Wiki-Leaks open thread: What have we learned so far?


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“In the courts, in Congress and with international allies, the United States has unreasonably insisted on keeping massive amounts of information secret. Transparency and accountability are essential elements of good government. For that reason, CCR strongly believes that the release of information by Wikileaks is good for democracy. Democracy thrives on informed citizens and Wikileaks is helping people know what the U.S. and other governments are doing as opposed to what they are telling the public.”

– Center for Constitutional Rights, a group with roots in the civil rights movement.

“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.”

– I. F. Stone, the godfather of bloggers.

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We stand now at the mouth of a cave filled with treasures – hundreds of thousands of leaked state department documents courtesy of a disgruntled whistleblower and Julian Assange’s Wikileaks.  I’ll bet a lot of you have strong opinions about this!

I’ve got a lot of liberal friends who are real pissed off at Assange and company for blindsiding and embarrassing the Obama administration.  I think a lot of the same people would have celebrated in the streets if the same thing had happened to the Bush administration.  (And too bad Wikileaks wasn’t around back then.)

Then on the other hand, the reaction of rightwingers is totally schizophrenic:  As the Village Voice’s Roy Edroso puts it, the righties “generally take a two-pronged approach to the leaks:  They believe the new document dump is an unpardonable breach of U.S. security — except to the extent that it may be used to denigrate the Obama Administration, it which case they feel it deserves wider dissemination.”  Especially the stuff that seems embarrassing to Hillary Clinton.

As Glenn Greenwald’s been documenting for two years now, the National Security State and the Permanent Wartime Machine continue without much modification whether the country’s ruled by Republicans or Democrats, in a way that’s very demoralizing to us naive optimists who read too much into candidate Obama’s rhetoric of “change.”  A service like Wikileaks that blows holes and sheds light on this secretive machinery is just as valuable now, or almost as valuable now, as it would have been seven years ago.

Let’s dispense with the government’s BS about all the damage these leaks are causing to our security, which many of their spokesmen have been contradicting in the next breath, pooh-poohing them as a minor embarrassment.    Just like during the earlier Wikileaks revelations regarding our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our government’s first kneejerk reaction is to protest that the leaks put innocent people in danger in other countries.  (Oh!  Won’t anyone think of the innocents?)  McClatchy’s Nancy Yousef blows that nonsense out of the water – our government can’t provide a single instance of anyone who was harmed by the previous leaks, and Assange takes great care to redact the names of people who could be endangered.

The godfather of modern whistleblower-leakers, Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, says, “That’s a script that they roll out every time there’s a leak of any sort.  It is not leaks, but silences and lies that put peoples’ lives in danger.”

Finally, Salon’s Dan Gillmor asks a few good questions of Wikileaks and its critics, starting with:

When are you going to focus your relentless and often valuable energies on other governments, especially the ones that are even more noted for secrecy than the United States government, not to mention more repressive. Could you kindly find someone to liberate internal documents from, say, the Chinese government?

Okay, okay, now what have we learned so far?

Lots of stuff about Iran!

  • For one thing, many of Iran’s Arab neighbors, mistaking the United States as their personal mercenaries, have been trying to get us to bomb or invade Iran, to stop its nuclear program (and of course, stop Iran’s support of fundamentalist insurgencies within their dictatorial nations, and also shift the balance of power in these secular dictators’ favor.  Forget about it.)
  • Our own wise Defense Secretary Gates believes that any attack we could mount against Iran would only slow down their nuclear program by 1-3 years, “while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.”  Hear, hear.
  • Israel, despite all their saber-rattling about bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities themselves, have never really intended to do such a reckless thing.  And they’re quite serenely secure that Iran will never attack them, because for one thing any such attack would kill too many Muslims, Palestinians, and other Arabs.
  • On the other hand, Iran DID manage to purchase some Russian-designed missiles from North Korea – 19 of ’em with a range up to 2,000 miles, making them the longest-range missiles in the Iranian arsenal.  More on North Korea below.

Hillary urging our diplomats to spy on other diplomats

Certainly, FOX News’ favorite revelation is that last year Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered all “diplomats overseas and at the U.N. to collect personal information on foreign officials including credit card and frequent flier numbers and biometric information…  While this may not be shocking to foreign policy wonks, it is certainly embarrassing for the United States and calls into question how much — and how frequently — the role of diplomat and spy has been blurred.”

On the one hand, this is the sort of stuff that’s probably been going on for decades or centuries.  But what our diplomats have been doing (or asked to do) goes a little farther than what we might have expected:   Le Monde reports that our diplomats were encouraged to find and report “names, titles and other contained information on their business cards; numbers of landlines, of cellular phones, of pagers and fax; phone books and lists d’ emails; passwords Internet and Intranet; credit card numbers; card numbers of frequent flier programs; work hours…”

Not to mention, spying on the UN, its employees or diplomats is not allowed under international law, and “the use of diplomats to engage in espionage or intelligence-like activities is strongly frowned upon in the international community.”  The United States, breaking international law and behaving arrogantly again, under a new Democratic President.  Who woulda thunk it.

My favorite – China sick of North Korea’s bullshit

Previously confidential cables from Chinese diplomats make it clear that China – North Korea’s only ally – is beginning to see the nightmare regime of Pyongyang as more and more of a liability.  The Chinese are beginning to envision, with equanimity, a unified, denuclearized Korea ruled by Seoul and allied with the US – as long as China retains the mineral rights it enjoys under the current North Korean dictatorship.  That sure sounds like a reasonable deal to me.  What a great thing to see in our lifetime, maybe even in the next few years!

Lots of things that all us smarty-pants already knew or suspected…

…but which were impolitic and undiplomatic for our Government to admit in public.  For example:

  • Al Qaeda is largely financed by weatlhy Saudi Arabians, not that our government ever wanted to make a big deal about it under Bush OR Obama.  It’s official knowledge now.
  • The Chinese government has been busily attacking computer networks across the world for a while. Not that our government ever wanted to make a big deal about it, with so many other sensitive issues to discuss with Beijing.  It’s official knowledge now.
  • We’ve been waging a secret war in Yemen, with the Yemeni government covering up and lying for us.  “While [our numerous drone] attacks have drawn relatively little public attention [in the US], dozens of civilians along with some suspected terrorists have reportedly been killed. Salon’s account of the Yemen revelation is here. The January 2010 cable describing a meeting between Yemen’s president and Gen. David Petraeus is here.”
  • We’ve been knowingly dealing with corrupt politicians and drug lords in Afghanistan.The U.S. government deals regularly with a brother of President Hamid Karzai whom it believes to be corrupt and a drug trafficker. That’s the conclusion of a cable from October 2009 about Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has also been reported to be on the CIA payroll. This does not come as a shock, but it amounts to official recognition that a U.S. partner in Afghanistan is implicated in criminal enterprises.”
  • We knew the 2009 coup in Honduras was illegal ,and yet refused to take a side, with some prominent treasonous Republicans like Senator DeMint actually flying down to support the coupsters.  According to a Honduran paper, the deposed Manuel Zelaya is taking his case to the UN now that he has a cable in hand verifying that the United States concluded in private that his ouster was illegal.

Name-calling and gossip!

Our State Department spent the last few panicky days before the leaks were due out, apologizing and explaining in advance to all the foreign leaders our diplomats had “privately” insulted and lampooned – what a list of deserving targets though!

What were those last-minute calls like last week?  “Mr. Putin, I have to warn you that it’s gonna come out our diplomats called you a corrupt brutal weasel who assassinates all your critics just as though you still ran the KGB – we didn’t mean it.  President Karzai?  You’ll hear our people referred to you as a narcissistic and ineffective prima donna who surrounds himself with drug dealers and gangsters – don’t take that too hard, it was a bad day at the office.  President Sarkozy?  That ’emperor with no clothes’ things?  I can vouch for the guy who said it, he meant it as a compliment.”

Ahmadinejad as Hitler?  Well, that wasn’t too accurate as the buffoon doesn’t exactly rule the country…”

And petty, fun trash talk and gossip, such as blogs thrive on?  Here’s some snark from Talking Points Memo:

To get into the U.S. Foreign Service (and thus write diplomatic cables), applicants are required to pass an hours-long, highly competitive written examination, followed by an even more competitive oral examination and then go through months of intensive training. Then, it appears, they are dispatched to foreign embassies to write gossip about high level officials.

A sample? Libyan President Muammar al-Qadhafi gets Botox and travels constantly with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse named Galyna Kolotnytska. Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Alijewa has had so many facelifts that she resembles her own daughter from a distance — but you can tell the difference close-up because she can’t really move her face. A British Labour minister is quite the player (and is having marital problems) and might be bipolar. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi might have more in common than their reported extramarital shenanigans — they could well be in business together, too. Russian President Dmitri Medved’s wife, Svetlana, reportedly keeps a blacklist of staffers she deems insufficiently committed to her husband. Oh, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is basically considered an idiot who knows little about foreign policy, but only the Germans really care about that.

And what’s next?  Sounds like plenty!

David Leigh, the Investigations Executive Editor of London’s Guardian, one of the outlets Assange likes to use, alerts us that “In the coming days, we are going to see some quite startling disclosures about Russia, the nature of the Russian state, and about bribery and corruption in other countries, particularly in Central Asia.  We will see a raft of disclosures about pretty terrible things going on around the world.”

And for a couple days now, Assange has been promising that his next target will be a major US bank – people are thinking Bank of America.  He says he has documents from them that are as explosive as the Enron e-mails.  I’m glad it’s taken me a couple of days to write up this piece because there’s something new every hour.  Here’s from a great article and interview that JUST came out in Forbes:

Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.

When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”

Read more…

Being truth junkies, we sit here licking our lips.  And you?


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.