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November 29, 2010

WIKILEAKS HAMPERS U.S. DIPLOMACY.... American officials were bracing for a massive WikiLeaks document dump, and late yesterday, it arrived.

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration's exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.

The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict. [...]

The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the United States' relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism.

Some of the revelations aren't surprising at all. The fact that U.S. officials believe corruption is rampant in the Karzai government, for example, isn't exactly front-page news. Nor is it surprising to learn there's plenty of spying going on at the United Nations, U.S. officials have been anxious to find countries willing to take Gitmo detainees, and that the Bush Administration didn't want Germany to arrest CIA officials who accidentally kidnapped an innocent German citizen and held him for months in Afghanistan.

Plenty of other revelations, meanwhile, are rather startling. While details will likely be coming out for weeks as more people are able to go through more materials, it's already surprising, for example, to see how many foreign governments, including the Saudis, have been supportive of a U.S. military strike on Iran.

I'm not convinced that the release of these secret materials -- some have begun calling it "Cablegate" -- will be too devastating to international diplomacy, though it certainly makes the State Department's work much more difficult, especially in the short term. I don't doubt that foreign diplomats will be reluctant to engage their American allies for a while, which may very well undermine U.S. foreign policy, but we're still likely talking about bruised feelings and hurt egos, not blockbuster secrets from around the globe.

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good -- it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand -- the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I've seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn't write cables that they'd be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they'll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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From Bob Cesa.

First things first. How exactly did Wikileaks come into possession of this latest information? It seems that coming across this information is not as difficult as it should be.

In the rush to merge the information held by the various intelligence agencies to form the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11, millions of diplomatic and military personnel were given access to the U.S. government intranet that houses all of this type of secret information.

An increasing number of US embassies were plugged into Siprnet in the last decade, so that military and diplomatic information can be shared. In 2002, 125 embassies were on Siprnet; by 2005, there were 180.

...a diplomatic dispatch marked Sipdis is automatically downloaded on to its embassy's classified website. From there it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a computer connected to Siprnet. Millions of US soldiers and officials have "secret" security clearance.

Posted by: sharks on November 29, 2010 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

Well I see you've already made up your mind. You have no idea of the motivations of the leakers nor have you read all of the material, yet you label this as 'hampering diplomacy' and 'reckless.'

How about we wait and see what the documents say first before mirroring the official line on this, mmkay?

Posted by: terraformer on November 29, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody here had any problem when wikileaks released all of those defense intel documents.

Now suddenly it IS a problem? NOW you're all of a sudden wondering about motivation?

Posted by: JEA on November 29, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

It is somewhat ironic that the motto of the CIA is "The Truth Shall set you Free."

Posted by: DAY on November 29, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

I'm more than annoyed and more than a little concerned about the data dump from Wikileaks. Now we have scores of pundits and bloggers scouring through these documents - folks with little to no understanding of how the diplomatic shell game is played, what the nuances are, or even why there are field reports. I'm disgusted with the folks who were so rightfully outraged over the outing of Valerie Plame, but seem delighted with this wholesale crippling of not only our foreign policies, but how this country maintains necessary and vital secrets.I too question Assange's motives - the man is a professional hacker and hackers never do anything out of an altruistic motive.

Posted by: Greytdog on November 29, 2010 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with you, Steve. I remember the Pentagon Papers, which were targeted. This wholesale dump of docs seems to have been done because they could - the technology made it easy - and expecting total transparency in private negotiations is naive. But the dump of the Iraq War docs I support, completely.

What this also suggests is that anything ordinary people put on the web or in an e-mail can someday be resurrected. Not a pleasing thought. The technology is way ahead of us.

Posted by: nyc on November 29, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

I share your ambivalence regarding leaks. I applauded the release of the Pentagon Papers and felt it strengthened democracy even if it did embarrass presidents and generals. I also think that there is an important role for keeping classified information classified.

Posted by: tomb on November 29, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

I have a hard time accepting that Manning was the only person dumping intel. There were a lot of moles left in the State and Defense departments from the Bush Administration. There just has been too many things going on that stink to high heaven. And what the hell do the MSM have to do with all this information. They book Republicans on the shows to do some more disinformation.Yuk.
Have a good Monday everybody. Talk shows should be interesting today.

Posted by: RCA on November 29, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

These reporters wait until we get a Black President to decide to "Tell All" in regards to intelligence that has been kept secret for years! There is something seriously wrong, maybe dangersouly wrong, in America when you have some trying to undermine America's intelligence system in this way. First it was Valerie Plame (AND THEY GOT AWAY WITH THAT) and now this much more aggregious act. Clearly, we have some serious Enemies from within.

On the flip side, "What the American plutocrat owned media never wants you to see, and that is how Europe in particular and the world in general has come to see America as a country in decline, whose people are so badly misinformed by the media, they actually don't realize that America is the only major industrialized nation in the world that by right of law does not offer universal medical access, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave and paid annual leave. It just seems almost impossible to get that word out to American people. Even diaries on that subject at the Kos top out at just over 2,000 views. Therefore this diary today will try to do something different. It will show you what the European media is saying about the American dream and you will be shocked!"


Posted by: angellight on November 29, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

I applaud the leaks. There is really very little cause for a State to have any secrets and history has generally shown that the more secrets a State keeps the greater the danger to its own citizens.

Anything at all that pull back the veil a little bit is fine by me.

Posted by: Moobycow on November 29, 2010 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

There's no shortage of people who are neither Americans nor especially hostile to America who would nonetheless view anything that muzzles the US at least partly, whether by exposing its spies or impeding its general diplomatic day to day work, as a good thing. That's even before getting to outright enemies. Since the beginning of the Cold War, how often has the US not been rampaging around the international stage like a bull in a china shop?

Posted by: N.Wells on November 29, 2010 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

This is all written as if the leaker(s) understood the foreign-policy implications of every one of those hundreds of thousands of documents. And had motivations that were entirely clear, even to them.

Given (as people have mentioned) the global reach and huge user community for siprnet, do we expect that these documents are actually news to the governments being discussed? I would think that any half-decent intelligence operations would have penetrated a 2-million-user database long ago. (Albeit they might not have shared what they found widely within their own governments.)

Posted by: paul on November 29, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Let me reiterate: Wikileaks will indeed really cause trouble in a rather objective sense. They are a sort of intellectual property shared I suppose between the USA and the principals. Dumping that stuff out (but note blottings of names etc, they do seem to care about protecting individuals) is not far from fencing stolen intellectual or other property, and it could make things so difficult for the US in general, START, relations with Russia, China, Pakistan, Arabia, Israel, etc. Sometimes revelations are in the public interest, but like jury nullification it's a special cautious decision to make when we are pushed. Time for "the left" (or anyone) to reassess reflexive sympathy such as it is for raiders of government secrets.

Posted by: Neil B on November 29, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Darn you, Steve!
"I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good -- it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand -- the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite."

I was trying to figure out what to say, and there you were, saying it first, and better, than I ever could have.

I haven's looked throught the leaks yet. I'm sure that there are some that are going to be useful, and, like the Pentagon Papers, be worthy.
Some of the rest of this just seems like a data dump.
We'll see...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 29, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

The Bob Cesa point is so important. Again, our security was compromised by Bush-inspired policies of the grand WOT.

Posted by: Neil B on November 29, 2010 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Look the facts are that if these documents were available to Wikileaks they were probably available to any country that really wanted them. This doesn't compromise any security it just breaks open the game a little bit so that citizens can see the same things that governments are seeing.

Anyone that really cares about this stuff already knew pretty much anything that got leaked.

Posted by: Moobycow on November 29, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the documents were surprisingly unsurprising.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on November 29, 2010 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

A few comments:

"... CIA officials who accidentally kidnapped an innocent German citizen and held him for months in Afghanistan."

Excuse me? How in hell does the CIA "accidentally" kidnap someone off the street? Mistakenly, okay, that was in fact the case. But then, held him for months in Afghanistan.... as a result of this "accident"? Please, if you're expecting us to believe "accidentally", you're drinking a little too much official kool-aid here. You're usually more rational than that.

And how in hell is a network of over 3 million users, with automated downloads, supposed to be "secure"? We're supposed to believe that there've been no leaks, no where, by anyone, anywhere? I would be surprised if there had been no previous leaks to foreign governments (friendly and not so friendly) before this. The difference this time is the leak is public, and not being used as a secret tool in discussions. Or maybe as our officials sometimes like to tell us, "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide"?

Also, the vast majority of these "cables" weren't even classified, and even fewer (less than 2000) were "secret" (and nothing above the level of secret). Some were NOFORN, but that's more embarrassing than devastating (and every government has them).

I don't think we'll have to wait very long (3... 2... 1...) for a US spokesperson to say both "this is sabotage!" followed a few minutes later by "keep moving, there's nothing to see...".

Posted by: Bruce B on November 29, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers).

Hmmmmmm. Scratch head. Now think............who do we know who has shown a no holds barred determination to undermine American foreign policy. Hmmmmmm. Nothing comes to mind....

Perhaps if we looked at other "leaked" material that has escaped recently for clues. Hmmmm, there was that remarkably coincidental leak of scientific emails at the time of the Copenhagen summit.....

Color me suspicious, but I don't think this was a benign, truth revealing, uncoordinated document dump. And I'm with Steve as regards my concerns about the privacy of some of this information. A U.S. embassador should be able to report candidly. If for example, his/her meeting leads him/her to think leader so and so is a dumbass or psychologically unsound then he/she needs to report that without fear of it being made public.

Posted by: AndThenThere'sThat on November 29, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Extracts from from Digby (highly recommended):


There's a lot of chatter, for obvious reasons, about the Wikileaks document dump and whether or not it's a dangerous and despicable act. My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it's necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times.

I also think that all the sturm and drang about leaks is fairly bizarre considering that the technology to transfer large amounts of secret information has been out there for some time and has shown its capability in many facets of our lives already. Privacy and secrecy are very abstract concepts in this age. I would have expected the government to have anticipated this kind of document transfer in advance and guarded against it.

Posted by: Bruce B on November 29, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt that a defensible rationale for the leaks exists. The U. S. government is concerned primarily about relations with other governments and countries in their entirety, not about relations with specific people. Diplomats and other government officials need to be able to discuss problems that officials in other countries and, perhaps, the countries themselves might pose for foreign policies without the fear of having their communiques leaked without any context.

Governments are entitled to secrets. Arguing otherwise presumes that Joe Average is a foreign policy expert and that xenophobia and racism don't exist. I'd prosecute the leaker(s) to the full extent of the law.


Posted by: Steven R. Stahl on November 29, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I see from the comments that the DoD/DHS/etc. sock puppet brigade is hitting the keyboards bright and early today.

Posted by: Just Dropping By on November 29, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

"Recklessness," huh?

I wonder what the reaction would be if these cables were released during a Republican Administration.

What's good for the goose. . .

Posted by: Steve on November 29, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

JDB, don't assume critics are in a DoD sock puppet brigade although having had a secret clearance maybe tinges my objectivity. We don't have to believe everything the government says, accepting that is one way to make common ground with the right. But much of this about Arab governments wanting us to attack Iran etc. could complicate things and for the worse overall.

I do accept that once we get stuff like this on a big network, then I can believe that other intel agencies etc. already knew most of it. But this is a public dump, that's the point - and not just selective picking of certain things a careful checker might consider worth risking for a higher cause. So anyone can find out, the "Arab street" and so forth. That's the most dangerous consequence.

Posted by: Neil B on November 29, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

The US govt. and Washington establishment have zero moral authority.

Since Obama's election, members of congress and powerful (rich) political actors regularly and openly try to undermine US foreign policy adn interests; going so far as to side with long time enemies.

The state department, CIA, and DOD wouldn't know the truth if it threw a shoe at them.

The Government, in our name, tortures, kidnaps, and bombs weddings and funerals. Only low ranking soldiers and interns face any accountability.

Finally, the so-called free-press is bought and paid for by multinational corporate interests. So, what Sarah Palin thinks about the New START is more covered than what Henry Kissenger thinks because her incoherent ignorant ramblings generate more ad revenue.

To me the only thing wrong with the Wikileaks dump as that Americans are generaly too stupid to pay attention.

Posted by: Winkandanod on November 29, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

I am disappointed that you feel the need to join the establishment chorous in questioning Wikileaks' motivation. For a progressive, the notion that information should be free and secrecy should be combatted should be sufficient motivation in itself. I am more inclined to question the motivation of all these officials claiming that these leaks will endanger lives: I mean, since when is embarassment fatal?

Posted by: Gerhard Kleinhans on November 29, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Steve. This is vandalism by other means.

Posted by: leo on November 29, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

So every Sunni Muslim nation wants the U.S. to attack the one Shia Muslim nation and wipe them out.

Gee. What. A. Surprise. Using a third party to fight their 1300 year long religious schism for them?

Posted by: Dr. Squid on November 29, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

You queried what could be the motivation for this leak.

What I have read is that this started with a disgruntled gay white male over DADT by the name of Pfc. Brad Manning, Supposedly, he even boasted he would be willing to go to prison for life over this.

It is this type of narcissitic focus that has long hampered DADT. Where individuals believe that nothing, including national security, foreign relations and jeopardizing millions of American lives, trumps their personal issue.

It is revolting.

Posted by: whiterosebuddy on November 29, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

I forgot to post the link about PFC. Manning...here it is.


Posted by: whiterosebuddy on November 29, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Steve too that this leek is pure recklessness. And before someone accuses me of mindlessly repeating U.S. government talking points let me inform you that I am not an American. I'm only able to chime in as a European sympathetic to the United States because of the wonders of the Internet. My country (Hungary) is also mentioned in some of the cables and our media is going through them as we speak. I'm sure our agencies are too. As are - you can be sure of that - agencies of governments hostile to America around the world.

I understand your general skepticism about the government and therefore the rationale for welcoming such leaks with open arms (especially after the devastating Bush presidency) as these feelings and views aren't unique to the U.S. We in Europe have have similar debates and fights, whe have our own messes, fuckup presidents and nefarious going-ons.

But want it or not you are still interconnected with your government, so the undermining of it's policies isn't just a theoretical issue of right or wrong, it affects you directly. So let me say to you as an observer from overseas who is unashamedly rooting for this current pragmatist and realist U.S. administration that yes, embrace whistleblowing if justified, but in clearly reckless cases such as this you should be careful not to realize too late that you applauded your own demise...

Posted by: The Hungarian on November 29, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

BTW I can believe the Wikileakers have good enough motives, I just don't think it was a good idea.

Posted by: Neil B. on November 29, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

we're still likely talking about bruised feelings and hurt egos, not blockbuster secrets from around the globe.

Yes; from an American perspective. That said, I'm awfully sympathetic to Issandr El Amrani's take at The Arabist. Namely, candid revelations of Arab autocrats to their respective publics may have significant impact.

Posted by: OB on November 29, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

BTW go to http://www.juancole.com/2010/11/wikileaks-gates-no-iranian-help-to-taliban.html#comments etc. (Informed Comment) and find that cables show admissions of not much Iranian involvement helping the Taliban as our spokespeople have said or implied (Iran fears the super-Sunni Taliban etc.), and that most of the money comes from Arabian donors. Yet we dare not finger them as miscreants (yes, partly since it's less from the top, but still ...)

Posted by: neil b on November 29, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

What I find interesting about these leaks is the rank amatuerish nature of some of the discussions. Apparently the Europeans [esp. the Germans] are on a high horse today regarding this - of course, any chance that they have to portray us a buffoons cannot be missed, but maybe they are right this time. I presume many of these memos are from foreign service professionals? Don't these people get some training in internal communications 101? Everyone in corporate america now has it drilled into them: keep it clean; keep the language respectful; write as though your mother is reading; emails and memos should not be thought of as confidental ... etc. The smallness of some of the comments and terms was pretty shocking.

Posted by: bigtuna on November 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

It's surprising that two Australian exiles are playing such an interesting role in American politics, usually forbidden territory for furr'ners.

While I'm deeply ashamed of what Rupert Murdoch does, I'm not ashamed of Julian Assange.

I agree wholeheartedly with the earlier poster who wrote: The government, in our name, tortures, kidnaps, and bombs weddings and funerals. Only low ranking soldiers and interns face any accountability.

I think that's pretty much what motivates Assange and why he wants to "crush" the "bastards" responsible.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on November 29, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

@Winkandanod 10:31 AM & Squeaky McCrinkle 2:27PM:
You say a lot. There is little doubt by now that this and previous administrations have engaged in all manner of war crimes and very questionable ethical exercises. That it is being exposed by a massive data dump is commendable, as far as I am concerned. Many people have attempted to address political corruption at every level with little success. The powerful have simply ignored their critics and offered a token response by accusing some lesser person of some minor crime and quickly moved ahead.

So, Wikileaks attempts to provide the Pentagon and Obama the opportunity to vet the dump to "protect innocent people" before the release. Instead, Assange is abused and ignored and vilified for alleged personal transgressions as if that nullifies the information he has gathered from various unnamed sources. I don't know his motivations, but if it were me, I might react by letting it all hit the fan and see who gets the most "stuff" on him or her. To date, there has been no single person identified who was killed or injured by the previous leaks, yet that seems to be the argument against these leaks. Adm. Mullen, who has gallons if not barrels of blood on his hands, accuses Wikileaks of having blood on its "hands" as if he has none.

I wonder how this all relates to the TSA pat downs and naked scanners? Aren't we being told that, on the one hand, our security is more important than our privacy and on the other the government's secrecy is more important than the public's right to know the truth? HYPOCRISY!

Posted by: st john on November 29, 2010 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

You are absolutely correct to question the motives of these people, Steve. Make no mistake--this is treachery. No one knows how the wack jobs of the world in North Korea and elsewhere will react if they come across something they see as a threat and decide to launch a preemptive attack on somebody. This kind of recklessness could just as easily start new wars as end old ones.

Posted by: Jack Hammer on November 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

@Jack Hammer: "Treachery." Don't be silly. How can a citizen of another country be a traitor to the USA?

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Thanks for your invitation to join you for a tour of Lake County. Im pretty familiar with Clear LakeIve covered it for Lonely Planetand Ive thought about covering it on 71Miles. But I have some misgivings about the destination in general, specifically about the meth problem on the southern end of the lake. I know, I knowthats Clearlake, the city (at the lakes southern endblech), not Clear Lake as a whole, which is really quite beautiful, especially around Upper Lake.

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