Hard News by Russell Brown

Read Post

Hard News: Wikileaks: The Cable Guys

799 Responses

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 32 Newer→ Last

  • Russell Brown,

    It’s becoming apparent to me that some of these cables are really great reading. The highly intelligent people who fill diplomatic posts have taken the opportunity to stretch out a little, prose-wise.

    I commend to you the Dagestan Wedding report.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I commend to you the Dagestan Wedding report.

    Yes, I saw the link to that from the twitter comments on the right. One of the best lines in that cable:

    "Gadzhi gave us a lift in the Rolls once in Moscow, but the
    legroom was somewhat constricted by the presence of a
    Kalashnikov carbine at our feet."

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner, in reply to HORansome,

    I suppose if this discussion became unwarrantedly prolonged, it would be a gateathon...

    Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Good column by John Kampfner on the assault on Wikileaks by most of Britain’s newspapers.

    But even he acknowledges that Assange is a queer fish:

    Mr Assange is an unconventional figure, a man who lives in the shadows and enjoys doing so. He is difficult to deal with and holds himself in high regard. When he contacted me through an intermediary two months ago, suggesting that Index on Censorship host him in a London event, I was happy to accept but made clear that I did not want to give him an open forum. I would engage him in debate with a detractor.

    He accepted; then he disappeared for five days, not answering phone calls or emails. When he finally surfaced, he stipulated no cameras or photographers, and that we should sneak him in through the back door. I argued that this would not look great for a free-expression organisation. In the end we compromised, and the television crews were allowed in halfway through what turned out to be a fascinating debate with the columnist David Aaronovitch. The sell-out crowd did not give Mr Assange an easy ride. But there was a virtually unanimous presumption towards free speech, something that is woefully lacking in so much of British public life.

    I’ve been dipping into the cables all day and I’m simultaneously compelled by some of the content and appalled at the idea of a world where there can be no advice given in confidence by a public servant.

    I think anyone who doesn’t have some mixed feelings about Wikileaks isn’t really thinking hard enough about it. I’m dubious about the drip-feed approach being taken – if all information should be free, why not simply release it all, subject to redaction? – especially when I see The Guardian frantically teasing me with the forthcoming story of the member of the royal family said to have acted “inappropriately”. (This is a story where we really need to know “who says this, and why?”)

    And if Assange believes in the rule of law, he needs to go to Sweden with his lawyer and sort this shit out. Refusing on the basis that it would be (in the words of his lawyer) “a media circus” simply does not not wash.

    It’s probable nothing that happened amounted to rape – but it’s not some black-ops deal either. The second complaint was Assange’s host and spokeswoman in Sweden, and an established left-wing Christian political activist. But it does suggest a willingness to exploit his position in a way that we would consider unprofessional in, say, a newspaper editor.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    especially when I see The Guardian frantically teasing me with the forthcoming story of the member of the royal family said to have acted “inappropriately”.

    Especially from a newspaper that, based on previous form, would take a very dim and aggressive attitude towards a competitor trying to dish the same treatment out to its own reporters.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11783 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    "Emboffs" is a lovely term, though. I must remember use it next time I'm arguing copyright treaties with MFAT

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1768 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    I'm pleased to see that the Guardian at least is attempting some kind of editorial filter on this. I do think there needs to be private and frank discussions and full disclosure of everything doesn't help anyone.

    I do wonder how much of the embassey content is actually planted as misinformation & wishful thinking.

    I posted about this below. I was wondering how New Zealand and Australia will look if / when discussions about the self appointed Fijian leader are made public.

    Privately everyone accepts he is volatile and maybe not rational but realistically they have nice beaches and we still want to go there on holidays etc. so we need to be more circumspect and diplomatic in public.

    to leak or not

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 215 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Jason Kemp,

    Privately everyone accepts he is volatile and maybe not rational but realistically they have nice beaches and we still want to go there on holidays etc. so we need to be more circumspect and diplomatic in public.

    I don't, actually. I went once in the late 90's, and stayed in a resort, all very nice. But on the way, the taxi drove through a couple of the towns, and a few villages. Once you could see past the grinding poverty and the steel bars on every shop window (in that economic climate, you don't spend money on steel bars unless you really need them), it was the casual racism towards anyone who wasn't Fijian that got to me. I won't be back, and I won't be buying anything that I know is Fijian, even if they do get rid of the "interim Prime Minister" and his uniformed gang.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1768 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    Thanks Mark,

    Fiji is on our doorstep and i dont now that full disclosure of all of the discussion around the politics would help.

    I was being a bit facetious about the beaches but there are many reasons why it is better to sort out a workable scenario - govt to govt.

    Sometimes a useful dialogue needs to be off the record.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 215 posts Report Reply

  • Sam Vilain,

    And if Assange believes in the rule of law, he needs to go to Sweden with his lawyer and sort this shit out. Refusing on the basis that it would be (in the words of his lawyer) “a media circus” simply does not not wash.

    Russell, the article you post to states his claim that he stayed in Stockholm for a month and offered the prosecution extensive opportunities for such a discussion, and later via the relevant embassies, and that the charges were without substance and have been withdrawn by the chief prosecutor. Assuming his lawyer's claims are true then I think "smear tactic" is spot on.

    I'm actually very thankful that the recipient newspapers are reporting on the real story, such as the developing Iran crisis covered well by the New York Times. That US diplomats were asked to get fingerprints/DNA and credit card numbers of foreign officials. These articles written by the journalists who know the history of the region and who have had full access to these cables for 2 months are where the real insight is to be found.

    That they are also leaking information showing diplomats reporting petty information through top secret channels ... such things should be off the record, and here they are putting it on the record. If this leak seems to be petty gossip, well that can only be the diplomats' faults.

    The Guardian is calling it a global diplomatic crisis, and I think they're right. But there is an upside to it - it gives the world a much more current view of the games which are currently being played. The power struggles between nations that us ordinary civilians are not expected to be a part of, because they are far too important. A whole lot of cards have been laid straight on the table, and surely informed decisions by leaders in light of this information are going to be better than uninformed decisions.

    San Francisco (was Wellin… • Since Jun 2007 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell, the article you post to states his claim that he stayed in Stockholm for a month and offered the prosecution extensive opportunities for such a discussion, and later via the relevant embassies, and that the charges were without substance and have been withdrawn by the chief prosecutor. Assuming his lawyer’s claims are true then I think “smear tactic” is spot on.

    On whose part? The two complainants? The women’s lawyer, Claes Borgström, is certainly no right-winger: he’s he’s the Social Democratic party spokesman on gender equity issues.

    The international arrest warrant was only issued because the prosecutor who re-opened the case had been unable to speak with him for weeks since doing so. And Sweden isn’t just any other place to him: he’d applied for residency and a work permit (which were denied late last month after his failure to present himself to the prosecutor). You’d think he might have taken it a little more seriously, but he’s refusing to set foot in the country where he wanted to live until last month.

    That they are also leaking information showing diplomats reporting petty information through top secret channels … such things should be off the record, and here they are putting it on the record. If this leak seems to be petty gossip, well that can only be the diplomats’ faults.

    I like the historian Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian. He says this:

    It is very disturbing to find telegrams signed off by Hillary Clinton which seem to suggest that regular American diplomats are being asked to do stuff you would normally expect of low-level spooks – such as grubbing around for top UN officials’ credit card and biometric details. Clarification is now urgently needed from Foggy Bottom (the seat of the state department) of who exactly was expected to do what under these human intelligence directives.

    More broadly, what you see in this diplomatic traffic is how security and counter-terrorism concerns have pervaded every aspect of American foreign policy. But you also see how serious the threats are, and how little the west is in control of them.

    But also this:

    Small wonder the state department is crying blue murder. Yet, from what I have seen, the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of. Yes, there are echoes of skulduggery at the margins, especially in relation to the conduct of “the war on terror” in the Bush years. Specific questions must be asked and answered. For the most part, however, what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

    In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. In recent years, I have found the American foreign service to be somewhat underwhelming, reach-me-down, dandruffy, especially when compared with other, more confident arms of US government, such as the Pentagon and the treasury. But what we find here is often first rate.

    This is exactly what struck me reading these things today: yes, some things here are disturbing. But even in this choreographed release of documents – selected by Wikileaks so you don’t have to bother – much of it actually seems quite impressive.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Matt Nippert, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Russell,

    I found the same thing. That Dagestan wedding report, and the hilarious Qadhafi dissection featuring Ukranian blonds and flamenco dancing show real insight crunched into a short space.

    There's a parallel here with the Reserve Banks' info dump regarding South Canterbury Finance. I've followed the falling of that company for the last couple of months, but the best piece of writing on how Hubbard managed the firm came from a banker following an May 2009 visit.

    It's genius stuff, and if anyone's wanting the inside juice on a finance story that's still doing my head in, you'll could do worse than tip your had to Bollard's man Andy Wood.

    Who'd have thought bankers and diplomats produced such good copy? A pity their readership usually probably numbers, literally, only a handful.

    Looking ahead, academics are going to feast on this for years- usually you're only able to do diplomatic post-mortems decades after the fact when secrecy legislation reaches its horizon.

    Cheers,
    Matt

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    suggest that regular American diplomats are being asked to do stuff you would normally expect of low-level spooks

    Perhaps still some of the distrustful turf war between branches of the executive that marked the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Bush years?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • Johnny Wharton,

    Would we be prepared to conduct our own affairs without privilege or privacy? Would Wikileaks founder Julian Assange do the same? Would the journalists writing the stories for major news organisations be able to work if they could never speak in confidence? And, not least, why is Wikileaks still declining to publish the secrets it has obtained from within governments who do not happen to be the United States of America?

    The thing is, as with most activist groups, Wikileaks is a shoestring operation. My understanding is they are doing their best to parse what is leaked to them before putting them out there...to try to establish authenticity of the documents and protect innocents. Clearly, they have received piles of documents from everywhere. They have to keep suspending the receiving function of the site. So, in these cases you have to prioritise. From a self preservation point of view, you release those that are most newsworthy first. I dont see any major anti-American sentiments in this.

    Regarding conducting our affairs in privacy...I think that the Wikileaks concept is about exposing government and corporate secrecy and not about personal privacy. Julian Assange's corporate activities have been published, most notably in the New York Times. He is clearly a little unhappy about that, but not unhappy enough to block the NYT's exclusive access to the current dump of documents.

    cheers
    Johnny

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    And one for the "the irony, it burns" file from The Guarniad:

    [Tatiana Gfoeller, Washington's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan] added: "He [Prince Andrew]reacted with almost neuralgic patriotism whenever any comparison between the US and UK came up. For example, one British businessman noted that despite the 'overwhelming might of the American economy compared to ours' the amount of American and British investment in Kyrgyzstan was similar. Snapped the duke: 'No surprise there. The Americans don't understand geography. Never have. In the UK, we have the best geography teachers in the world!'"

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11783 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Elsewhere, The Herald's rug don't match the drapes - again.

    Headline:
    WikiLeaks reveals US snooping on NZ

    Lead that doesn't actually relate to said headline:

    Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is likely to be among top United Nations officials targeted by the United States in an intelligence-gathering exercise which blurs the line between diplomacy and espionage.

    Whistleblowing website WikiLeaks yesterday released a quarter of a million top secret US diplomatic cables to a handful of newspapers. The cables reveal Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations.

    Over-egg and half bake, liberally garnish with bullshit and you have a hot steaming #heraldfail pie!

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11783 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Still, whatever your reservations about Wikileaks you've got to love the incisive policy and legal analysis of Sarah Palin (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

    Inexplicable: I recently won in court to stop my book "America by Heart" from being leaked,but US Govt can't stop Wikileaks' treasonous act?

    It's "inexplicable" to you, Sarah, because you're a psychotic moron. (Then again, we are talking about a woman who thinks it's OK to be a lying enabler of her daughter's Facebook fag-baiting.)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11783 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    The cry of "treason" has been rather revealing. Even otherwise nominally lefty Americans seem to be very deeply confused about how much the rest of the world owes the United States.

    The most interesting bombshell that could come out of this, I suspect, would be if it were confirmed that some of the more sensational claims of the mid-80s were confirmed; if there were evidence that the US & UK obstructed NZ efforts to catch the French terrorists who bombed the Rainbow Warrior, for example.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Over-egg and half bake, liberally garnish with bullshit and you have a hot steaming #heraldfail pie!

    Its because they don't have anything else. There were Herald staff grovelling publicly on Twitter yesterday for any information about NZ in the leaks. I'd have thought they'd do what journalists do, and ask Wikileaks directly...

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1625 posts Report Reply

  • Andre Alessi, in reply to Johnny Wharton,

    He is clearly a little unhappy about that, but not unhappy enough to block the NYT’s exclusive access to the current dump of documents.

    Only the NYT didn't get the documents from Wikileaks, they got them from the Guardian.

    Devonport, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 846 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Heh, Ahmadinejad thinks Wikileaks is a US conspiracy. Had my morning chuckle, now to work.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Oh noes! Put the wrong link in the Dagestan Wedding cable comment.

    It's here and it's great.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Also, can we please stop calling any scandal “something-gate” now.

    Wikileaks on twitter specifically requested that hashtag. Which seemed extra sad considering the actual controversey hadn’t really got going at the time.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1094 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    George Packer in the New Yorker is worth reading:

    On the whole, the trove makes American diplomacy look pretty good. Obama’s Iran strategy of engagement-leading-to-isolation is shown to have succeeded. Bush—contrary to the impression left on every page of his new memoir—had enough self-awareness about the disaster in Iraq to put the brakes on military action against Iran. And American diplomats are capable of writing blunt, vivid, even amusing assessments of world leaders. Berlusconi is feckless, Sarkozy thin-skinned, Mugabe a megalomaniac: the accounts seem spot-on. The faceless corps of tight-lipped American embassy officials turn out to be an alert and discerning bunch.

    Future diplomatic correspondence is going to be a lot more circumspect. The WikiLeaks dump contains (so far) a number of minor embarrassments, a few surprises, a lot of confirmations of what we already pretty much knew, and no scandals. It will make the work of American diplomacy harder for a long time to come. Classification abuse will increase—more cables will be labelled “Top Secret” that should have been labelled “Secret” or “Confidential.” Exchanges between American officials and their foreign counterparts will grow less candid and more opaque. The same with cable traffic between U.S. embassies and Washington. There is an undeniable public interest in knowing, for example, that U.S. intelligence believes the Iranians are buying advanced missiles from North Korea, and that Gulf Arab rulers have been privately urging American military action against Iran. The question is, does that interest outweigh the right of U.S. officials to carry out their work with a degree of confidentiality?

    Really, the people banging on as if every cable reveals some new American wickedness don't actually seem to be reading them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    An intelligence analyst of my aquaintance told me, wistfully, that the leaked US cables are a thousand times more engaging than anything that comes through the MFAT wire.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 895 posts Report Reply

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 4 5 32 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

Please sign in using your Public Address credentials…

Login

You may also create an account or retrieve your password.