I, like billions of other people, spent a large portion of yesterday evening trawling through some of the wikileaked US diplomatic cables. I found myself somewhat, well disappointed. Is that it?
The secure yet unsecured diplomatic network the US government is the most troublesome part in my mind, and why is it open to so many? This seems pretty dumb on the part of the US State Department; given the system is so insecure, it wouldn’t be implausible that many foreign nations had already been privy to this information as one of the leaked cables tells us China has become pretty good at hacking.
Perhaps the exception is the revelation that the US is obtaining biometric data from UN officials – we don’t know if they successfully obtained said information, just that they want it. Spying on your friends at the UN is pretty naughty and stupid, but are we really surprised by this? I’m not, I am surprised the leaks didn’t reveal something much worse..
True whistle-blowing is necessary and even a part of Democracy – free speech, free press. A perfect example was the Iran-Contra affair in 1986 where Col. Oliver North took the fall for illegal sale of weapons to the Iranians. Who ever blew this whistle revealed that the US was illegally selling arms to Iran (under an embargo) to supply secret funds to the Contras in Nicaragua. North took the bullet which was aimed at Reagan though nothing ever officially attached Reagan to the affair, I personally still have my doubts. As an aside Col. North made out OK in the end given that he now is a host on the History Channel and writes books and is more famous than he ever would have been if he hadn’t done something illegal. Go American justice.
But do these recent Wikileaks of US cables count as true whistle blowing? I don’t think so, as one Max Boot of the US Foreign Policy thinktank Council on Foriegn relations said:
“The WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on…”
Many of the leaked documents are not official policy but opinions of diplomats (which they didn’t really ever think we would be reading) and maybe it reflects some US foreign policy attitudes and maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell how much it does or doesn’t, I don’t think the US State Department is going to let us know somehow. For example, an official’s assemesnt of French president Nicholas Sarkozy is that he is “thin-skinned and [has an] authoritarian personal style.” and that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is described as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader.”
Is anyone really surprised that someone thinks this? Do we really expect people to always be nice about each other in their opinions? But what this isn’t, I don’t think, is whistle blowing. I would personally be curious to read official diplomatic opinions about George W. when he was in office. But presumably other governments aren’t so stupid as to let this information be as widely accessible and I think we all have a pretty good idea of, for instance, what the French thought of W.
The other big revelation is that States in the Middle East are worried about Iran having a nuclear weapon, which I would agree is worrying, but I am not sure the release of this information is not actually harmful, if there are already tensions in the Middle East don’t you think this might make things worse? Maybe not, I hope not…
And there is evidence that the US is trying to take out Al-Qadea – but did we not already know this?
There is nothing, in my opinion that I would consider true whistle blowing, such as maybe the US government is still engaging in something like the Tuskegee syphallis experiments; if you want to be truely appalled at something nasty the US government has done go and read about this, where US Heath Department ‘tracked’ untreated syphallis in African-Americans, where they NEVER TOLD the subjects they were infected – this is a truely horrific page in US history and like most States there are many others.
Was Assange right to leak this? I am not sure, possibly because I am a bit biased against the man, I think he is arrogant and self-aggrandising but that isn’t a good enough reason to condemn him. Really I think the US should know better than to make these things so accessible if they really want them kept private, with so many people having access to these documents why they haven’t been leaked earlier is beyond me.