29 November 2010

Wikileaks: Shock and Yawn

Constantly on the run, Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange rarely sleeps in the same bed twice, accusing foreign intelligence services of unwarranted surveillance, as well as attempts to frame him for rape.  Assange’s accomplice in the latest string of intelligence coups, Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, faces up to fifty-two years in Federal prison for allegedly facilitating the largest leak in history.
Yet, neither Assange nor Manning have much to show for their troubles.  Despite Assange’s belief that his Wikileaks organization can unravel corruption and conspiracies, and Manning’s belief that classified US government documents contained “horrible things” that “belonged in the public domain”, these leaks have certainly fallen far short.  If anything, the series of Wikileaks releases over the past few months have done little more than to prove that America’s wars have been fought with incredible transparency, and that the US has exercised remarkable restraint, particularly with regards to Iran.  Indeed, Wikileaks’ latest release, for the most part, is little more than salacious political gossip.  What Assange and Manning have done is akin to a schoolyard tattle-tale publishing the diary of a bitchy teenage girl.    

Is this the work of a super-empowered individual, or Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls?

The Iraq and Afghan War Logs

In  May of 2010, Manning made contact with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker notorious for gaining access to the New York Times, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  Sensing some sort of kindred spirit, Manning confided in Lamo, confessing to stealing a plethora of secret government files.   Manning told Lamo that the documents contained “awful things that belonged in the public domain”. 

Yet, while the field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan often contain raw accounts of brutal battles, there’s been scant talk of actual war crimes revealed in such documents.  Even Wikileaks’ “Collatteral Murder” video, surreptitiously edited to portray US forces in the most damning light, resulted in no adverse action against the United States, nor did it open up serious allegations of war crimes.  While brutal and tragic, the gun camera video shows the confusion and chaos of modern conflict, especially when enemies dress like civilians and mingle among the population.  Moreover, despite the Wikileaks’ cries of “Collateral Murder”, the video shows American forces rendering aid to children caught in the crossfire, evacuating them to a nearby hospital.

Access to nearly half a million field reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan revealed little wrongdoing on the part of the United States, either.  The lack of new information on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the amazing transparency with which the wars have been prosecuted.  If anything, the largest shocks to come out of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs involve the participation of Pakistan in Afghanistan and Iran in Iraq.  The only “bastards” Mr. Assange may “crush” with these revelations are the scores of Iraqi and Afghan informants who sided with the US and its allies against groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq.        

Diplomatic Drama

Wikileaks’ largest coup thus far are nearly 250,000 diplomatic “cables” transmitted through US State Department channels.  During online conversations with hacker Adrian Lamo, Manning supposedly felt a sense of disillusionment with the state of diplomatic affairs in the world as a result of these cables.  According to chat logs provided by Wired.com:
Manning:  i dont believe in good guys versus bad guys anymore… i only a plethora of states acting in self interest… with varying ethics and moral standards of course, but self-interest nonetheless.  i mean, we’re better in some respects… we’re much more subtle… use a lot more words and legal techniques to legitimize everything.
Oh, please.  This is old news to anyone who’s so much as read the Cliff Notes to Machiavelli’s seminal (perhaps satirical?) work, The Prince

Nevertheless, despite Manning’s claims of wrongdoing, there have been few shocking revelations in the documents.  Sure, they contain candid—almost embarrassing—observations on world leaders, but let us be realistic.  The phrase “being diplomatic” itself has become synonymous with uttering niceties in the face of unsavory characters; and “using words and legal techniques to legitimize everything” is far better than relying on the principle of “might makes right”.

So what have we learned thus far?  Little of substance.  One source claimed that, for the British and the Americans, moaning about the French was “practically a national sport”.  Shocking.  Another cable, one which, according to my web counter, seems to be generating the most traffic, provided details on Qadaffi’s “voluptuous blonde” nurse.  Well, you know what they say about the Internet, right?

The most shocking element thus far involves the…diplomatic…method with which the US has handled Iran.  In fact, America’s concern over Iran pales in comparison with that of most Arab nations.  Kuwaiti officials expressed concern over suspicions of Iran’s involvement in Yemen, and King Abdullah urged US officials to attack Iran.   Jordanian officials even used the metaphor of an octopus with tentacles to describe Iran’s insidious reach.  An American diplomat summed up Jordan’s attitudes towards American engagement with Iran as “talk if you must, but don’t sell us out”.   Some cables even accuse North Korea of supplying Iran with ballistic missiles capable of striking Europe. 

Maybe there actually was something behind that whole “Axis of Evil” speech.

Yet, this release will still play into the fantasies and confirmation biases of those who believe that the US is preparing a vast, global conspiracy.    But, of course, they’ll be overlooking the vast majority of documents in which the United States isn’t out to harm the rest of the world. 

And, oh, by the way:  those who believe in a massive, diabolically brilliant US government will need to reconcile their belief with the fact that the largest intelligence coup in history was perpetrated by a 22-year old private, using the screen name “BradAss87”, and lip-synched to Lady Gaga while downloading scores of classified documents.

As it stands, Wikileaks is in trouble.  Manning was right about one thing:  Governments do tend to do what’s in their own interest.  Chris Albon, the administrator of Conflict Health, remarked grimly that the only secrets states care about are their own.  As such, Manning and Assange have exposed damning secrets in Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China. 

Mr. Assange might soon find out which nations really are as unscrupulous as he likes to claim the US is.  


Deskibel said...

Did you read the Praveen Swami op-ed in the Daily Telegraph? http://t.co/9hKnaxM

Swami argues that Assange and co are paranoid conspiracy theorists, who believe they are fighting against an evil empire. As you have explained, they appear to be unable to find the evil in the empire...

Starbuck said...

Wikileaks' greatest appeal seems to be among tin-foil hatters and those who remain _convinced_ that the US and the eeevil corporations are up to no good.

As the world is quickly finding out, it's wonderful fun to read and publish secrets, so long as they aren't yours. Julian Assange's petulant hissy-fits whenever he's asked about rape charges in Sweden are comically sad.