WikiLeaks: One percent and counting

RAPHAEL G. SATTER

Nearly two months after WikiLeaks outraged the U.S. government by launching the release of a massive compendium of diplomatic documents, the secret-spilling website has published 2,628 U.S. State Department cables — just over 1 percent of its trove of 251,287 documents.

Here’s a look at what the consequences of the cables’ release has been so far, and what the future could hold for WikiLeaks.

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IT’S LIFTED THE VEIL ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

WikiLeaks has given the world’s public an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at U.S. diplomacy. Among the most eye-catching revelations were reports that Arab countries had lobbied for an attack on Iran, China had made plans for the collapse of its North Korean ally, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had ordered U.S. diplomats to gather the computer passwords, fingerprints and even DNA of their foreign counterparts.

Some of the most controversial cables dealt with a directive to harvest biometric information on a range of officials. U.S. diplomats have been forced repeatedly to deny spying on their counterparts — although none have specifically addressed the instructions to gather personal details, sensitive computer data, and even genetic material or iris scans.

Anthony Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, cautioned that some cables were less explosive when taken in the context they were written. He noted that Arab belligerence toward Tehran has festered for years — and suggested the rhetoric was being ratcheted up at a time of high tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

As for the cables on scooping up fingerprints, frequent flyer numbers, and other personal information, Cordesman said that “there isn’t a diplomatic service in the world that doesn’t serve its intelligence community.”

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IT’S SHOWN HOW LEADERS LIE

Over and over again, the cables captured world leaders lying — to each other, to their allies, and to their own citizens.

Diplomacy “comes across as a scheming, duplicitous profession — which it kind of is,” said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who resigned over the Iraq war.

Ross said the most outrageous example of double-dealing he had seen so far was the 2009 cable that caught Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sharing a joke about how another senior official had covered up a series of U.S. attacks by lying to parliament.

But there are other examples. One of the cables has Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s longtime opposition leader-turned-prime minister, telling Western diplomats that his calls for easing sanctions against Zimbabwe are for public consumption only. Another cable cites Israeli officials, who have often insisted their controversial blockade of the Gaza Strip is targeted only at their arch-foe Hamas, as freely acknowledging that the restrictions were in fact an effort to keep the Gazan economy teetering on the brink of collapse.

The cables are laced with cynicism. One quotes a former French prime minister as dismissing a fellow socialist politician as too honest for his own good. Meanwhile Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, describes his country’s apparently cordial relationship with neighboring Iran as one big charade.

“They lie to us, and we lie to them,” Al-Thani is quoted as saying.

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IT’S SHAKEN U.S. DIPLOMACY

Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini drew considerable attention when he described the WikiLeaks release as the “September 11 of world diplomacy.”

At the very least, the cables have angered some major world figures. Turkey’s prime minister demanded that U.S. diplomats be punished for claiming that he had money stashed away in a collection of Swiss bank accounts; cables covering attempts to secure nuclear material in Pakistan drew outrage in a country where public hostility to the United States is already high; rivals such as Russia jumped on the cables to accuse the U.S. of arrogance and dishonesty.

Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Libya and now a fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank, dismissed Frattini’s prediction of a worldwide diplomatic meltdown, suggesting that things would eventually return to business as usual.

“It is — so far — a bump in the road,” he said, although he noted longterm damage to U.S. diplomacy was still hard to gauge.

Even if the U.S. State Department rapidly recovers, individual officials still face serious damage to their careers. Officials have told The Associated Press that Ambassador Gene Cretz may lose his job as envoy to Tripoli over his descriptions of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi‘s eccentricities.

Allied officials have been rattled by the releases as well: The German foreign minister‘s chief of staff took a leave of absence following the revelation that he was feeding information to Washington; Afghanistan’s finance minister offered to resign after he was quoted as describing President Hamid Karzai as weak and paranoid; Britain’s central banker also faced criticism after a cable caught him sharing his doubts about Prime Minister David Cameron’s economic competency with the U.S. ambassador to London.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo may have been speaking for many across the world last month when he instructed officials to be less open when speaking with their American counterparts.

“The WikiLeaks disclosures have been disastrous for U.S. diplomacy,” Yeo said.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Although only a small sliver of the entire trove of State Department documents has made it online, the secret memos have been held by The New York Times, Britain’s The Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, and Spain’s El Pais for weeks, if not months. Recent cables have made news, but lately they haven’t carried the same punch as earlier releases.

It isn’t clear whether WikiLeaks or what it calls its “media partners” have gone through the documents in their entirety. The secret-spilling website did not return an e-mail seeking comment on its future plans, although its founder Julian Assange has repeatedly promised to speed the cables’ release.

Whether or not the State Department cables have already yielded their most arresting secrets, WikiLeaks is still sitting on a huge archive of leaked data from nearly every country in the world — including, Assange has hinted, a massive trove of e-mails from Bank of America.

And even though his website is no longer accepting submissions, Assange said secrets were still making their way to him all the time. On Monday, a Swiss ex-banker — now under arrest for his interactions with WikiLeaks — handed Assange his latest set of secrets, data which he claimed carried details of tax evasion by some 2,000 prominent people.

Assange said the material could be online within weeks.

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Online:

WikiLeaks: http://wikileaks.ch/
Copyright © 2011

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7 Responses to "WikiLeaks: One percent and counting"

  1. bmclellan  January 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Here is a very simple question.
    Do we want our country / world to continue to crumble around us based on lies and subversive contempt ,
    or shall we take it’s measure and try to salvage it based on truth?

  2. SDRSr  January 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    A leak and its leaker, a boon to truth and humanity or harmful and traitorous? The real problem is telling when it is one and not the other….

  3. Carl Nemo  January 23, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    It’s not that we didn’t suspect so, but WikiLeaks has exposed the “core rot” found at the highest levels of not only our government, but the world at large.

    People that worm their way to the highest offices of their respective nations along with the bureaucrats that serve them aren’t kind, gentle, honest, so-called god-fearing people, but represent the some of the worst scum of the earth except they enjoy the adulation of the populations which they control and have reduced to simply tax slaves on a worldwide basis.

    If they told the truth even concerning a small fraction of their daily shenanigans in which they engage they’d be thrown out of office on their respective butts immediately if not sooner.

    These leaks expose our State Department as having degenerated into a tower of disconnected, corrupt babel.

    Meanwhile Pvt Manning is rotting in a Marine brig at Quantico with no due process in sight. Regardless of his alleged traitorous actions against the U.S. it seems the movers and shakers that run our nation have lost their steerage when it comes to humane treatment of our citizens even those awaiting trial. They’ve become the monsters that are protrayed through these WikiLeak documents.

    I want to know who were Manning’s immediate superiors, who is/was the custodian of documents and what measures were taken to secure this ‘treasure trove’ of diplomatic dirt? It sounds to me that the State Department is running sloppy operation and got bit in the butt bigtime for having done so.

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2660657/posts

    I’m looking forward to the leaks that will expose “several thousand prominent people” for tax evasion. Of course justice shan’t be served as these aforementioned evil one’s chant under their breath, death to Manning! Sounds to me we’re witnessing ancient Rome redux in its final death throes prior to barbarians storming the gates.

    Carl Nemo **==

    • woody188  January 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm

      Manning was military and helped maintain the infrastructure the State Department was using for their private cables. He basically was a nerd working in a data center and copied the data onto a CD-R and labeled it as music. I guess there wasn’t much in the way of security as he bragged it was very easy to get the data out on physical media. I also guess they never thought anyone in the military would have the nerve to expose them. How dare those animals think they are better than us!

      Manning is being made an example for any others that would dare defy the New World Order. What’s he up to, seven or is it eight months in solitary? He won’t come out of it with his sanity that is for sure.

      • Carl Nemo  January 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm

        So it means State didn’t use an encryption method to protect the information within these emails. Everything should have been encrypted with only those with a “need to know” having the passwords to decrypt these messages either while active or archived an not some lowly E3 datacenter drone.

        The material in these cables were “hot” relative to State’s interests and surely not in the domain of a PFC having access to clear text copies and again surely not having a “need to know” the contents.

        What a bunch of dunderheads! If this is so, then they deserve what they got. I’d be ‘hanging’ the custodian of documents and archives by a yard arm for running such a sloppy op. But no, the sob/s whoever they are no doubt are still yuck yuck geck, gecking drawing their fatcat civil service pay while cursing this lowly PFC ‘chump’ for a breach of security. Say what!?

        As I’ve said, I want to know who was running this comcenter op and put their name in lights so to speak. They need to go down and down hard for falling asleep at the wheel.

        What’s tragic is our entire government has become and excercise in sloppy methods and management seemingly liars and shufflebutters all…! : |

        Carl Nemo **==

        • woody188  January 25, 2011 at 12:13 am

          Don’t quote me on it, but I believe the transmission network was encrypted, but the individual messages were not. Usually that’s the case when the end users are a bunch of idiots that can’t even remember their login passwords. Yup, that sounds like the State Department!

          It actually sounded to me like all the messages were duplicated at every location, or they were accessible from anywhere on the encrypted network on a central server as Manning was stationed in Baghdad. Not really all that familiar with it, but it should be a case study in IS classes on what not to do. :grin:

          FYI, GnuPG is an encryption tool that is free. Highly recommended especially if you are taking your electronics across the borders. They aren’t saying what they do with all the data stolen from those laptops and USB keys. Heck, maybe you should just put your data on a CD-R like Manning so it will be overlooked!

  4. Keith  January 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    If the Wikileaks issue has taught us nothing else, it is that as the world becomes more “wired” and interconnected, the harder it is going to be for the “scum who worm their way these high offices” (as Carl calls them) to keep their dastardly dealings under wraps.

    Someone once opined that military secrets are the most fleeting of all. It would now appear that, going forward, the same comment will apply to diplomatic secrets as well.

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