I don't care what anybody else says, I refuse to believe that Julian Assange, the now infamous Wikileaks founder and director works independently and that his intentions are purely ethical. In my opinion, Mr. Assange must have a major political entity backing him (at this point in time I wouldn't even rule out the involvement of American intelligence services in all this). Had someone not been watching his back, Mr. Assange would have either died in some automobile accident, jailed for some legal matter or publicly disgraced by the revelation of some scandalous picture or information from his past. As far as I'm concerned, the verdict is still out on Mr. Assange and his Wikileaks - and America's CIA, Israel's Mossad, Britain's MI6 and Russia's FSB are all suspect. However, if the intentions behind these leaks are genuine indeed, in that they were done as a form of protest against Washington's global corruption, then it must also be mentioned that there seems to be a steady flow of up-standing and clear-minded individuals serving in the US military and government, concerned American patriots who want to expose Washington's real face to the world at large.
Although very interesting (not to mention quite entertaining at times as well), politically speaking, the informative value of these documents does not seem to be very high. In fact, a lot of the materials in question seems tabloidish in nature. In other words, there were no major political surprises (for me at least) other than finding out that some US officials think that "Medvedev is playing Robin to Putin's Batman". Generally speaking, the exposed communication cables contain no major political revelations but they do contain a lot of silly talk; which in my opinion is quite indicative of the intellectual and ethical deficit American officials suffer from these days.
Regarding political revelations that caught my attention at first glance:
The news report by a well known British daily appearing directly below this commentary displays portions of the recently released documents pertaining to Armenia and its neighbors. Those of us well versed in regional affairs knew all too well that the Armenian president was no where near a compromise over Nagorno Karabakh. As a matter of fact, Aliyev's comments regarding the Armenian president clearly suggests that Mr. Sargsyan has actually hardened his stance lately over Nagorno Karabakh (which leads me to conclude that Moscow is behind the matter). I have repeatedly claimed that when it comes to Nagorno Karabakh, President Serj Sargsyan has been the most unwavering president we have yet had. The leaked documents prove that Armenians have nothing to worry about when it comes to our president's handling of the matter. Needless to say, Armenians also don't have much to worry about when it come to Moscow's attitude towards Armenia.
Those of us well versed in Russian politics know that other than making politically correct public statements periodically, behind closed doors, Russian officials are NOT pressuring Yerevan. On the contrary, looking at Aliyev's comments, one can conclude that Moscow may actually be encouraging Yerevan to remain resolute regarding Nagorno Karabakh. It was also obvious that Baku has not been happy about the political dialogue going on between Ankara and Yerevan - simply because it elevates Armenia's political stature and it lessens its clout in Turkey. After all, wasn't it the intentions of Washington, Ankara, Tbilisi and Baku to keep Armenia isolated all these years? We also knew that Baku has not been happy about the growing relations between Russia and Turkey - because it increases Moscow's regional power and influence, it makes Ankara dependent on Russia, it elevates Armenia's regional stature and it serves to isolate Tbilisi and Baku. And we also knew that Azerbaijan distrusts Russia - as well as Iran. The leaked documents clearly supports all these claims.
Apparently, Mr. Aliyev has been having personal problems with Turkey's Erdogan, Russia's Putin and Medvedev, Georgia's Saakashvili, Iran's Ahmadinejad and of course with our very own Serj Sargsyan. As I have been saying for some time now, under Aliyev's rule, Baku is becoming increasingly isolated and it is currently nothing more than a hostage to Moscow. Why would any Russian official want to change the prevailing political climate in the Caucasus?
I don't know why some of our peasantry are getting so bent-out-of-shape about the leaked US allegation that Yerevan may have sold arms to Tehran in 2003. The alleged Armenian arms transfer to Iran is said to have occurred in 2003 - yet it only got recorded in December, 2008? Something's not right here. And how were the weapons supposedly used in attacking occupation forces in Iraq traced to Armenia? They certainly could not have been Armenian made weapons. Where's the evidence? The fact is we have no concrete information other than what Washington is saying; which leads me to believe that the story in question is most probably bullshit, a tale conjured up by some Washingtonian official to put pressure on Yerevan - most probably as a result of the failed color revolution in Armenia during the spring of 2008 and/or Russia's crushing defeat of Washington's proxy in the Caucasus during the summer of the same year. Nonetheless, here we have Washington and friends deciding to bully Iran (geopolitically speaking a little guy that poses absolutely no threat to the United States) and the rest of humanity is expected to enthusiastically and unconditionally help out the bully? I don't think so. I don't know if it has, but as far as I'm concerned, Yerevan should be selling arms to Iran, which happens to be Armenia's only normal neighbor. After Washington and Israel stops arming, funding, supporting and even encouraging Ankara, Baku and Tbilisi against Armenia - then and only then can they politely ask Yerevan not to sell arms to Tehran. Besides, who the &@%# do these criminals in suits think they are? What "moral authority" does Washington think it still has in the world?
Moreover, it was absolutely not surprising to find out that along with Washington and the Zionist state of Israel, the Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been one of the main proponents of an attack on Iran. With the exception of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and formerly Iraq, Arab states are nothing but a bunch of backward dictatorships pathetically serving their masters in Washington, London and Tel Aviv.
Going on to other political matters: we knew that the US government spies on United Nations officials... We already knew that Washington does not like Putin (to say the least)... We already knew that the United States is beginning to have problems with officials in Germany... We already knew that Russia transferred large amounts of modern weaponry to Armenia in 2008... We already knew that Moscow has been arming South Ossetians and Abkhazians... We already knew that there were American tactical nukes in Europe... We already knew that Moscow does not want Iran's territorial integrity violated, yet it does not want Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities either... And we already knew that Washington had begun secretly supporting Kurds in Turkey. As a matter of fact, Washington and Tel Aviv started their intimacy with regional Kurds soon after their invasion of Iraq. In my opinion, this is ultimately the reason why Ankara has recently been antagonistic towards Israel and the United States.
As mentioned earlier, all-in-all, for those of us who are well-versed in regional geopolitics and the peculiar ways of the Anglo-American-Zionist global empire, there were no earth shattering surprises and/or revelations contained in the released documents. The information was stuff we already knew - albeit now it's on print. What's being posted on this page is a mere fraction of what has been released to international news media outlets thus far, and what has been released seems to be only the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, this has been a major embarrassment for Washington, one that will most probably be felt for many years to come. What's more, I'm also glad to say that the contents of these documents lends support to my view of global affairs and it reaffirms my political take on what has been taking place in the Caucasus.
There is another aspect to this ordeal that needs to be addressed. I have noticed that the mainstream press has been cherry picking information that can be spun and used to attack Moscow's leadership - one of their favorite perennial targets. A quarter of a million exposed documents and all we get to read about is how dictatorial or corrupt Russia is under Putin? And when they are not slandering or attacking Moscow, they are using their carefully picked information to attack Iran, North Korea (their other two perennial targets) and Turkey (their brand new bad boy). What's going on here? Unfortunately, the documents in question are clearly being exploited for psychological warfare purposes by the controlled mainstream press in the West.
Now I would like to bring up an interesting New York Times article about Georgia (it can be found amongst the news articles posted below). As with most politically sensitive press releases, the piece in question naturally requires quite a bit of reading in between the lines. However, the article is interesting in that it more-or-less describes how US officials in Tbilisi were essentially operating as affiliates of the Georgian government by disseminating Georgian propaganda and disinformation during the war there in summer of 2008. Apparently, during the short but brutal war between Georgia and Russia over the control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Washington "relied heavily" on (in other words, made a conscious effort to disseminate) statements and information provided by the Saakashvili government. In sharp contrast to what Washingtonian officials seemed to be doing in Georgia at the time, according to the same article:
In neighboring countries (naturally Armenia included), American diplomats often maintained their professional distance, and privately detailed their misgivings of their host governments. In Georgia, diplomats appeared to set aside skepticism and embrace Georgian versions of important and disputed events.The following are the rest of the other Wikileaks related press releases that got my attention, as well as several RT video reports. Besides the above noted pieces, I have posted the transcript of a very interesting interview given by a well known Russian professor. I have posted a piece by Spiegel magazine, in which the internationally respected German weekly uses the opportunity to give Washington a well deserved public lashing. I have also posted a piece by editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal in which they stop just short of calling for the assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. These and more can be found below this commentary.
'Diplomatic 9/11': WikiLeaks presents 'Cablegate' (RT video report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O69X2ZUhSXM
WikiLeaks ClassiFiles: 'Cable talk exposes double talk' (RT video report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GDY-5t3G9I&feature=channel
Cables: Putin 'Alpha Dog', Sarkozy 'Naked Emperor', Ahmadinejad 'Hitler' (RT video report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgryWVJISx8&feature=related
WikiLeaks Cable TV: Needed Truth Teller? (RT video report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDI-q0e4ZrI&feature=channel
'Wiki-Cynical': Medvedev reacts to leaks as US cables still hot (RT video report): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJbP4yATEJo
SUBJECT: AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TO U/S BURNS: "YOU CAN'T BOIL TWO HEADS IN ONE POT"
2. (C) Summary Continued: On Iran, President Aliyev said he supported economic isolation and believed it could be effective if enforced by a broad coalition. He complained about Iranian security provocations. On a proposed battalion-sized Afghanistan contribution, Aliyev said that he would support sending a team to Georgia to observe the training being provided by EUCOM to Georgian troops headed for Afghanistan. On energy cooperation, President Aliyev said that if the Turks demonstrate "constructive behavior" this year that a gas transit deal can happen. Finally, on the jailed youth activists, though he made no firm commitments regarding their release, he said, "I think (a pardon or amnesty) can be done. I had no intention to hurt anyone." End Summary.
4. (C) The balance of Aliyev,s comments sought to convey that he was ready to move forward in the Minsk Group Process, but that international pressure would be needed if Armenia was to move forward. He said that it is now time to find a final resolution, but Armenian President Sargsian wants to walk away from the process. "I told the co-chairs that Armenia wants to delay as long as possible and escape at the end."" He said that Azerbaijan was prepared to do its part to propel the talks forward. "Now we will try to be even more flexible."
5. (C) Aliyev outlined several steps to persuade Armenia to agree to the Minsk Group Basic Principles:
-- the three co-chair countries should consolidate their efforts at a senior-level,
-- (C) the three co-chair countries should send a strong message that the independence of NK is not under review, and
-- (C) if these new proposals are not accepted, there should be consequences in terms of international isolation, especially in the form of Russia,s curtailing some of its economic support for Armenia.
6. (C) Aliyev noted that at Sochi, President Sargsian had inserted a proposal for specifying a definite date for a referendum or plebiscite on NK final status. This, Aliyev argued, undermined the entire framework of the agreement, which is premised on an eventual referendum ) with no definite timeframe ) in exchange for legalizing "the illegally established regime in NK."" He also noted that Armenia is vulnerable to isolation because it is dependent upon remittances from its diaspora, as well as imports of gas and electricity. "After 18 years of negotiation, we have tested all options. If this phase (of Minsk Group talks) ends, what is next?" the President asked aloud.
8. (C) Aliyev said that he considers Medvedev "a modern, new-generation intellectual," surrounded by people whom he does not control. He said that he has personally witnessed Medvedev taking decisions that then required further approval before they were implemented, referring specifically to a border demarcation agreement that he had agreed with Medvedev only to have it stymied by ""others,"" presumably in the prime ministerial office. He added, "Many high-ranking officials don't recognize (Medvedev) as a leader." He said that there are signs of a strong confrontation between the teams of the two men, although not yet between Putin and Medvedev personally. "We have a saying in Azeri, 'Two heads cannot be boiled in one pot'" (crude street slang suggesting that two leaders are spoiling for a fight).9. (C) U/S Burns stressed that the U.S. believes that progress on the Turkey-Armenia protocols could create political space for Sargsian to be more flexible on NK. He continued that the reverse was also true, that a failure of the Turkey-Armenia process would almost certainly result in serious negative consequences for the NK process. Aliyev said that NK progress would require a minimum of five or six months. He suggested that the entire Turkey-Armenia protocol ratification process be delayed until after April 24. He said that the "Sword of Damocles" of Armenian Remembrance Day is hanging unhelpfully not only over the Turkey-Armenia process, but also now the NK progress. "If there were no deadline, maybe we could see how to combine our efforts (to resolve NK)."
10. (C) Aliyev pushed back with his usual warnings about the negative effects of Turkey-Armenia protocol ratification without being proceeded by NK progress. He darkly predicted postponement of any NK settlement; no comprehensive regional security improvement; damage to Turkey-Azerbaijani relations; no real partnership between Turkey and Armenia; further isolation of Central Asia; the undermining of energy projects; and damage to Georgia, both in lost transit income, but also in its role as the sole land corridor between Russia and Armenia.11. (C) U/S Burns explained in detail the steps the U.S. had taken to initiate dialogue with Tehran and support the Tehran Research Reactor initiative. He ended by noting that, given the rejection of these overtures, the U.S. would move forward with another UNSC resolution that included new sanctions targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Aliyev responded that although the visible side of Azerbaijan's relations with Iran appears normal, the substance was very different. "I do not exclude that relations will be become more difficult," the President added.
12. (C) "(German Chancellor) Merkel was very firm with me on Iran, trying to persuade me. I told her, 'No need,'" the President recalled. He said that he was supportive of Iran's economic isolation and believed it could work if the international community worked together. He said that earlier sanctions observance had been spotty with many European energy companies working in Iran. "Statoil supports Iran more than it supports us!" he complained. He noted that Russian President Medvedev once told him that Russia did not want the Americans to squeeze Iran, but also did not want a nuclear Iran.
13. (C) Aliyev said that Iranian provocations in Azerbaijan were on the rise. He specifically cited not only the financing of radical Islamic groups and Hezbollah terrorists, but also:
-- the Iranian financing of violent Ashura ceremonies in Nakhchivan,
-- the organization of demonstrations in front of the Azeri consulates in Tabriz and Istanbul,
-- a violent religious procession recently in Baku,
-- the use of the President's photo alongside the Star of David on the Azeri-language Seher TV broadcast into Azerbaijan, and
-- conflict in the Caspian.
14. (C) The President added that Azerbaijan will not reciprocate on the liberalization of the visa regime with Iran. He also noted that Azerbaijan is planning to create a TV channel in Persian that will broadcast into Iran. He said that he did not understand why the Supreme Religious Leader chose Ahmadinejad over former President Moussavi. He joked that perhaps it was too dangerous to have two ethnic Azeris at the head of the Iranian state. He said that the election fraud was outrageous, with Ahmadinejad winning in Azeri-dominated Tabriz and Moussavi winning in Tehran, where it was harder to falsify the vote. He viewed the situation as very tense within Iran and believed it could erupt at any time.
16. (C) U/S Burns said that one of the ways Azerbaijan could show leadership as a tolerant and secular country was in advancing democracy and human rights. He specifically asked that, following the appeal process of the two youth activists, the President find a way on humanitarian grounds to release the two men. Aliyev made no firm commitment, but responded, "I think this can be done. I had no intention to hurt anyone." When U/S Burns expressed the hope that the government could quietly take this step, the President said, "Okay."
17. (C) On energy cooperation, President Aliyev said that if the Turks demonstrate "constructive behavior" this year that a gas transit deal can happen. He was clear, however, that nothing would be signed before April 24. He also professed to be worried that active Turkish-Russian cooperation could be one of the impediments to progress. He confided that Turkish Energy Minister Yildiz recently told the head the Azerbaijani State Oil Company, "Why do you want to ruin our relations with Russia? Do you really need Nabucco?"
18. (C) The President continued that it is imperative for Azerbaijan that formalities for the commencement of Shah Deniz Phase II gas development begin this year. This project will bring $20 billion in much-needed investment to Azerbaijan and potentially develop Azerbaijan into a major source of new gas, as much as 50 billion cubic meters.
19. (C) Unprompted by U/S Burns, Aliyev spelled out the reasons Azerbaijan decided to sell gas to Russia last year, noting that ""Moscow had asked" and offered a good price for gas that was surplus anyway. But the real reason, Aliyev confided, was that the sale illustrated to "our Turkish friends" that they will not be allowed to create a gas distribution hub. "Aliyev made clear his distaste for the Erdogan government in Turkey, underscoring the "naivete" of their foreign policy and the failure of their initiatives, including the loss of support for Turkey among traditional international friends because of Ankara,s hostility to Israel. He noted that in his view, there had never been any merit to the notion of a "moderate Islamist" government in Turkey, and that Erdogan,s insistence on promoting Hamas and Gaza ) when other Arab countries were notably silent on these issues ) had brought Turkey no benefits.
20. (U) Lastly, U/S Burns asked for the President's assistance in resolving the long-standing difficulties in finalizing the lease for the new Embassy compound. The President responded positively that he thought this could be done.
21. (U) U/S Burns was accompanied by EUR Deputy Assistant Secretary Amb. Tina Kaidanow, NSC Director Bridget Brink, and Charge. President Aliyev was joined by his Foreign Policy Advisor Novruz Mammadov.
In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that the documents made public by WikiLeaks is part of a campaign by the CIA and the Israeli Mossad. While many cables showed heads of Arab states urging the United States to take military action against Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed them as propaganda. "The countries in the region are like friends and brothers," he said. "These acts of mischief will not affect their relations." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Washington that the leaks will not affect U.S. relationships with allies. Yet she also said that the disclosures would endanger people in closed societies who had spoken with U.S. diplomats. "There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends," Mrs. Clinton said.
Mrs. Clinton said WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the classified document and that the Obama administration is taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information." At the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the government had launched a criminal probe, while Pentagon officials said security is being tightened to better control digital storage devices such as CDs and flash drives. The Armenian incident was part of a wider U.S. effort to block Iran's access to the global arms and weapons technology market. For example, a 2010 cable revealed covert U.S. efforts to persuade China's government to block a sale from a Malaysian firm, Electronics Component Ltd., to sell gyroscopes to an Iranian front company. The cables also show U.S. diplomatic efforts to stop German sales of high-technology equipment to Iranian front companies and block conventional arms sales from Turkey to Iran. Both countries are NATO allies.
In some cases though, the cables show the inefficacy of the American effort. North Korea, according to one cable in 2007, successfully shipped missile components to Iran despite U.S. efforts to seek Chinese help in blocking the transfer. "This shows the breadth of the U.S. effort to quietly shut down all the various spigots and channels that the United States was using to bleed the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Kenneth Katzman, an Iran specialist at the Congressional Research Service. "We have seen a recent example in Nigeria of arms pipelines being exposed, these cables show more of a sweep to it than most Americans were aware of, which is usually limited to public discussion of U.N. sanctions votes." Mr. Katzman said the worldwide U.S. effort reminded him of Operation Staunch in the 1980s. "It hearkens back to U.S. efforts during the Iran-Iraq war to prevent conventional arms deliveries to Iran, which had a degree of success but was not a complete hermetic seal," he said.
The disclosures about Armenian government links to Iran arms supplies are surprising. Armenia has drawn closer to the United States in recent years as the United States has sought to quietly broker Armenia's disputes with Turkey and Azerbaijan. A Western diplomat familiar with the incident said the United States had multiple streams of intelligence connecting the Armenian arms shipment to Iran with the deaths of U.S. soldiers in 2007 in Iraq. When Mr. Sargsyan was first confronted with this intelligence in 2008 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he denied knowing anything about the matter, the cable says. Mr. Negroponte, however, lays out the consequences to Armenia in the letter. "Notwithstanding the close relationship between our countries, neither the Administration nor the U.S. Congress can overlook this case," Mr. Negroponte said in his letter to the Armenian president. "By law, the transfer of these weapons requires us to consider whether there is a basis for the imposition of U.S. sanctions. If sanctions are imposed, penalties could include the cutoff of U.S. assistance and certain export restrictions," he said.
After leveling the threat, Mr. Negroponte told Mr. Sargsyan that in order to avoid sanctions he had to provide a written assurance to the United States that Armenia would update its export-control laws, establish teams of customs specialists at the border to check for contraband and dual-use exports and allow U.S. spot inspections of these checkpoints and make public its export-control lists. The Armenians appear to have agreed to these measures as the United States never leveled any sanctions against Mr. Sargsyan's government. The Armenian Embassy declined to comment for this article. A December 2009 cable revealed that U.S. intelligence in June 2009 uncovered two Iranian front companies that offered to sell missile test equipment manufactured by the German firms Rohde & Schwarz and Hottinger Baldwin Messtechnik (HBM) to Iran's main developer of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles, the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group.
"We want to share this new information with German officials and encourage them to continue their efforts to prevent SHIG or other Iranian entities of proliferation concern from procuring sensitive items from Rohde & Schwarz and HBM," the cable said. A March 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, stated that a network of Iranians had been identified in the Azerbaijani capital who were engaged in illicit activities. "Some [of the Iranians] are also said to be significant actors in obtaining spare parts and equipment for the Revolutionary Guard, raising revenues and managing money for it and/or regime figures, or managing Iran-origin narcotics trafficking," the cable said.
Embassy cables: Truth about Putin and Medvedev – over a bottle of vodka
1. (S) Summary: Defense Minister Safar Abiyev on March 14 told the Ambassador he did not object to exploration of joint U.S.-Russian use of the Gabala radar station, but was deliberately vague on whether the Russians' lease would be renewed on its expiration in 2012. He also shared details of his recent visit to Moscow, which came at the Russians' invitation amid the controversy over allegations of large-scale arms transfers by Russia to Armenia. End Summary.
2. (C) The immediate reason for the Saturday morning meeting was to agree on a procedure for the quick negotiation of the Exercise Support Agreement (ESA) for the planned April-May bilateral exercise REGIONAL RESPONSE 09 (RR-09). While the MoD had been planning on postponing the exercise due to interagency differences in Baku - later shown to be political reservations held by the Foreign Minister personally about the international message sent by the exercise (Reftel), Abiyev was now determined to move forward after a lengthy after-hours meeting with Foreign Minister Mammadyarov after the latter's meeting with Ambassador and DATT. Abiyev offered his full support to the exercise and a visit from a USEUCOM negotiator to finalize the agreement; adding, however, that he was in full agreement with the Foreign Minister's desire to make the exercise appear as multilateral as possible to avoid raising the ire of Russia and Iran.
3. (S) Responding to Ambassador's question about Azerbaijan's future intentions regarding Gabala, Abiyev replied that it was late in 2007 that Russian DefMin Anatoly Serdyukov approached him about extending Russia's use of the site beyond 2012. According to Abiyev, he responded in surprise and asked Serdyukov to explain his request because then-President Putin had said before that Russia no longer needed the site. Serdyukov's response was "(that was a long time ago." Abiyev told the Russians that the time to discuss the renewal of the lease - or the expansion of the facilities or military contingent there - was 2012.
4. (S) Asked about the Armavir ("Voronezh") station Russia recently put into operation in the Krasnodar region, Abiyev said that it is a relatively "weak" station with much less capability than Gabala, regardless of Russian claims about its effectiveness. He claimed this was obvious because Russia had put almost 1 billion USD into improvements at Gabala over the years and had only spent USD 70 million on Armavir; and furthermore the Armavir radar only has a range of 2,500 km compared to 8,500 for Gabala. (Note: Other sources give the cost of Armavir at 2.85 billion rubles, or USD 84 million at current rates, and a range of 4,000 km. Russia built the station to replace the radars at Sevastopol and Mukachevo in Ukraine, which it lost when the GOU refused to continue their leases. End Note.)
Conversations With Serdyukov
5. (S) Abiyev told the Ambassador about his late-January trip to Moscow to discuss Azerbaijan's allegations that Russia had made extensive weapons transfers to Armenia throughout 2008. In formal meetings, Abiyev said, his Russian counterpart stuck to the talking points and denied any involvement. However, "after the second bottle of vodka," that evening, he said, the Russians opened up and admitted to having transferred weapons to Armenia.In an interesting side note, Abiyev quoted Serdyukov as saying: "Do you follow the orders of your President?...Well, I follow the orders of two Presidents."
The White House said the release of what it called “stolen cables” to several publications was a “reckless and dangerous action” and warned that some cables, if released in full, could disrupt American operations abroad and put the work and even lives of confidential sources of American diplomats at risk. The statement noted that reports often include “candid and often incomplete information” whose disclosure could “deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.” 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. Among their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:
A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”
Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.
Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”
Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)
A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.
Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.
An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoyed supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he was undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignored his edicts.
Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group. Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”
The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” the government’s most secure communications status. But some 11,000 are classified “secret,” 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn. Many more cables name diplomats’ confidential sources, from foreign legislators and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning to Washington: “Please protect” or “Strictly protect.”
The Times, after consultations with the State Department, has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified. The Times is also withholding some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts. While the White House said it anticipated WikiLeaks would make public “several hundred thousand” cables Sunday night, the organization posted only 220 released and redacted by The Times and several European publications.
The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world. They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, adding Australians who have disappeared in the Middle East to terrorist watch lists, and assessing whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore, Pakistan, was awaiting fares or conducting surveillance of the road to the American Consulate.
They show officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon — and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal. Even when they recount events that are already known, the cables offer remarkable details. For instance, it has been previously reported that the Yemeni government has sought to cover up the American role in missile strikes against the local branch of Al Qaeda. But a cable’s fly-on-the-wall account of a January meeting between the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the American commander in the Middle East, is breathtaking. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.
Mr. Saleh, who at other times resisted American counterterrorism requests, was in a lighthearted mood. The authoritarian ruler of a conservative Muslim country, Mr. Saleh complains of smuggling from nearby Djibouti, but tells General Petraeus that his concerns are drugs and weapons, not whiskey, “provided it’s good whiskey.” Likewise, press reports detailed the unhappiness of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, when he was not permitted to set up his tent in Manhattan or to visit ground zero during a United Nations session last year. But the cables add a touch of scandal and alarm to the tale. They describe the volatile Libyan leader as rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.
The cables also disclose frank comments behind closed doors. Dispatches from early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, as speaking scathingly about the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan. Speaking to another Iraqi official about Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, King Abdullah said, “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” The king called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”
The American ambassador to Eritrea reported last year that “Eritrean officials are ignorant or lying” in denying that they were supporting the Shabab, a militant Islamist group in Somalia. The cable then mused about which seemed more likely. As he left Zimbabwe in 2007 after three years as ambassador, Christopher W. Dell wrote a sardonic account of Robert Mugabe, that country’s aging and erratic leader. The cable called him “a brilliant tactician” but mocked “his deep ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics).”
The possibility that a large number of diplomatic cables might become public has been discussed in government and media circles since May. That was when, in an online chat, an Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, described having downloaded from a military computer system many classified documents, including “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world.” In an online discussion with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker, Private Manning said he had delivered the cables and other documents to WikiLeaks.
Mr. Lamo reported Private Manning’s disclosures to federal authorities, and Private Manning was arrested. He has been charged with illegally leaking classified information and faces a possible court-martial and, if convicted, a lengthy prison term. In July and October, The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel published articles based on documents about Afghanistan and Iraq. Those collections were placed online by WikiLeaks, with selective redactions of the Afghan documents and much heavier redactions of the Iraq reports.
Fodder for Historians
Traditionally, most diplomatic cables remain secret for decades, providing fodder for historians only when the participants are long retired or dead. The State Department’s unclassified history series, titled “Foreign Relations of the United States,” has reached only 1972. While an overwhelming majority of the quarter-million cables provided to The Times are from the post-9/11 era, several hundred date from 1966 to the 1990s. Some show diplomats struggling to make sense of major events whose future course they could not guess.
In a 1979 cable to Washington, Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat in Tehran, mused with a knowing tone about the Iranian revolution that had just occurred: “Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism,” Mr. Laingen wrote, offering tips on exploiting this psyche in negotiations with the new government. Less than three months later, Mr. Laingen and his colleagues would be taken hostage by radical Iranian students, hurling the Carter administration into crisis and, perhaps, demonstrating the hazards of diplomatic hubris.
In 1989, an American diplomat in Panama City mulled over the options open to Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian leader, who was facing narcotics charges in the United States and intense domestic and international political pressure to step down. The cable called General Noriega “a master of survival”; its author appeared to have no inkling that one week later, the United States would invade Panama to unseat General Noriega and arrest him.
In 1990, an American diplomat sent an excited dispatch from Cape Town: he had just learned from a lawyer for Nelson Mandela that Mr. Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment was to end. The cable conveys the momentous changes about to begin for South Africa, even as it discusses preparations for an impending visit from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. The voluminous traffic of more recent years — well over half of the quarter-million cables date from 2007 or later — show American officials struggling with events whose outcomes are far from sure. To read through them is to become a global voyeur, immersed in the jawboning, inducements and penalties the United States wields in trying to have its way with a recalcitrant world.
In an era of satellites and fiber-optic links, the cable retains the archaic name of an earlier technological era. It has long been the tool for the secretary of state to send orders to the field and for ambassadors and political officers to send their analyses to Washington. The cables have their own lexicon: “codel,” for a Congressional delegation; “visas viper,” for a report on a person considered dangerous; “démarche,” an official message to a foreign government, often a protest or warning. But the drama in the cables often comes from diplomats’ narratives of meetings with foreign figures, games of diplomatic poker in which each side is sizing up the other and neither is showing all its cards.
Among the most fascinating examples recount American officials’ meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president and a power broker in the Taliban’s home turf of Kandahar. They describe Mr. Karzai, “dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez,” the traditional dress of loose tunic and trousers, appearing “nervous, though eager to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar,” and trying to win over the Americans with nostalgic tales about his years running a Chicago restaurant near Wrigley Field.
But in midnarrative there is a stark alert for anyone reading the cable in Washington: “Note: While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” (Mr. Karzai has denied such charges.) And the cables note statements by Mr. Karzai that the Americans, informed by a steady flow of eavesdropping and agents’ reports, believe to be false. A cable written after the February meeting coolly took note of the deceit on both sides. Mr. Karzai “demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs,” the cable said. “He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities. We will need to monitor his activity closely, and deliver a recurring, transparent message to him” about the limits of American tolerance.
Not All Business
Even in places far from war zones and international crises, where the stakes for the United States are not as high, curious diplomats can turn out to be accomplished reporters, sending vivid dispatches to deepen the government’s understanding of exotic places. In a 2006 account, a wide-eyed American diplomat describes the lavish wedding of a well-connected couple in Dagestan, in Russia’s Caucasus, where one guest is the strongman who runs the war-ravaged Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. The diplomat tells of drunken guests throwing $100 bills at child dancers, and nighttime water-scooter jaunts on the Caspian Sea.“The dancers probably picked upwards of USD 5000 off the cobblestones,” the diplomat wrote. The host later tells him that Ramzan Kadyrov “had brought the happy couple ‘a five-kilo lump of gold’ as his wedding present.”
Scott Shane reported from Washington, and Andrew W. Lehren from New York. Reporting was contributed by Jo Becker, C. J. Chivers and James Glanz from New York; Eric Lichtblau, Michael R. Gordon, David E. Sanger, Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson from Washington; and Jane Perlez from Islamabad, Pakistan.
Throughout the cold war and often in the years since, Western diplomats covering the Kremlin routinely relied on indirect and secondhand or thirdhand sources. Their cables were frequently laden with skepticism, reflecting the authors’ understanding of the limits of their knowledge and suspicion of official Russian statements. A 2008 batch of American cables from another country once in the cold war’s grip — Georgia — showed a much different sort of access. In Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, American officials had all but constant contact and an open door to President Mikheil Saakashvili and his young and militarily inexperienced advisers, who hoped the United States would help Georgia shake off its Soviet past and stand up to Russia’s regional influence. The Tbilisi cables, part of more than a quarter-million cables made available to news organizations by WikiLeaks, display some of the perils of a close relationship.
The cables show that for several years, as Georgia entered an escalating contest with the Kremlin for the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway enclaves out of Georgian control that received Russian support, Washington relied heavily on the Saakashvili government’s accounts of its own behavior. In neighboring countries, American diplomats often maintained their professional distance, and privately detailed their misgivings of their host governments. In Georgia, diplomats appeared to set aside skepticism and embrace Georgian versions of important and disputed events. By 2008, as the region slipped toward war, sources outside the Georgian government were played down or not included in important cables. Official Georgian versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged.
The last cables before the eruption of the brief Russian-Georgian war showed an embassy relaying statements that would with time be proved wrong. “Deputy Minister of Defense Batu Kutelia told Ambassador at mid-day August 7 that Georgian military troops are on higher alert, but will not be deploying,” one cable noted, as Georgian heavy military equipment was en route to the conflict zone. Mr. Kutelia’s assurance did not stand, even in real time. In one of the few signs of the embassy’s having staff in the field, the cable noted that “embassy observers on the highway” saw about 30 government buses “carrying uniformed men heading north.” Still the embassy misread the signs, telling Washington that while there were “numerous reports that the Georgians are moving military equipment and forces,” the embassy’s “initial impressions” were that the Georgians “were in a heightened state of alertness to show their resolve.”
In fact, Georgia would launch a heavy artillery-and-rocket attack on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, at 11:35 p.m. on Aug. 7, ending a cease-fire it had declared less than five hours before. The bombardment plunged Georgia into war, pitting the West against Russia in a standoff over both Russian military actions and the behavior of a small nation that the United States had helped arm and train. A confidential cable the next morning noted that Georgia’s Foreign Ministry had briefed the diplomatic corps, claiming that “Georgia now controlled most of South Ossetia, including the capital.” The cable further relayed that “Saakashvili has said that Georgia had no intention of getting into this fight, but was provoked by the South Ossetians and had to respond to protect Georgian citizens and territory.” Rather than emphasize the uncertainties, it added, “All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention.” Then it continued: “Only when the South Ossetians opened up with artillery on Georgian villages” did the offensive begin.
This exceptionally bold claim would be publicly echoed throughout the Bush administration, which strongly backed Georgia on the world’s stage. To support it, the American Embassy appeared to have no staff members in the field beyond “eyes on the ground at the Ministry of Interior command post” on Aug. 8. The cable did not provide supporting sources outside of the Georgian government. Instead, as justification for the Georgian attack the previous night, a Georgian government source, Temuri Yakobashvili, was cited as telling the American ambassador that “South Ossetians continued to shoot at the Georgian villages despite the announcement of the cease-fire.” The cable contained no evidence that the Ossetian attacks after the cease-fire had actually occurred and played down the only independent account, which came from military observers in Tskhinvali from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The observers, in the heart of the conflict zone, did not report hearing or seeing any Ossetian artillery attacks in the hours before Georgia bombarded Tskhinvali. Rather, they reported to an American political officer that “the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali began at 2335 on Aug. 7 despite the cease-fire.”
Nonetheless, the American cable, relying on Georgian government sources, offered as “one plausible explanation for all this” that South Ossetia’s leader, Eduard Kokoity, had “decided to roll the dice and stimulate a conflict with the Georgians in hopes of bringing in the Russians and thereby saving himself.” It was not Mr. Kokoity who would require saving. On Aug. 9, as Russian forces flowed into Georgia, a cable noted that “President Saakashvili told the Ambassador in a late morning phone call that the Russians are out to take over Georgia and install a new regime.” Still the reliance on one-sided information continued — including Georgian exaggerations of casualties and Mr. Saakashvili’s characterization of Russian military actions.
The Saakashvili government was publicly insisting that its bombardments of Tskhinvali were justified and precise. But an American cable noted that when Russian ordnance landed on the Georgian city of Gori, Mr. Saakashvili took a different view of the meaning of heavy weapons attacks in civilian areas. He called the Russian attacks “pure terror.” By then the West and Russia were mostly talking past each other, and Georgia’s American-trained military had been humiliated in the field and was fleeing the fight. A few weeks later, after a more stable cease-fire had been negotiated and at a time when the American economy was sliding into a recession, President George W. Bush announced a $1 billion aid package to help Georgia rebuild.
Professor Aleksey Pushkov assesses the latest publications by WikiLeaks as a serious blow to the United States’ reputation, which has been severely undermined over the last decade. For the past few days, the whole world has been discussing the scandal involving WikiLeaks publications of US diplomatic cables. Officials and experts offer various theories as to who may be behind the leak or benefit from it. US supporters claim that America’s reputation has suffered no damage. Those irritated by US domination are lashing out at American diplomats for their ignorance and incompetence. Professor Aleksey Pushkov, director of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies, author and anchor of the political TV show Post Scriptum, evaluates how secret the documents really were and whether or not they could hurt the United States.
RT: What do you make of the very fact that this trove of State Department documents was published? How authentic does all of this look?
Aleksey Pushkov: Documents published by WikiLeaks look like authentic correspondence between American diplomats and government officials. As far as I understand, no one in the world doubts the authenticity of this mass of documents. Interestingly, the US administration made no attempt to refute their contents. It said that the documents were obtained illegally, that this information might supposedly damage US forces and security services operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that it might jeopardize US agents and informers in those countries. But the US authorities have never declared the information to be false, with the exception of the report which says that Hillary Clinton gave orders to spy on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and people from his inner circle. This is the only case where the US attempted to refute a WikiLeaks document. But the denial appears unconvincing in the light of the fact that it covers only this memo out of a huge amount of published documents.
RT: Why did the US need to refute precisely this document that deals with spying on the UN Secretary-General?
AP:It seems that the United States is seeking to protect at least the reputation of its Secretary of State. But, to my mind, hardly anyone is going to believe the official denial.
RT: How secret are those documents?
AP:Judging by their contents, they are not in the cosmic+ category, which means they are intended only for top US officials. What the US classifies as “confidential,” “classified,” “secret,” and even “top secret” are documents that can be accessed by a fairly large number of people. The WikiLeaks publications are in the classified and secret categories. In Russia, “secret” means a high level of secrecy. In the American system, “secret” refers to information that has rather wide circulation in government structures and agencies. It can be accessed by a huge number of officials. True secrecy sets in at the Cosmic and Cosmic+ levels. As I understand, there were no documents of this kind in the publication.
RT: The letter speaking about President Obama’s telephone call to the Thai authorities, requesting a speedier extradition of the Russian citizen Viktor Bout for trial in the US isn’t secret either, is it?
AP:This letter is a piece of political information. This information can get leaked through different channels. For example, at the level of the foreign minister of the country that Barack Obama called, or through the office of the foreign minister’s aides, or that of PM aides. This kind of information does no harm to US security. Since the US urged Thailand to extradite Bout a few years ago, why shouldn’t the US President make a call and put some more pressure on Thailand personally? This is lowest-level secret information that can in no way affect national security. Strictly speaking, it can be obtained from diplomatic sources, or from talks with diplomats – Asian, Western, or American. This isn’t even particularly concealed. That’s why this information is in no way related to truly secret information. Furthermore, allegations by the US military that the WikiLeaks publications can jeopardize their agents and informers in Iraq and Afghanistan have no confirmation. At any rate, they haven’t given a single example of a person who has suffered on account of the publications. Should there be a case of this kind, I think that the United States would have made use of it in order to charge that Mr. Assange, the mastermind behind the publications and WikiLeaks chief, is to blame for the deaths of people who worked for the US government. There is nothing like that so far. Mr. Assange himself says that, as far as he knows, no one has suffered because of those publications. But the information, although of a low level of secrecy, is damaging to the United States’ image, not its security.
RT: What damage exactly did WikiLeaks documents do to the image of the US?
AP: Barack Obama came to power with an objective of improving America's image, which had suffered a lot after the occupation of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandal and debates around Guantanamo. Obama was supposed to fix that, and now the disclosure of those documents puts a stain on America again. They show that American officials and diplomats treat even their closest allies with arrogance and skepticism, not hesitating to make scathing remarks about them, like "emperors with no clothes" or even worse. America's allies have taken note of that. Even though everybody is trying to act like nothing happened, this incident is hardly going to improve the image of America and the attitude towards America in the world. It is going to make Europeans and people of other countries more cautious and wary when dealing with American diplomats. If information is discussed in such tone and on such a level, this may damage those who share that information with US officials. I think this disclosure will hurt both America's image and the work of intelligence gathering by US officials and diplomats. Many people are going to be far more cautious now; otherwise, they risk appearing online either in an awkward context or with a very unflattering label attached by those very Americans they used to trust.
RT: In his interview with Larry King, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said some forces were inflating the website’s reputation to use it later for their purposes. Could you elaborate on this analysis?
AP: Being a career intelligence officer, Vladimir Putin tends to look for ulterior motives in such situations. It’s quite possible that Putin’s theory is true. The fact that a website which was largely unknown some six months ago publishes such a trove of documents may indicate that this is an information campaign, and it is quite possible that the United States is behind it. This is exactly what one of the Russian newspapers wrote, that the goal of this publication was to make this source appear credible in the eyes of the international community so that later it can spread confidential information about China and Russia, whether real or fabricated by US intelligence services. If this theory is true, if WikiLeaks is being inflated for the purpose of winning trust, so that later they could post negative information about Moscow, Beijing and other countries which the US still sees as potential enemies, then we can say this is a subtle operation, a fine example of modern information warfare. So far, however, it is only the United States that suffers damage to its reputation, not China, or Russia, or any other country. At present, the US is the only one who looks bad Actually, I’m not sure if smearing yourself is an effective way of winning trust. But I repeat, you can’t rule out this theory. We’ll have to see how the situation pans out.
RT: Can you remember instances of classified documents being made public unless they were released by intelligence services on purpose as part of their operations?
AP: In international affairs, sometimes you see situations that don’t involve ulterior motives, even if it happens very rarely. For example, during the Vietnam War, the Washington Post and the New York Times published classified Pentagon documents exposing US activities in Vietnam. This happened when American people were extremely unhappy about the Vietnam War. This dissatisfaction spread not only through campuses but even through a significant part of the US elite. The ruling class was divided. Those who didn’t want the war to continue helped publish those documents, which seriously undermined the reputation of the US military and intelligence services in the eyes of Americans. The publication of those materials was the beginning of a process which eventually resulted in the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1973. Those publications did not involve any ulterior motives. That wasn’t an operation to bring down personally President Nixon or the US Secretary of State. That was certainly an operation, as they really had to obtain those documents and get them published. But the main thing is that operation was against the war. People who were against the war arranged for those documents to be published. Today, America’s reputation is still rather bad around the world. Barack Obama took a few steps to improve it but he didn’t achieve much because generally his words weren’t followed by actions. For example, the US administration can’t get the Senate to ratify the New START Treaty. Considering this context, I think it is quite probable that the publication of those documents is just a continuation of the current crisis of trust. People around the world don’t trust the US, and now Americans themselves don’t trust it. Many Americans are not happy with their government, not to mention that they are not happy with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it is quite possible that there may be no ulterior motive involved. Yet we cannot rule out that this is all part of the Big Information War. This theory requires confirmation but so far it can’t be confirmed.
RT: Are you ruling out the possibility that the publication is part of political infighting between the Republicans and Obama?
AP: Anything is possible in world politics. It may just be a clean publication, which doesn’t involve any ulterior motives, or it may be part of a very intricate plan of some very secret services. But I know the United States pretty well, and I know Americans are very patriotic, and the Republicans consider themselves to be more patriotic than the Democrats. So knowing all that, I would be very surprised to learn that the Republicans were behind the WikiLeaks. The most important thing for the Republicans at the moment is to bring down Barack Obama. They are not against Hillary Clinton, or the State Department, or the American system of government. They are quite happy with the system of government; they just think that the man at the helm is wrong. However, the WikiLeaks scandal did nothing to Obama’s image. The cables don’t contain anything that might be used against Obama. Had those documents revealed anything that could discredit Barack Obama, then we could have wondered, as in the case with Monica Lewinsky, if this was the Republicans looking for a way to impeach the president. It is unlikely that the Republicans, who are so proud of their loyalty to the ideals and interests of the United States, are involved in a plot which is showing the US government in a most unflattering light. I don’t think the Republicans can benefit from that in any way.
And the verdict on German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle? His thoughts "were short on substance," wrote the current US ambassador in Berlin, Philip Murphy, in a cable. The reason, Murphy suggested, was that "Westerwelle's command of complex foreign and security policy issues still requires deepening." Such comments are hardly friendly. But in the eyes of the American diplomatic corps, every actor is quickly categorized as a friend or foe. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? A friend: Abdullah can't stand his neighbors in Iran and, expressing his disdain for the mullah regime, said, "there is no doubt something unstable about them." And his ally, Sheikh bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi? Also a friend. He believes "a near term conventional war with Iran is clearly preferable to the long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran."
A Political Meltdown
Such surprises from the annals of US diplomacy will dominate the headlines in the coming days when the New York Times, London's Guardian, Paris' Le Monde, Madrid's El Pais and SPIEGEL begin shedding light on the treasure trove of secret documents from the State Department. Included are 243,270 diplomatic cables filed by US embassies to the State Department and 8,017 directives that the State Department sent to its diplomatic outposts around the world. In the coming days, the participating media will show in a series of investigative stories how America seeks to steer the world. The development is no less than a political meltdown for American foreign policy. Never before in history has a superpower lost control of such vast amounts of such sensitive information -- data that can help paint a picture of the foundation upon which US foreign policy is built. Never before has the trust America's partners have in the country been as badly shaken. Now, their own personal views and policy recommendations have been made public -- as have America's true views of them.
AN INTERACTIVE ATLAS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CABLES
Weighing Public Interest against Confidentiality
Turkey hardly comes away any less scathed in the cables. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the cables allege, governs with the help of a cabal of incompetent advisors. Ankara Embassy officials depict a country on a path to an Islamist future -- a future that likely won't include European Union membership. As with the close to 92,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan at the end of July and the almost 400,000 documents on the Iraq war recently released, the State Department cables have also been leaked to the WikiLeaks whistleblower platform -- and they presumably came from the same source. As before, WikiLeaks has provided the material to media partners to review and analyze them.
With a team of more than 50 reporters and researchers, SPIEGEL has viewed, analyzed and vetted the mass of documents. In most cases, the magazine has sought to protect the identities of the Americans' informants, unless the person who served as the informant was senior enough to be politically relevant. In some cases, the US government expressed security concerns and SPIEGEL accepted a number of such objections. In other cases, however, SPIEGEL felt the public interest in reporting the news was greater than the threat to security. Throughout our research, SPIEGEL reporters and editors weighed the public interest against the justified interest of countries in security and confidentiality. It is now possible to view many political developments around the world through the lens of those who participated in those events. As such, our understanding of those events is deeply enriched. That alone is often enough to place transparency ahead of national regulations regarding confidentiality.
Following the leaks of military secrets from Afghanistan and Iraq, these leaks now put US diplomats on the hot seat. It is the third coup for WikiLeaks within six months, and it is one that is likely to leave Washington feeling more than a bit exposed. Around half of the cables that have been obtained aren't classified and slightly less, 40.5 percent, as classified as "confidential." Six percent of the reports, or 16,652 cables, are labelled as "secret;" and of those, 4,330 are so explosive that they are labelled "NOFORN," meaning access should not be made available to non-US nationals. Taken together, the cables provide enough raw text to fill 66 years worth of weekly SPIEGEL magazines.
Gossip and the Unvarnished Truth
Much in the material was noted and sent because those compiling the reports or their dialogue partners believed, with some certainty, that their transcripts would not be made public for the next 25 years. That may also explain why the ambassadors and emissaries from Washington were so willing to report gossip and hearsay back to State Department headquarters. One cable from the Moscow Embassy on Russian first lady Svetlana Medvedev, for example, states that she is "generating tensions between the camps and remains the subject of avid gossip." It then goes on to report that President Medvedev's wife had already drawn up a list of officials who should be made to "suffer" in their careers because they had been disloyal to Medvedev. Another reports that the wife of Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev has had so much plastic surgery that it is possible to confuse her for one of her daughters from a distance, but that she can barely still move her face.
What makes the documents particularly appealing, though, is that many politicians speak the unvarnished truth, confident as they are that their musings will never be made public. What, though, do the thousands of documents prove? Do they really show a US which has the world on a leash? Are Washington's embassies still self-contained power centers in their host countries?
Insult to Injury
Instead, the Americans are forced to endure the endless tirades of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who claims to have always known that the Iraq war was the "biggest mistake ever committed" and who advised the Americans to "forget about democracy in Iraq." Once the US forces depart, Mubarak said, the best way to ensure a peaceful transition is for there to be a military coup. They are statements that add insult to injury.
On the whole, the cables from the Middle East expose the superpower's weaknesses. Washington has always viewed it as vital to its survival to secure its share of energy reserves, but the world power is often quickly reduced to becoming a plaything of diverse interests. And it is drawn into the animosities between Arabs and Israelis, Shiites and Sunnis, between Islamists and secularists, between despots and kings. Often enough, the lesson of the documents that have now been obtained, is that the Arab leaders use their friends in Washington to expand their own positions of power.
Editor's note: DER SPIEGEL's full reporting on the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables will be published first in the German-language edition of the magazine, which will be available on Monday to subscribers and at newsstands in Germany and Europe. SPIEGEL ONLINE International will publish extended excerpts of SPIEGEL's reporting in English in a series that will launch on Monday.
Assange is an enemy of the U.S., but the U.S. keeps too many secrets
Regarding the latest WikiLeaks dump of U.S. secrets, our friends at the New York Sun (at nysun.com) have taken to asking, What would Lincoln do? Their implication is that the President who suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War would not be wringing his hands about Julian Assange the way the Obama Administration has for so many months. This week's cable cache does less immediate harm than the previous leaks did to the lives of Afghans and Iraqis who have cooperated with us on the battlefield, but it certainly will damage U.S. foreign policy.
In most cases, of course, the leaks merely pull back the curtain on disputes and the character of global leaders that are already widely known. That the Turkish government of the AK Party is an unreliable ally, or is chock full of Islamists, will not surprise anyone who's been paying attention. The private rage of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak against Iraqi democracy is also no shocker; a modern Pharaoh doesn't like the voter precedent. Yet in some cases the damage will be real because effective policy often requires secrecy about detail. Foreign officials will only speak candidly to U.S. emissaries if they believe their words won't be splashed all over the world's front pages.
In the cases of Yemen and Pakistan, this batch of leaks may do particular harm. The U.S. wants the cooperation of Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh to carry out attacks on al Qaeda bases in that country, but Mr. Saleh wants to preserve the fiction that the attacks are his government's. The cables expose this fiction and now may jeopardize that cooperation, even as the terrorist threat from Yemen has increased. The leaks also expose the U.S. attempts to safeguard the potential fuel for a nuclear weapon produced by Pakistan's research reactor. This revelation will play as an affront to national sovereignty inside Pakistan and thus make cooperation that much more difficult to secure. We don't see what purpose "transparency" serves in these cases, other than to make it harder to prevent some future terror or WMD attack.
One lesson is that it is much harder to keep secrets in the Internet age, so our government is going to have to learn to keep fewer secrets and confine them to fewer people. It is amazing to discover that so many thousands of cables might have been accessible by Private First Class Bradley Manning, who is suspected of being the main source for the Wikileaks documents. The bureaucratic excuse is that the government was trying to encourage more cross-agency cooperation post-9/11, but why does an Army private need access to the details of a conversation between Yemen's dictator and General David Petraeus?
We've long agreed with the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's critique that the Cold War gave bureaucrats license to keep too many secrets, which they can use as a way to enhance their own policy leverage. North Korea's transfer of advanced missile technology to Iran is one example of a reality that would have better served U.S. national security if it had been explained to the American public. Yet knowledge of the missile transfer, though widely suspected, might have complicated the diplomatic ambitions of the late George W. Bush and early Obama Administrations. Both had incentive to hide the facts to hide the true nature of these rogue regimes.
But that still leaves the Lincoln question of how to stop the likes of Mr. Assange? If he were exposing Chinese or Russian secrets, he would already have died at the hands of some unknown assailant. As a foreigner (Australian citizen) engaged in hostile acts against the U.S., Mr. Assange is certainly not protected from U.S. reprisal under the laws of war. Perhaps Lincoln would have considered him an "enemy combatant."
In his Saturday letter urging Mr. Assange to cease and desist, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh accused the WikiLeaker of breaking U.S. law without mentioning a particular statute. Perhaps Mr. Koh meant the 1917 Espionage Act, a vague statute which has rarely been used to punish leakers, and never against a publisher. As recently as 2009, the government dropped an Espionage Act prosecution against two lobbyists for AIPAC, the American-Israel lobby, after a rebuke by a federal appeals court. Mr. Assange is clearly trying to protect himself from such an indictment by inviting the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel to be his co-publishers. Newspapers used to understand that the right of the First Amendment implied some publishing self-restraint. But as publishers ourselves, we nonetheless worry that indicting a bad actor like Mr. Assange under an ambiguous statute would set a precedent that could later be used against journalists.
One alternative would be for Congress and the Administration to collaborate on writing a new statute aimed more precisely at provocateurs like Mr. Assange. At a minimum, the Administration should throw the book at those who do the leaking, including the option of the death penalty. That would probably give second thoughts to the casual spy or to leakers who fancy themselves as idealists. For all of his self-justification as an agent of "pure" transparency, Mr. Assange is not serving the interest of free societies. His mass, indiscriminate exposure of anything labeled secret that he can lay his hands on is a hostile act against a democracy that is fighting a war against forces bent on killing innocents. Surely, the U.S. government can do more to stop him than send a stiff letter.