Those embarrassed by the torrent of Wikileaks documents claim the whistle-blowing site is endangering lives. But the threat in this historian's dream trove of information is really to the reputations of politicians and diplomats, and their secretive, opaque, patronising modus operandi
To be surprised by the contents of the Wikileaks deluge is to be either negligent of international goings on, or naively trustful of governments, or both. Neither can be considered a virtue.
The art of ‘diplomacy’ is not, and has never been, playing nice, open and honest.
Rather it is a world of wining and dining, wheeling and dealing, faux courtesies, reluctant handshakes, clandestine meetings, unofficial pull-asides, deliberately vague representations of actions and policies, hush-hush cash, and blatant lies to the media, all to further personal and national self-interest.
Politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats like to operate within their secret world without the pesky prying eyes of journalists or taxpayers. They use the cause of national security as their immunity.
They like their journalists to be little more than stenographers to power.
They like their information flow to be what they determine is best for those who vote them in, and then pay for the existence of their office.
They can authorize the trawling of your bank accounts, phone conversations and even rubbish bins, but look out if their bubble is burst.
When their privacy is breached – as it has unequivocally been by Julian Assange – then that is somehow ‘war’ and reckless endangerment. One senior American politician is calling for Wikileaks to be labeled a terrorist organization. How deeply embarrassment seems to cut when it is reddening the faces of the powerful.
As the Wikileaks trove is revealed, the question of whether its public release is morally justified is relevant.
The fact is of course that once we know something we can’t ‘unknow’ it, and if we know what is really going on in the pursuit of world peace, capital dominance, territorial or political hegemony, then the lofty and not quite so flash goals are potentially in jeopardy. The reason could be that some of them should be!
In the digital age it is frightening to think the diplomats and spies and their masters really considered information that about three million people had access to would stay secret. This is the era of face-book and twitter, but it is also a time when power to act is no longer the privilege of the elite few.
Assange may have provided the medium, but whistle-blowing has increasingly become a means by which those who have been disempowered regain a little of their suppressed or disenfranchised mojo. Particularly so when they consider – or know – their own governments to be acting illegally or immorally. Think Guantanamo, extra-judicial killings or, as in the case with Canada, the vigorous harassment (illegal) of suspected or known Hizbollah personnel in Canada.
It is no surprise that diplomats speak in candid language and certainly no surprise that this extends to descriptions of the bare-chested, motorbike riding Putin as an “Alpha Dog” with Medvedev playing Robin to his Batman? Who thought Merkel was anything other than cautious, Sarkozy less than authoritarian, let alone an emperor avec clothes, that Qadaffi would be capable of functioning without his harem of voluptuous women or Berlusconi would do anything other than laugh-off descriptions of him as a lightweight. He’s an extremely rich lightweight and that seems to be all that matters to him.
As Hillary Clinton was told when she engaged in her humiliating world-wide bucket and spade routine after the Wikileaks elephant, she should hear what diplomats and leaders around the world say about her!
It is important to remember, she argues, that these cables and conversations are not policy. Perhaps not, Mrs Clinton, but they shine a consistent spotlight on what eventually establishes itself as policy, and irritatingly for politicians, give credence to the relentless work being done by many journalists to tell it like it is. This includes the Clinton directive that diplomats collect all sorts of information on foreign leaders and UN personnel including Ban Ki Moon – bank account numbers, frequent flier data, and anything else the State Department may find a use for.
In their call for Assange’s head on a platter, the politicians who so openly court journalists and media organizations when it suits them for personal electoral purposes, believe the documents should not have been published.
Such a self-interested and shortsighted dictum would render news as farce.
For example, journalists who cover Afghanistan’s corrupt and problematic Karzai government, the billions of unaccounted for US dollars that have poured in to that country and been spirited out just as quickly, and the seriously damaging impact the war is having on neighbouring Pakistan, now know for certain their conclusions are spot on, despite official cautions or outright denials. The cables reveal it all.
More importantly however, The New York Times (or others ‘privileged’ by the Wikileaks dump) could not have received the information, and carry on as if not. That would be a gross breach of the contract between journalists and the public. Journalists on the whole aspire to report as truthfully as they can, and in response the public buys newspapers, watches telly, accesses stories on-line or listens to the radio.
Now the cloak has been ripped from the world of ‘diplomacy’ we have confirmed for us just how uncivilized and often hypocritical that world actually is.
Canada’s secret service has been well and truly uncloaked, and the implications are disturbing. Its former director of CSIS Jim Judd has been slagging off the country’s courts for not allowing his operation to use information garnered through torture. The thinking is clearly that the law is nothing more than a handicap for how the likes of Judd would like to do business.
This is particularly so with the disgraceful treatment by Canada of child soldier Omar Khadr who despite being the youngest inmate in Guantanamo and subject to torture at the beginning of his incarceration, was repeatedly refused repatriation to Canada. Canada eventually and reluctantly conceded to a deal after a trumped up guilty plea before a military court, which was no doubt part of the fire-sale of such inmates Wikileaks has revealed.
Judd told the Americans that the DVD of Kadhr under interrogation would be interpreted by Canadians as a kid crying in response to treatment meted out by his three adult interrogators – including sleep deprivation and threats of rape. This would trigger a “knee-jerk anti Americanism …and…paroxysms of moral outrage – a Canadian specialty” according to Judd. Gosh, wonder why!
Here’s the head of CSIS apologising to America for Canadian courts upholding the law, and for the morality of Canadian citizens. It shows the thinking of the country’s spies and their partisan admiration for the right-wing Harper government which refused to heed public pressure on the Kadhr case, yet contributes millions to rehabilitation of child soldiers from parts of Africa. After seven years in Gitmo, Kadhr is no longer the scared kid, but the message has been don’t send this Muslim home.
Canadians, like all countries touched by the leak fairy have a right to know what is going on behind the scenes.
Canadians have a right to know their former top spy was patronizingly selling them to America as having an “Alice in Wonderland” view of the world.
Well, guess who is down the rabbit hole now?
Wikileaks has been given, and in turn passed on, a minefield of information. What is possibly new is confirmation that China is sick to death of the “spoilt child” antics of North Korea and could approve of the two Koreas being reunited under the leadership of the South. That’s great info, and it must be conceded in the current climate is potentially threatening if Kim Jong-il decides to throw all his nuclear toys out of the cot to show just how spoilt he can be when pushed or abandoned.
Equally interesting is the pressure the Saudis have been putting on the Americans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. With the computer destruction that’s going on with Iran’s centrifuges now, such action may not even be needed to stop Ahmadinejad who by the way, is turning the whole leak into proof of American agents organising the mass demonstrations after the last elections. Some things will never change.
It is only realistic to believe that sooner or later the secrets of how America does business were going to become open secrets, even if the perpetrators now find themselves in their own nightmares.
Don’t for a second believe this will change how business is done however. Politicians and diplomats will continue to believe their own nationals just don’t get how things have to be done. They know best remember.
As for Assange, he will continue to live like the hunted target he is. No fixed abode, constant hair-dyes and travel. It is amazing he hasn’t met an ‘accident’ yet.
His next exposure is to be Wall Street, and given the complicity between bankers and politicians leading up to and during the economic melt down, this too will result in powerful people with faces like smacked bottoms.
Who then will be too big to fail or too big to save?