There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
A U.S. federal judge yesterday ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union in a suit to obtain the unredacted versions of 23 embassy cables related to Guantanamo, rendition and the drone program. The odd thing is, those cables are already available to the ACLU thanks to WikiLeaks. Cyrus Farviar writes:
Not only have these 23 cables in question been available on WikiLeaks for quite some time, the ACLU had previously created an online tool allowing anyone to compare the redacted versions of five excerpts with the full versions as published on WikiLeaks.
The Monday decision finds that because the State Department (and therefore, the executive branch) classifies these sections as secret, and that those sections in question have not been “officially acknowledged,” (as defined in a 1990 appeals court decision), they remain secret.
“No matter how extensive, the WikiLeaks disclosure is no substitute for an official acknowledgement and the ACLU has not shown that the Executive has officially acknowledged that the specific information at issue was a part of the WikiLeaks disclosure,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
I understand the idea that officially declassifying these cables could be taken as a tacit acceptance of WikiLeaks' tactics. But continuing to pretend that these documents are still secret is starting to look a bit ridiculous.
In a press statement released this morning, WikiLeaks announced the creation of a new fundraising scheme to circumvent the international embargo imposed last fall by international credit-card processors. Empowered by a recent legal victory against VISA Iceland, the organization aims to exploit a technical loophole in the international credit card system:
The French credit card system, Carte Bleue, is coupled with the VISA/Mastercard system globally. VISA and Mastercard are contractually barred from directly cutting off merchants through the Carte Bleue system. The French non-profit FDNN (Fund for the Defense of Net Neutrality- Fonds de Défense de la Net Neutralité), has set up a Carte Bleue fund for WikiLeaks.
The embargo, which caused a temporary publication halt in October 2011, has hit the organization hard. As donations dropped to a total of $40,2013 in the first half of 2012 -- a mere 21% of operating costs -- WikiLeaks cash reserves plummeted from $983,6000 in December 2010 to barely $120,000 at the end of June. The press statement could not hide the organization's desperation: "reserve funds will expire at the current austere rate of expenditure within a few months. In order to effectively continue its mission, WikiLeaks must raise a minimum of EUR 1M immediately."
Despite the financial trouble (and significant personal legal woes), WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remained defiant in his statement to the press. "We beat them in Iceland and, by god, we'll beat them in France as well. Let them shut it down. Let them demonstrate to the world once again their corrupt pandering to Washington." Julian Assange announced from his perch in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, "We're waiting. Our lawyers are waiting. The whole world is waiting. Do it."
Just days after releasing its new video, Invisible Children -- the U.S.-based NGO behind the phenomenally successful "Kony 2012" campaign -- has yet again found itself in the midst of controversy over a U.S. diplomatic cable released last year by WikiLeaks, which reports that the group cooperated with the Ugandan military to facilitate the arrest of a former child soldier who was allegedly involved in the formation of a new rebel group.
The cable, released as part of WikiLeaks' massive "Cablegate" series, was sent on June 11, 2009, and signed by then ambassador Steven Browning. Titled, "GAMES THE ACHOLI DIASPORA CONTINUE TO PLAY," it concerns reports of a "new rebellion in northern Uganda" organized by members of the Acholi ethnic group, of which Joseph Kony is also a member. The cable describes Ugandan government reports of a "new resistance group called the Peoples' Patriotic Front (PPF)" that had "begun stockpiling weapons in the districts of West Nile" and was attempting to win support of Acholis abroad for a new effort to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
In early 2009, the Ugandan army arrested a number of people alleged to be involved in plots by the PPF (originally known as the Uganda Patriotic Front or UPF) to attack military targets, including Patrick Komakech, who had reportedly been impersonating senior LRA commanders on behalf of the new rebel group. Komakech, reportedly a former LRA child soldier, had been involved with Invisible Children for some time and appeared in several of its videos. (A 2007 Des Moines Register story describes a bike trip he and other former child soldiers took across Iowa organized by American missionaries.)
According to the cable, it was Invisible Children that gave the government the tipoff on where to find Komakech:
The latest plot was exposed when the Government received a tip from the U.S. non-governmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children regarding the location of Patrick Komekech. He was wanted by the security services for impersonating LRA leaders to extort money from government officials, NGOs, and Acholi leaders. Komekech is purportedly a former child soldier abducted by the LRA. Invisible Children had featured him in its documentaries. Invisible Children reported that Komekech had been in Nairobi and had recently reappeared in Gulu, where he was staying with the NGO. Security organizations jumped on the tip and immediately arrested Komekech on March 5. He had a satellite telephone and other gadgets, which were confiscated when security forces picked him up.
Komakech is currently facing treason charges, along with over a dozen other alleged PPF members.
While the cable has been online for months, its contents seem to have been first reported on Sunday by the obscure New York-based website Black Star News under the inflammatory headline, "Invisible Children, Makers of Kony2012, Spied for Ugandan regime." The story has been picked up in the Ugandan media as well.
Invisible Children has been criticized by a number of observers in the United States and Uganda for working with the Ugandan government -- which has itself been implicated in a number of human rights abuses -- as part of its campaign to apprehend Kony. The group responded to this critique last month on its website, noting that it "does not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government" and "none of the money donated through Invisible Children has ever gone to support the government of Uganda," but that nonetheless, "The Ugandan military (UPDF) is a necessary piece in counter-LRA activities."
Komakech, however, was not alleged to have been a member of the LRA at the time of his arrest. And some Uganda watchers have suggested that Museveni's government may be playing up the threat from the PPF to distract from more pedestrian problems of governance, now that the LRA threat has been largely neutralized in Uganda. The diplomatic cable itself suggests that "Several sources outside the security services say that various Government officials may be overplaying the level of threat posed by the rebel group for their own interests."
Invisible Children Uganda Spokesperson Florence Ogola was quoted in Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper yesterday denying the truth of the cable. "That is not true. We are not involved in anything to do with security. We only deal with development," she said. She described the allegations as part of the "propaganda" campaign against the group.
Felix Kulayigye, a spokesperson for the Ugandan People's Defense Force, also told the paper, "That's a lie. Komakech was arrested in broad day light and we didn't need a muzungu [foreigner] to tell us where he was."
In an e-mailed statement to Foreign Policy, a spokesperson for Invisible Children did not elaborate on whether it had played a role in Komakech's arrest, but did say it had discussed his case with the U.S. Embassy:
"In 2009, Invisible Children was contacted by a member at the US Embassy in Kampala regarding Patrick Komakech, a former LRA combatant who Invisible Children had been supporting in attempts to assist with his personal recovery and academic development, in keeping with Invisible Children's mandate to provide assistance to individuals affected by LRA violence. At the time, it was brought to our attention that Mr. Komakech and a group of others were allegedly involved in activities that could be jeopardizing the lives of civilians and putting the organization and its staff at risk.
"Invisible Children was deeply saddened to learn of these allegations; the organization was cooperative in providing information to the US Embassy regarding the nature of our relationship with and academic support to Mr. Komakech. In light of the severity of these allegations, the organization severed all ties immediately with Mr. Komakech. In this case and as always, Invisible Children acts in good faith to preserve the integrity of our programming and uphold the protection of human rights in the communities we work."
"[W]e do not conduct intelligence efforts of any kind for a foreign government," the spokesperson said.
The original "About Us" page from the founding of WikiLeaks delares the site's intention to be of "assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations." And indeed, the idea that the decentralized operating model and online anonymity provided by WikiLeaks could protect whistleblowers was central to the site's original model:
Whistleblowers can face a great many risks, depending on their position, the nature of the information and other circumstances. Powerful institutions may use whatever methods are available to them to withhold damaging information, whether by legal means, political pressure or physical violence. The risk cannot be entirely removed (for instance, a government may know who had access to a document in the first place) but it can be lessened. Posting CD's in the mail combined with advanced cryptographic technology can help to make communications on and off the internet effectively anonymous and untraceable. Wikileaks applauds the courage of those who blow the whistle on injustice, and seeks to reduce the risks they face.
Our servers are distributed over multiple international jurisdictions and do not keep logs. Hence these logs cannot be seized. Without specialized global internet traffic analysis, multiple parts of our organization and volunteers must conspire with each other to strip submitters of their anonymity. However, we will also provide instructions on how to submit material to us, by post and from netcafés and wireless hotspots, so even if Wikileaks is infiltrated by a government intelligence agency submitters cannot be traced.
Of course, a lot's changed since 2006. The site now relies more on cooperation with major news outlets like the Guardian and the New York Times rather than its own website, which can no longer really be described as a Wiki. WikiLeaks' primary adeversaries these days are global superpowers and the world's most powerful corporations, rather than the "oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East" who were its original stated targets.
But perhaps most important for the WikiLeaks project, the site no longer seems very good at protecting its sources. Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier thought to be the source of the Afghan and Iraq war logs as well as the WikiLeaks cables, has been held a detention center in Quantico, Va. for the last five months without even a pre-trial hearing, kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and prevented from excercising or sleeping during the day. WikiLeaks dragged its feet for months on a pledge to donate money to his defense fund.
Yesterday, Swiss banker Rudolf Elmer was arrested by Swiss authorities after handing over two CDs of client data to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Elmer had just avoided jail time related to a previous release of data to WikiLeaks in 2007.
Granted, Elmer's motives seem more than a little suspect and he had no interest in anonymity -- he handed over the data to Assange at a news conference. But the fact that the sources behind WikiLeaks' biggest revelations are winding up in jail -- contradicting the site's original stated purpose -- doesn't bode very well for its ability to continue attracting whistleblowers.
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
The Internets are buzzing about an interview Julian Assange gave to Al Jazeera's Arabic channel Wednesday, in which the WikiLeaks frontman reportedly threatened to release cables showing that various Arab officials were working with the CIA.
He vowed to do so "if I am killed or detained for a long time."
“These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries,” Assange said, according to Qatar's Peninsula newspaper. More:
The interviewer, Ahmed Mansour, said at the start of the interview which was a continuation of last week’s interface, that Assange had even shown him the files that contained the names of some top Arab officials with alleged links with the CIA. [...]
Some Arab countries even have torture houses where Washington regularly sends ‘suspects’ for ‘interrogation and torture’, he said.
He then complained, "Washington is also projecting me as a terrorist and wants to convince the world that I am another Osama bin Laden."
Observers have long speculated about the massive "insurance" file that WikiLeaks posted on the Pirate Bay, which has by now been downloaded by thousand of people all over the world. Opening the file requires an encryption key that presumably would be released upon Assange's incarceration or untimely death. I guess it's the motherlode.
I have my doubts about these new claims, though. The CIA vigorously protects the identities of its sources, and would have no reason to let any old schmo at a U.S. embassy know their names. It is also highly doubtful that the cables would talk about "torture houses" -- the United States has always denied that it (knowingly) outsources rough treatment to foreign governments. Not everyone believes this, mind you, but I'd be surprised if any embassy cables said otherwise.
Maybe Assange and Mansour are confusing ordinary visits of Arab officials to U.S. diplomats with "spying," but it's hard to say for sure without seeing the cables themselves.
I love a good blog fight as much as anyone, but after reading several thousand words of accusations and counter accusations being slung between Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald and Wired's Evan Hansen and Kevin Poulsen, I'm left scratching my head trying to figure out what, exactly, this particular dispute is all about.
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, first of all: congratulations. Second, here's a quick synopsis: On June 6, Poulsen and his colleague Kim Zetter broke the sensational story that a young Army intelligence officer, Bradley Manning, had been arrested for disclosing classified information to WikiLeaks, including a video showing a U.S. helicopter gunship killing three civilians in Iraq and more than 250,000 State Department cables. Wired's main source was Adrian Lamo, a former hacker who says he turned Manning in to U.S. authorities after the latter confessed to the deed in a Web chat. As Lamo explained his motivation: "I wouldn't have done this if lives weren't in danger."
Four days later, Poulsen and Zetter published a new article on Manning, as well as an incomplete transcript of Lamo and Manning's chats, which had begun on May 21 and continued for a few days. "The excerpts represent about 25 percent of the logs," they wrote. "Portions of the chats that discuss deeply personal information about Manning or that reveal apparently sensitive military information are not included."
That same day, the Washington Post published its own article on Manning's arrest, quoting from the logs, which the paper said it had received from Lamo. Some of the quotes do not appear in Wired's excerpts. Wired also continued to follow the story.
On June 18, Greenwald wrote a long blog post raising questions about Poulsen's scoop and about Lamo. He said he found the story "quite strange," called Lamo an "extremely untrustworthy source," and accused Poulsen of being "only marginally transparent about what actually happened here."
What was curious about Greenwald's post was that he didn't challenge any specific facts in Wired's reporting; he just pointed to what he saw as inconsistencies in the story, as well as Lamo's account, and condemned the ex-hacker's actions as "despicable." He didn't suggest outright that Manning had not actually confessed to Lamo. He didn't try to argue that Manning hadn't broken the law. He didn't say the log excerpts were fabricated. He did, however, complain that Lamo had told him about conversations with Manning that were not in the chat-log excerpts published by Wired, and called on the magazine to release them. Poulsen said he wouldn't be doing so, telling Greenwald: "The remainder is either Manning discussing personal matters that aren't clearly related to his arrest, or apparently sensitive government information that I'm not throwing up without vetting first."
Still with me?
Then, on Monday, several weeks after the cables had begun trickling out, Greenwald again returned to the issue. In a torqued-up post titled "The worsening journalistic disgrace at Wired," he excoriated the magazine and Poulsen for refusing to release the full logs, calling Poulsen's behavior "odious" and "concealment" of "key evidence." Greenwald appears to have been motivated to weigh in anew by Firedoglake -- a left-leaning website whose members had been obsessively trolling the Web for stories about Lamo and Manning, and even pulled together a handy, color-coded expanded transcript from the logs -- as well as by a flawed New York Times article reporting that the Justice Department was trying to build a conspiracy case against WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange. Presumably, the logs would be an important part of the prosecution's argument.
Wired responded to Greenwald Tuesday night with twin posts by Evan Hansen, the magazine's editor in chief, and Poulsen. Greenwald fired back with two angry posts of his own today (1, 2). Long story short: Wired reiterated its refusal to release the logs (Poulsen: "[T]hose first stories in June either excerpted, quoted or reported on everything of consequence Manning had to say about his leaking"), Greenwald rejected that explanation, and both sides traded some nasty barbs about each other and made competing claims about the nature of Poulsen's relationship with Lamo.
What still remains a mystery to me is what, exactly, Greenwald thinks is being covered up here. What is he accusing Wired of doing, and why? Does he think that the full transcript of the logs would somehow exonerate Manning, or prove Lamo a liar? And if he catches Lamo telling a journalist something that wasn't in the logs, what then?
Ironically, Wired seems most worried about protecting Manning, whom Greenwald is ostensibly trying to defend. The magazine has hinted all along that what's not been made public is mainly stuff that Manning would not want to see on the front page of the Daily Mail. Hansen writes:
To be sure, there's a legitimate argument to be made for publishing Manning's chats. The key question (to us): At what point does everything Manning disclosed in confidence become fair game for reporting, no matter how unconnected to his leaking or the court-martial proceeding against him, and regardless of the harm he will suffer?
In other words: Be careful what you wish for, Glenn.
UPDATE: Over Twitter, Greenwald responds. Here are three tweets put together:
To answer your question, I want the logs because it'll show if Lamo's claims are *true* - isn't that what journalism is? You seem confused because I don't know whose cause will be helped by disclosure - it'll help the cause of truth. Lamo made lots of fantastical claims about what Manning said - Wired can say if those claims are true. Why shouldn't they???
I know Glenn is looking for a normative answer, but I'm going to answer this in a roundabout way. Reporters generally don't consider it their business to fact-check claims made by sources in other publications. They look for ways to advance a story, or move on to other topics if there doesn't seem to be any "news" to be had. They also generally do weigh the harm that will come of too much disclosure against the value of the information to be disclosed. And they judiciously husband their scarcest resource: time.
I think some combination of all that is what is going on here, in addition to the bad blood that has been generated by Greenwald's unfortunate impugnment of Poulsen's integrity and his motives. Would it be relatively easy for Wired to take a look at the specific claims Lamo has made and check them against the logs? Probably. Would it be worth someone's time there? Maybe. Do I wish Poulsen would just directly address the seeming contradictions in Lamo's statements, in a way that protects what shred of privacy Manning has left? Yes. (In fact I emailed him this morning hoping to talk with him about it myself.) But at this point, I doubt it will happen.
Yesterday, the Internets were abuzz with the discovery of Julian Assange's OkCupid profile, under the alias HarryHarrison. Now, it seems HarryHarrison also had a profile set up (members only) on CouchSurfing.org, a site that helps travelers find hosts to stay with when traveling.
The picture is certainly Assange and the profile does feel real. His last login was December 17th, 2006 from Budapest and his occupation is listed as "Investigative journalist / rabble rouser." In case you're wondering about his taste in movie/books/music, he likes "Obscure works produced under difficult circumstances by courageous authors". The people he enjoys include, "Voltaire. Richard Feynman. My parents."
Anyone who hosts him can look forward to "Many stories from attempted assassinations in Africa to telephone taps in Australia, to under cover in Egypt, election rigging, deportations, Russian mafia, scientific expeditions, politician's wives..."
The reviews from other users who have hosted "HarryHarrison" or stayed at his place in Melbourne are overwhelmingly positive.
According to the magazine "Russky Reporter," for example, the famous walkout by Western diplomats during Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations in September 2009 was not spontaneous and had in fact been planned by Washington.
The magazine, citing WikiLeaks documents, claimed in a December 2 article that U.S. officials gave detailed instructions to EU representatives on when to leave the room during Ahmadinejad's speech. The claim, if substantiated, could be deeply embarrassing to the United States.
But unlike other media reporting on the WikiLeaks revelations, "Russky Reporter" provided no documents to back up its allegations. An extensive search of the WikiLeaks database fails to yield relevant U.S. cables, causing some analysts to suggest the magazine might be exploiting WikiLeaks to propagate false information.
It's a good catch, but I have to say that if I were a Russian propagandist, I might aim a little higher. Why not allege that the U.S. plotted the Orange Revolution? Or that Russian opposition leaders are on the U.S. payroll? Or that the proposed missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is indeed targeted at Russia not Iran? The Ahmadinejad walkout was a significant gesture but not exactly a historic turning point. Perhaps they were trying to avoid the Pakistani mistake of making the deception too obvious.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
If you visit the website of al-Akhbar, the leftist Lebanese daily that published dozens of classified State Department cables related to the Middle East before they appeared on WikiLeaks, you'll be greeted by the image above. The site has been hacked, and the hackers specify that al-Akhbar's decision to release the WikiLeaked cables was the reason behind their actions. Judging by the picture of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in the bottom left, it's the material related to Saudi Arabia that truly raised their blood pressure.
The only question is: What particular cable did they find embarrassing? Was it the account of raunchy Saudi Halloween parties? The Saudi foreign minister's proposal for an "Arab force" to combat Hezbollah? The Saudi monarch's advice that the United States "cut off the head of the snake" in Iran?
A front-page story in Pakistan's The News today reports that new WikiLeaks cables have confirmed what reads like a laundry list of Pakistani suspicions and grievances against India:
A cable from US Embassy in Islamabad leaked by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks disclosed that there were enough evidences of Indian involvement in Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan as well as Balochistan.[...]
An earlier cable ruled out any direct or indirect involvement of ISI in 26/11 under Pasha's command while Mumbai's dossier, based on prime accused Ajmal Kasab's confessional statement was termed funny and "shockingly immature."
WikiLeaks revealed that a cable sent from a US mission in India termed former Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor as an incompetent combat leader and rather a geek.
His war doctrine, suggesting eliminating China and Pakistan in a simultaneous war front was termed as "much far from reality." Another cable indicates that General Kapoor was dubbed as a general who was least bothered about security challenges to the country but was more concerned about making personal assets and strengthening his own cult in the army. The cable also suggested that a tug-of-war between Kapoor and the current Indian Army chief had divided the Indian Army into two groups. [...]
An earlier cable described Indian Army involved in gross human rights violations in Indian-held Kashmir while some Lt Gen HS Panag, the then GOC-in-Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army, was equated with General Milosevic of Bosnia with regard to butchering Muslims through war crimes.
The only problem is that none of these cables appear to be real. The Guardian, which has full access to the unreleased WikiLeaks cables, can't find any of them. The story, which ran in four Pakistani newspapers, isn't bylined and was credited only to Online Agency, an Islamabad-based pro-army news service.
It's actually surprising this hasn't happened yet. The vast majority of the cables are still unreleased, but the newspapers which have access to them have often reported on some of the more salacious details before the original cables are actually available. (Take for instance, the famous "Batman and Robin" description of Putin and Medvedev, which appeared in newspapers days before the actual cable was available).
So, it's pretty easy to just make up cables to serve your political agenda. If the Pakistani forgers had been more sophisticated they would have invented quotes or even mocked up fake cables rather than just paraphrasing. This, in my opinion, is an argument for just releasing the full archive now rather than trickling them out at the newspapers' pace. It will be a lot easier to fact check false claims if we no longer have to rely on the Guardian as WikiLeaks' gatekeeper.
On another note, while the Pakistani revelations seem cartoonish, it wouldn't be surprising if some damaging cables from New Delhi are coming soon. In working to improve the political and economic relationship with India, both the Bush and Obama administrations have papered over a number of unpleasant facts, from India's tacit support to the Burmese military junta to still rampant governmental corruption. I'm guessing the embassy staff in New Delhi has probably been a lot blunter.
The WikiLeaks revelations about Pakistan mostly just confirmed how both governments not-so-privately already feel about each other. In the case of U.S.-India relations, there's a lot more to lose.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
In a bid to stay one step ahead of the governments, companies, freelance hackers trying to shut down its operations, WikiLeaks mobilized its vast base of online support Saturday by asking its Twitter followers to create copies of its growing archive of hundreds of classified State Department cables.
By late afternoon Eastern time, more than 200 had answered the call, setting up "mirror" sites, many of them with the name "wikileaks" appended to their Web addresses. They organized themselves organically using the Twitter hashtag #imwikileaks, in a virtual show of solidarity reminiscent of the movie V is for Vendetta. In that 2005 film, a Guy-Fawkes masked vigilantee inspires thousands of Londoners to march on the Parliament similarly disguised -- while it blows up in front of their eyes. Presumably, many of these people believe they are facing the same sort of tyranny that V, the film's protagonist, fought against.
Critics of WikiLeaks have called on the Obama administration to shut down the site, but now it's clear that doing so would be a difficult task indeed. The New Yorker's recent profile of Julian Assange, the organization's mysterious founder and front man, said that "a government or company that wanted to remove content from WikiLeaks would have to practically dismantle the Internet itself." WikiLeaks has also posted a massive, heavily encrypted "insurance" file on The Pirate Bay, a sympathetic website, which presumably contains also 250,000-plus cables and would be released into the wild if anything happens to Assange.
As my FP colleague Evgeny Morozov warns, aggressive action like arresting or killing Assange could spawn the rise of a vast, permanent network of radicalized hackers "systematically challenging those in power – governments and companies alike – just for the sake of undermining 'the system'." That could prove an extremely dangerous threat to the global economy and diplomatic sphere.
Evgeny offers the sensible suggestion that governments try to steer WikiLeaks into a more productive direction. "It is a choice between WikiLeaks becoming a new Red Brigades, or a new Transparency International," he writes, arguing that a responsible version of the organization could pose more of a challenge to closed regimes than to the West. "Handled correctly, the state that will benefit most from a nerdy network of 21st-century Che Guevaras is America itself."
Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images
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