    1. How does the United States Government store its secrets? In shoeboxes?

    2. Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

    3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

    The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

    4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

    5. None of the Iran-related revelations, so far at least, would be surprising to anyone who has followed this issue. Some of us have been writing for years about the potential for an Israeli-Arab alliance over this common threat. The depth of Arab worry about Iran gives lie to the notion that the neutralization of the nuclear threat is an Israeli concern alone. I believe I even mentioned this in this story, from the summer.

    6. I have something in common with Muammar al-Qadhafi, in that I, too, cannot travel with my senior Ukrainian nurse:

    Qadhafi appears to rely heavily — —– —– —- —–, and reportedly cannot travel with his senior Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska. He also appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing. His recent travel may also suggest a diminished dependence on his legendary female guard force, as only one woman bodyguard accompanied him to New York. End Summary.

    I wonder if Qadhafi prefers not to fly over Lockerbie, Scotland, either.

  • alan campbell


    Watch Your Mouth

    How WikiLeaks’ new release will increase secrecy and damage democratic governments.

    By Anne Applebaum

    Posted Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, at 12:01 PM ET

    Nicolas Sarkozy is thin-skinned? Uh-oh.I’m sure the Russian people will be shocked?”shocked!?”to discover that U.S. diplomats think the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.” Italians will be equally horrified to learn that their prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is considered “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader,” just as the French will be stunned to hear President Nicolas Sarkozy called “thin-skinned and authoritarian.” As for the Afghans, they will be appalled to read that their president, Hamid Karzai, has been described as “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts.”








    Yahoo! Buzz Facebook Digg RedditStumbleUponCLOSEAnd anyone perusing the semi-secret diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks this week will find more of the same. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is a “crazy old man.” Muammar Qaddafi of Libya travels with a “voluptuous blonde” whom he describes as his “senior Ukrainian nurse.” In the coming days, there will be many things to say about the specific details of these newly public documents. But before we get into all that, let’s not lose the main point: Above all, this leak contains a treasure trove of things people regularly say off the record that they never say in public. These aren’t records of human-rights abuses, they are accounts of conversations. And?”just like July’s WikiLeaks revelations about Afghanistan?”this one confirms much that was publicly known, openly discussed, and even written about before.

    The cables “reveal,” among other things, that the United States is (surprise!) lobbying others to organize sanctions against Iran, that South Korean diplomats have discussed what would happen if North Korea collapses, that U.S. diplomats have been bribing other countries to accept ex-prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. (I suppose it is “news” that the United States spies on the United Nations, but forgive me if I am not as horrified as I should be.) Germany’s Der Spiegel concludes, furiously, that the United States “seeks to safeguard its influence around the world.” I’d be a lot more worried if the opposite were true.


    What is truly novel is not the information, much of which has been reported before, but the language. Normally poker-faced diplomats are quoted making unflattering and occasionally amusing assessments of their interlocutors. Not all of them are Americans: The Saudi king thinks the Pakistani president is “rotten”; France’s top diplomat thinks Iran is a “fascist state”; Britain’s national bank chairman thinks his prime minister is “shallow”; and so on.

    This is certainly embarrassing for those who made the remarks. I am less sure whether their revelation gets us anywhere: On the contrary, it seems that in the name of “free speech” another blow has been struck against frank speech. Yet more ammunition has been given to those who favor greater circumspection, greater political correctness, and greater hypocrisy.

    Don’t expect better government from these revelations, expect deeper secrets. Will the U.S. ambassador to Country X give Washington a frank assessment of the president of X if he knows it could appear in tomorrow’s newspaper? Not very likely. Will a foreign leader tell any U.S. diplomat what he really thinks about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he knows it might show up on WikiLeaks? I doubt it. Diplomatic cables will presumably now go the way of snail mail: Oral communication will replace writing, as even off-the-record chats now have to take place outdoors, in the presence of heavy traffic, just in case anyone is listening.

    In the modern world?”at least the sloppy, open, hackable Western world?”any other form of frank discussion will soon be impossible. The State Department isn’t the first to learn this: No American general will ever again give a journalist full access, as did the hapless Stanley McChrystal. Because he revealed that?”like every other general in history?”he sometimes disagrees with the politicians back home, and because his interlocutor chose to publish his grumbling, he had to resign.

    The result: Very soon, only authoritarian leaders will be able to speak frankly with one another. A Russian official can keep a politically incorrect statement out of the newspapers. A Chinese general would never speak to a journalist anyway. Low-level officials in Iran don’t leak sensitive information to WikiLeaks because the regime would kill them and torture their families. By contrast, the soldier who apparently leaked these diplomatic cables will probably live to a ripe old age.

    In fact, the world’s real secrets?”the secrets of regimes where there is no free speech and tight control on all information?”have yet to be revealed. This stuff is awkward and embarrassing, but it doesn’t fundamentally change very much. How about a leak of Chinese diplomatic documents? Or Russian military cables? How about some stuff we don’t actually know, like Iranian discussion of Iranian nuclear weapons, or North Korean plans for invasion of South Korea Korea? If WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange is serious about his pursuit of “Internet openness”?”and if his goal isn’t, in fact, embarrassing the United States?”that’s where he’ll look next. Somehow, I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

  • Alfred


    “Still, I agree with KingofWelshnoir: it doesn’t seem as though this will make an attack on Iran more likely. ”

    Well of course it does! Now we know, everybody agrees, even the Arabs: we gotta attack the new Hitler, AhmMadforJihad before he gets a nuke and kills us all.

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