Monday, November 29, 2010

The Wikileaks controversy: reality bites!

I'm cynically amused by the furore over yet another Wikileaks revelation of US secret material. I think the questions raised by this latest release (and the earlier ones) are far more important to the security of the USA than the release itself.

For a start, just how the hell did a mere Army private manage to see all this material? I had a security clearance in the armed forces of another country, and later a rather higher level clearance in a related field. They weren't easy to get, and were only the start of the security process. Access to classified material wasn't determined only by one's security clearance, but also by one's need to know. If one tried to access classified information outside one's authorized area(s), it would trigger an instant alert, including denial of access; an immediate investigation; and probably, before very long, the loss of one's security clearance over the affair. It seems that US classified material isn't (or wasn't) handled in nearly so scrupulous a manner. I'm sure questions are now being asked about that at very high levels. Good. They should be . . . and the answers should lead to a wholesale revision of the classification and access systems used by the US government. Unfortunately (political correctness having infected so much of our establishment), your guess is as good as mine whether or not that will happen.

I think Julian Assange and his Wikileaks team are being disingenuous when they claim that they've 'redacted' the latest material they've released, to protect individuals. All they appear to have done is remove certain names. Unfortunately, the incidental information about those whose names have been 'redacted' is still sufficient to identify them. For example, the Telegraph points out:

As for Assange’s protests that no one’s life would be put at risk, check this out. The name of the source has been redacted. But how many UK-educated engineers from prominent Pre-Revolution Isfahan families who once owned a large factory in Iran and are former national fencing champions of Iran, former presidents of the Iran Fencing Association and former vice-presidents of an Azerbaijan sports association do you think there are out there?

I have no doubt that the Administration is correct: the lives of US allies, collaborators and informers will be put at risk by this release. As I said earlier, if someone were to do unto Julian Assange what is sure to be done unto at least some of those he's so callously put at risk, I won't shed a tear for him.

The released material is certainly embarrassing to some individual politicians and world leaders. As the Guardian notes:

The material includes a reference to Putin as an "alpha-dog" and Hamid Karzai as being "driven by paranoia", while Angela Merkel allegedly "avoids risk and is rarely creative". There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.

Other revelations will doubtless have a knock-on effect in many countries, affecting their relations with the US and other nations for some time to come. For example, I doubt whether Kim Jong Il is going to be terribly happy to read a leaked cable that claims China has no objection to reunification of the two Koreas under South Korean leadership. In fact, I wonder if that had anything to do with North Korea's recent belligerence? The cables had been available to the media for several weeks prior to their public release, so it's not inconceivable that someone might have contacted North Korea to ask for their reaction to that news.

I think the present Administration's standing among world leaders and in global public opinion is likely to be negatively affected by these documents. The Asia Times has already pilloried the President.

Napoleon was a lunatic who thought he was Napoleon, and the joke applies to the 44th United States president with a vengeance. What doesn't the president know, and when didn't he know it? American foreign policy turned delusional when Barack Obama took office, and the latest batch of leaks suggest that the main source of the delusion is sitting in the Oval Office.

. . .

The initial reports suggest that the US State Department has massive evidence that Obama's approach ... has failed catastrophically. The crisis in diplomatic relations heralded by the press headlines is not so much a diplomatic problem - America's friends and allies in Western and Central Asia have been shouting themselves hoarse for two years - but a crisis of American credibility.

. . .

How do we explain the gaping chasm between Obama's public stance and the facts reported by the diplomatic corps? The cables do not betray American secrets so much as American obliviousness. The simplest and most probable explanation is that the president is a man obsessed by his own vision of a multipolar world, in which America will shrink its standing to that of one power among many, and thus remove the provocation on which Obama blames the misbehavior of the Iranians, Pakistanis, the pro-terrorist wing of the Saudi royal family, and other enemies of the United States.

. . .

The cables, in sum, reveal an American administration that refuses to look at the facts on the ground, even when friendly governments rub the noses of American diplomats into them. Obama is beyond reality; he has become the lunatic who thinks that he is Barack Obama.

There's more at the link. It's a pretty searing condemnation of the way America's been doing diplomatic business - and it's probably a pretty fair reflection of how the rest of the world is thinking about us, right now.

The scandal has also resulted in some severe egg-on-face moments for some of the news media. As the Telegraph delights in pointing out:

“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.”
- Andrew Revkin, Environment Editor, New York Times Nov 20, 2009 [concerning leaked e-mails in the Climategate controversy].

“The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. The New York Times and a number of publications in Europe were given access to the material several weeks ago and agreed to begin publication of articles based on the cables online on Sunday. The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.”
- New York Times editorial 29/11/2010 [concerning US diplomatic correspondence released by Wikileaks].

Can you spot the difference between these two statements of high moral principle?

There's more at the link.

Consider hypocrisy. Consider the New York Times. But then, I repeat myself . . .



Anonymous said...

I've had to alugh a bit when looking at the cables from germany, being german myself. Most descriptions are spot on and reflect everything we say about our current government.
I don't know if I'm foolish hoping this but maybe it's a wakeup call for them that it's not just some people here that think so and something good comes from the leak

Anonymous said...

I agree with Peter - how the flaming heck did a very low-ranking enlisted man get all this data? Have his supervisors and commanding officer been disciplined in any way? If not, why? And is all this State Department material really from that first leaker, or is someone trying to make the current administration look worse? (I can't say "look bad," because . . . yes well. Moving along.)

Crucis said...

If I were Assange, I'd be very careful of pissing off the French. The French are liable to respond like they did with some Sierra Club(?) enviro-whackos protesting French nuclear tests.

I seem to remember sunken ships and at least one death. The French don't like being embarrassed.

CarlS said...

I’m just … shaking my head. Politicians and diplomats lie. Deliberately and intentionally. With malice aforethought. Frequently. Predictably. Sometimes, perhaps, accidentally, charismatically ( ), as psychopaths do once they lose touch with reality. As does the New York Times. After all, what rational thinking person didn’t know this, already? Only people with their heads up their - strike that - in the sand; the ones who can’t see the forest for the trees, the patterns for the puzzles; oh, that’s right, the term has been redefined as “liberal dimmocrats”.