or: I See London, I see France, I See…a Confidential/NOFORN Report on the “Eccentricities” of Lybian Leadership and the “Swagger” of Turkey’s Prime Minister
In today’s age of only translucent governing, which we have all come to loathe and accept, it seems foreign and uncomfortable to think that there is a middle level of government that is taking the legs out from under the idea of diplomacy and communicates with US branches of government and individuals in an astute and oft disarmingly frank conversational manner. I am of course remarking on the shocking level of candor and insight that the first stream of leaked “cables” that began to post on WikiLeaks–which has absolutely no affiliation to Wikipedia—a watchdog group that also brought you “the war logs.” Unlike the horror found in their previous bombshell, these leaked documents feel more like photos of the state department stripped down to her skivvies in all her voluptuous, back room-dealing wonder. This most recent wealth of information comes at the mid-level of government outlining everything from topical cables about the Koreas, Iran, and Turkey; to assessments of eccentricities and impressions of individuals and government agencies with seemingly little worth individually, taken as a whole this information could present a significant advantage in long-term relationships. There is no doubt these documents will stand as the largest and possibly most detrimental breach in national security ever recorded in our history.
The reaction to the information contained in these first peeks has been on an international level. From Iran to the U.K., the reaction has been everything from embarrassment to anger. Throughout the world publications including The New York Times to The Guardian have decided to reach across the waters to jointly publish certain cables they feel are the most poignant and timely in topic and content; leaving out certain specific names or agencies to in some way protect security of both individuals and agencies while still informing the public. This decision seems a bit odd since WikiLeaks has uncensored documents where the names are already available with no editing of any kind. Though I see how the newspapers are trying to live up to some misguided ethical code we are all subject to, if the information is already out there for public consumption it seems a bit disingenuous to try and not name names.
What is most interesting about this whole event is the genesis of this situation and how it came together. The cables came from a database called SIPDIS, which breaks down really as a cable aggregator, think military Yahoo!News, that automatically updated these cables as they were sent and were made available to almost all governmental and military personnel with any level of clearance. This database was created in the wake of 9/11; the outcry of better interdepartmental communication, a breakdown that could well have led to an inability to defend against the terrorist attacks on the US, was internalized and this system was implemented to make such reports available to everyone from the President down to soldiers on the ground in a war-zone allowing possible pertinent information to be used on the fly without getting caught up in red tape and separate informational catalogs at different agencies.
The odd thing about this resource was that it was readily accessible, as it was designed to be, but the wide availability seemed almost too open; anyone able to access this information could not only print any of these confidential/secret/NOFORN documents, but they could download unlimited amounts of information onto portable devices and hard drives. Enter: Bradley Manning. A soldier with access he began collecting this information and leaked it; Manning can now be found in prison awaiting a court martial in reference to the alleged release of this confidential information. This young soldier could be facing charges of treason if the US military tribunal decides to make this an “example-making” situation; treason might still be a conviction punishable by death, I’m not sure.
Whatever the outcome of those proceedings we may never be truly privy to, what we are left with is another massive treasure trove of some of the most interesting and insightful documents in to how the US government handles direct face-to-face impressions and reports on foreign governments, diplomats, individuals, and how internal communications are frank and often seem to be written amongst friends sharing a smoke in the boys room between classes. These documents are the notes passed in class, or the high school girl’s diary, discovered and read aloud to the room or amongst her little brother’s friends, revealing what you really think of the all-american QB, or the new girl in class. These were papers never meant to be seen. For all intents and purposes these are documents that should have been burned after reading, but our fears and paranoia got the best of the government, and they decided to catalog their innermost thoughts and dreams for easy reference and sharing.
What will you find in some of these documents? What might we want to be aware of? I have loved so many of these documents so far. The 278 cables released thus far span January 2010 back to December of 1966. On March 6, 2009 at 12:12 Ref. ID 09BAKU179, a “secret/NOFORN” Cable from Baku to everyone including the American Embassies from Abu Dhabi to Secretary of Defense Washington , D.C., that a well-informed Iranian businessman told a “Baku Iran Watcher” that a company called “INSULTEC,” owned by UK-citizens of Indian origin was mislabeling containers and secretly providing Iran with supplies used in creating a nuclear power plant, which outright violates sanctions on Iran. It goes on to say that yes the “INSULTEC” was a direct competitor of said businessman, but that other information provided negated this as a possible motivator for providing the information. Also included is outlining this businessman’s skill as an Iranian fencing champion, that he had just returned from a ten-day trip to Dubai, and that a quick Google search turned up possible “INSULTEC” companies, but outside that there are no direct ties to be determined via said Google search.
If this isn’t kind of eye opening enough in to what is contained herein, there is so much more. I know you can go to the NY Times, The Guardian, etc., for the pertinent information on Iran and North Korea, but what I find most fascinating is the on-the-ground assessments of people in great levels of foreign power. Reference ID 04ANKARA7211, classified “secret,” contains an assessment of Prime Minister Erdogan and the ruling Turkish Party. There are interesting assessments of the personality of Erdogan, like how he “strode through the E.U. corridors of power…with a semi-pro soccer players’ swagger and a phalanx of sycophantic advisors.” This is not the only candid impression to be found. Ref. ID 09TRIPOLI771, classified Secret/NOFORN, is subject titled “A Glimpse into Libyan Leader Qadhafi’s Eccentricities.” In this you will find puzzling insight in to his affinity for finding room for him to pitch his Bedouin so he can receive visitors in a manner that shows his connection to the culture of his people and his almost paranoid aversion to being housed in rooms higher than the first floor when in foreign countries. He also apparently has recently grown willing to not insist on traveling with his full all-female bodyguard team, as per a recent trip to New York City where he was only accompanied by a single female bodyguard.
Now you may think that this is trivial information. But this is only the slightest glimmer of a peek in to what is contained within the few cables released so far. There are cables relating to information on UN willingness to support US movements; concerted effort feeding certain populations; speculation upon speculation of real-time reactions to events; what kind of corruption may be faced in certain governments; what it would take to make certain deals, even within the UN council; and what kind of resistance the US may face from a myriad of sources. All of the cables do reveal one thing: the impressive information and tactile knowledge officials, embassies, diplomats, and field operatives have with their given assignments and areas of expertise. In documents called “scenesetters,” local diplomats and personnel collected information for visitng officials to study to become well-versed in a crash course in issues on the ground; covering everything on what topics to avoid and likely expectations of local government in return for getting what the US wanted. Report after report has a wealth of information from candid, “private” conversations; overheard talks; and well-educated guesses as to weaknesses and hurdles, not only what they may be but what can be done to overcome them, even a decade down the road from the cable’s date of authorship.
Reactions have spanned the spectrum from Ahmadinejad’s outrage of a US ploy to intentionally leak these documents, some set to not be declassified for some thirty more years, to undermine certain countries and reveal an insight and level of visceral knowledge the US has been able to gleam from all over the world, to the level of embarrassment from people like Prince Andrew with the revelations of his “cocky” insults of the press, the serious fraud office, and most notably the French. Hillary Clinton seems to be the “alleged” mouthpiece for the reaction from the US government saying that the Administration “strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information…I am confident that the partnerships the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge…”; but as historian and political writer Timothy Garton-Ash put it, “It’s a historian’s dream, it’s a diplomat’s nightmare.”
This is the lifting of the veil over “he-said-she-said” speculation. These reports will not be able to stand the scrutiny of foreign diplomats and governments. In the light of day the gossip and statements made in confidence will show the sharing of every shred of information this government has been participating in since the beginning of the cold war at some level. US Ambassadors in the Middle East, Russia, and South Korea, are going to be tighter lipped on the coming months, years even, as they realize that the apparent friendships and social, unwritten contracts of behind-closed-doors frankness were all a diplomatic ploy; like getting the boss drunk after work to get on his good side and pry away the nuggets of information that might get you his job one day. The US is going to face growing resentment and friction in places already afflicted with enough static electricity to microwave a Hot Pocket.
I am looking at the War Logs and yes, they were shocking, upsetting, first hand accounts and reports on something we were already kind of pissed about. What these State Secrets are revealing is what the middle level of government is doing to gain whatever leverage they can in every situation from feeding starving nations to vetting new foreign presidents as allies in industry, future troubles, and what the US can do and what they must avoid to stabilize and cement interests in “client states” abroad. There are thousands of people in every level of international relations from flirty secretaries to businessmen and ambassadors just waiting to get a phone call about the conversation they had that led to a particular reports. Going back at least ten years every single dignitary and foreign national that ever shook an American’s hand is getting very nervous as to if, but more likely “when,” their number will come up.
Though the frank and the sometimes funny manner in which some cables are written and titled, i.e. Ref. ID 08BERLIN122 “Welcome to Berlin” or Ref. ID 07HARARE638 “The End is Nigh,” might remind you of the work of a snarky tabloid journalist, there is a very real threat to some people outlined and discussed in these cables. You can’t fool yourself in to thinking that the repercussions for some in more hostile and less diplomatic countries and societies might face punishment on serious levels. These cables are, in all honesty, a tragic breach of national security and diplomacy of an epic and never-before-seen level and the decision of major news outlets to publish excerpts and cables in their entirety shows the difficult ethical questions journalists and publishers must walk when reporting news; I am neither condemning or applauding the choice of the likes of The Guardian and the NY Times to publish these cables, only that it presents the most difficult of choices in our chosen profession. US and UK diplomatic relationships will be strained from these candid depictions of US impressions of the planet’s most vocal and standout industrialized nations. There are no punches pulled since these were never to be seen–obviously, from the classification levels–and there are real threats to sources that might have inadvertently been revealed in the publishing of these cables.
We have been shown only 278 of 251,287 cables yet to be released. What has been revealed so far is nothing short of astonishing and awe inspiring insights and frankness on the level of private conversations, yet these were available to some 3 million officials and soldiers. This is only .0011% of what is to come. Are we going to find out who killed Kennedy, or if there are aliens at Rowell, or what was on the missing Watergate tapes? No. But I am looking forward to seeing more of these from the “W” administration from 2001 to 2006. I cannot wait to see more of these cables turned communiques on the topic of the beginning of both the Iraq and Afghan wars What insight was gleamed by the administration leading up to these events and all the key players; hell, we’ll have to wait until sweeps week for the really juicy stuff.
Obama wanted a government that operated in the light of day, a transparency for the people not seen before in government, but I don’t think this is what he had in mind. This is a public screening of all the hushed talk after meetings, the truth about our feelings about the validity of some UN members, our view of volatile countries and their possibly corrupt governing practices, and a look in to the astounding level of detail in which we report and circulate information to gain one more foothold abroad. The US Embassy advisors and foreign diplomats haven’t got a pot to piss in after this, as they smile their alligator smiles and are seen as snake oil salesman of the Faustian persuasion whose efforts have been set back almost a decade by one soldier’s possibly misguided desire to set the truth free.