North Korean TV releases image of Dennis Rodman bowing to Kim Jong Un

As if Dennis Rodman calling Kim Jong Un an "awesome guy" whose people "love him" wasn't enough to stoke outrage about the former NBA star's utterly bizarre visit to North Korea this week, North Korean television is now running images of Rodman bowing to North Korea's new leader. Here's a still, which appears at 6:16 in this report:

According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, Rodman's visit included not only a basketball game and an "amicable" dinner with Kim Jong Un, but also a stop at "the halls which house cars, an electric car, a boat and train coaches used by [Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] during their field guidance and foreign trips till the last moments of their lives," and a visit to the Rungna Dolphinarium, where Rodman and his entourage "spent a good time watching dolphins dancing to the tune of cheerful music, jumping in group, spinning rings, jumping into the air and shaking hands with people." (The photo below shows Rodman and some Harlem Globetrotters touring another monument in the capital.)

As he was leaving North Korea on Friday, Rodman told reporters that "Kim Jong Un is like his grandfather and his father, who are greater leaders." Kim "is an awesome kid," he added, "very honest and loves his wife so much." Here's footage of Rodman's impromptu press conference:

For those people worrying that Rodman's visit has only emboldened North Korea's repressive leader, consider this: Yes, the NBA star bowed to Kim Jong Un. But he also referred to the head of a nuclear power as an "awesome kid."

(h/t: Adam Cathcart)


'According to Wikileaks': The journalistic legacy of Bradley Manning

At a hearing yesterday, Pfc. Bradley Manning took full responsibility for leaking the documents that came to be known as the Afghan and Iraq war logs and the "Cablegate" archive of classified diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Given the fate that likely awaits Manning, it's a bit hard not be struck and saddened by his statement that he leaked the documents in order to “spark a domestic debate of the role of the military and foreign policy in general” and “cause society to reevaluate the need and even desire to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore their effect on people who live in that environment every day.”

Whatever the impact of Wikileaks documents, it would be hard to argue they had a major impact on the foreign-policy attitudes of the American public, or even provided much new information that might cause readers to revise their attitudes. 

But two years after the Cablegate leak, there is one legacy of Wikileaks that confronts us nearly every day: the cables have become one of the vital tools of international journalism. Nearly every day, newspaper, wire service, and magazine dispatches from around the world feature theremarkable but no longer unusual phrase, " according to classified State Department cables released by WikiLeaks."

Here are just a few examples from a quick Nexis search of recent coverage:

  • The Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter opens an article on Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to the Middle East with an anecdote from the then Senator's meeting with Bashar al-Assad in 2009. The conversation, in which Kerry asked Assad why so few Arab leaders trust him, was pulled from a Wikileaks cable.
  • A Reuters article on the death of AQAP leader Said al-Shehri sources the claim that he "allegedly joined al Qaeda and helped to facilitate the movements of Saudi militants seeking to travel to Afghanistan via Iran" to a Wikileaked Pentagon document. 
  • A New York Times article on a British lawsuit involving a U.S. drone strike cites a 2008 cable reporting that "British officials demanded to be given full details of intelligence-gathering flights the United States flew from its base in Cyprus, in case they “put the U.K. at risk of being complicit in unlawful acts.”"
  • Reporting on the recent killing of a Kurdish cativist Sakine Cansiz, the AP notes that "in a 2007 cable, U.S. officials had identified Cansiz as one of the outlawed PKK's top two "most notorious financiers" in Europe and wanted her captured to stop the flow of money to the rebels." 
  • A Washington Post feature on Yemen's rival clans quotes a classified dispatch from former Amb. Thomas C. Krajeski, describing how former president Ali Abdullah Saleh had allowed the powerful al-Ahmar tribal family to “run their affairs with informal armies, courts and economic empires”. 
  • An AP story on the international soccer match-fixing scandal describes how "An American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks quoted the U.S. Embassy in Sofia as reporting that "Bulgarian soccer clubs are widely believed to be directly or indirectly controlled by organized crime figures who use their teams as a way to legitimize themselves, launder money and make a fast buck.""
  • Writing on Europe's planned Galileo GPS system, Andrew Higgins of the New York Times mentions that a 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in Berlin "quoted the OHB chief, Berry Smutny, describing Galileo as doomed to fail."  

Often allegations made in Wikileaks cables are used by reporters as a kind of shorthand for situations where a foreign official is widely believed to be corrupt but there's little publicly available factual data to back up the claim. 

  • For instance, reporting on the Paraguayn presidential race, the Times writes that "State Department diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks revealed allegations that a bank under Mr. Cartes’s control was involved in money-laundering in 2007."
  • A Los Angeles Times dispatch on the removal of a statue of Azerbaijani leader Heydar Aliyev from a Mexico City park quotes a cable in which "a U.S. ambassador compared his family to the Corleones of "The Godfather" fame."

Ironically, given the political goals of Wikileaks, the use of the cables by reporters often gives U.S. officials the final say on which foreign officials are bad guys.

But on the other hand, if the ultimate goal was to introduce a bit more transparency to international politics, Manning's actions have to be considered at least partially successful. 

Mark Wilson/Getty Images