By Jijo Jacob
The U.S. Department of State is working overtime sending messages to ally capitals warning the impending release of classified documents by WikiLeaks could harm relations in what is seen as a pre-emptive move of unprecedented scale to neutralize the impact of the unveiling of embarrassing and compromising details about the inner workings of the government apparatus.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks during a news conference about the internet release of secret documents about the Iraq War, in London October 23, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)
After making shattering revelations about the U.S. policy -- and its practice -- in Iraq and Afghanistan, WikiLeaks seems to be targeting this time the core of the U.S. government machinery, especially the subterranean diplomatic channels it employs while cutting deals and enforcing compliance in world capitals.
This knowledge has set off a diplomatic counter-offensive of never-before-seen proportion. The U.S. embassies in allied capitals have been forewarned of the release of documents which could potentially destabilize friendly relations.
The State Department, in an advance fire-fighting mode, has said the consequences of the WikiLeaks bombshell to American interests could be severe as the whistleblower website could reveal instances of allies breaking ranks secretly to pursue policies harmful to each other and squarely contradicting publicly stated stances.
"Without getting into specifics, typical cables describe summaries of meetings, analysis of events in other countries and records of confidential conversations with officials of other governments and with members of civil society. ... They are classified for a very good reason. They contain sensitive information and reveal sources of information that impact our national interests and those of other countries," State Department spokesman P.J.Crowley said.
Researchers have often pointed out the stark contrast between nation states' declared policies -- and the means to achieve them -- and what actually transpires on the ground. The inner workings, the dark secrets and shady deals never see the light of day until they may be declassified years later, severely undermining democratic values of truth and transparency.
Now WikiLeaks is out to run a knife through a mountain of classified documents revealing how the proverbial 'secret government' works its way through cluttered diplomatic channels. And that certainly could be embarrassing to lots of people in many capitals, more so in Washington.
The Pentagon has already warned the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees that the leaks will “touch on an enormous range of very sensitive foreign policy issues.” “We anticipate that the release could negatively impact U.S. foreign relations,” Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King said in an e-mail to the defense committees.
WHAT COULD BE INSIDE LEAKED DOCUMENTS?
Media speculate that the soon-to-be-leaked cables could contain sensitive talks between government functionaries, diplomats, military top brass and politicians which may show top government players in unflattering light.
According to Sky News foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall, even heads of government will be the target in the leaked documents. "We think that three leaders might be in the firing line, because we know the Americans have criticized (Afghan president) Hamid Karzai, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia."
President Barack Obama's administration will particularly feel the heat as many of the documents to be published relate to the time since he took office. Experts say there could even be cables related to the government's maneuverings to get allies accept Guantanamo detainees as Obama was pressing ahead with the deadline to close the infamous detention camp.
Israel's Haartez daily quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official who said the WikiLeaks material includes diplomatic cables sent to Washington from American embassies throughout the world.
According to London-based daily al-Hayat, the documents could show that Turkey helped al-Qaeda's operations in Iraq while the U.S. colluded with Turkish rebel group PKK, which has been waging a decades-old fight against Ankara. This despite Turkey being a key NATO ally of the U.S. and Washington's classification of the PKK as a terrorist organization!
The alacrity of the U.S. State Department response and the hurried diplomatic maneuverings point that there could be meatier revelations in store.
World’s leading newspapers like Britain's Guardian, The New York Times, and Germany's Der Spiegel are ticked off as working with WikiLeaks to publish reports in tandem with the whistleblower’s release of secret documents, sometimes as early as on Friday. Several other major newspapers, including The Washington Post, have said they will not work with WikiLeaks.
One of the earliest leaks made by WikiLeaks, which was founded by Julian Assange in 2006, was in 2008 when it revealed that Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin used personal emails for official business while she was Governor of Alaska. "Doing so could have helped her avoid having her communications subjected to state laws on the disclosure of public records," according to reports.
It was followed by the release of a video footage showing 15 people, including two Reuters cameramen, being mowed down a US Army Apache helicopter in Iraq. Apparently the military personnel mistook camera equipment for weapons and targeted the journalists.
The Afghanistan war logs published in July this year disclosed that the U.S. was operating a secret assassination squad and that Pakistani intelligence service was helping the Taliban fighters, besides throwing light on alleged crimes committed by the coalition troops in Afghanistan.
In the last month, the organization, which has become the rallying point of humanitarian whistleblowers, published almost 400,000 classified US military documents which showed the troops tortured Iraqis and that the authorities ignored warnings of the military's wrongdoings. They also showed thousands of civilians died during the invasion and occupation.
NATIONAL SECURITY STATE AND 'DEEP POLITICS'
That the imperatives of running a 'national security state', which was envisioned in 1947, led successive governments and secret agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to carry out hundreds of covert operations across the globe is quite a banal piece of information. Documents declassified dozens of years after the events have shown daring, ruthless and diplomatically unjustifiable actions undertaken by the government and secret agencies in the past.
Therefore it's not puzzling that the State Department is harried over the impending revelations about more recent undercover maneuvers of the government and its agencies in various parts of the world. That could seriously undermine the success of future operations and destroy the trust of allies, though a vast majority of people, including Americans, welcome the WikiLeaks route of forcing transparency in international dealing of governments.
"The apparatus of the National Security State, largely established in the National Security Act of 1947, laid the foundations for the extension of American hegemony around the globe. In short, the Act laid the foundations for the apparatus of the American Empire. The National Security Act created the National Security Council (NSC) and position of National Security Adviser, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) as the Pentagon high command of military leaders, and of course, the CIA," writes Andrew Gavin Marshall in an article in the website of the Centre for Research on Globalization, a Montreal-based independent research and media organization.
He says that the National Security State has been involved in the overthrow of regimes in various parts of the world, including in Iran in 1953 and governments in Latin America, besides undertaking countless operations to dethrone and eliminate Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Marshal, however, points out that from early on, Presidents like Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy had warned against the secret government and its operations.
He says in 1961 President Eisenhower warned America and indeed the world about the growing influence of the National Security State in what he referred to as the “military-industrial complex.” "We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together," Eisenhower said in his farewell address on January 17, 1961. Those who support the WikiLeaks agenda would indeed vouch for Eisenhower's prophetic words 50 years after they were uttered.
Marshall points to the term 'deep politics' surrounding governments, popularized by former Canadian diplomat, author and academic Peter Dale Scott, in this context. He says Scott defined 'deep politics’ as “looking beneath public formulations of policy issues to the bureaucratic, economic, and ultimately covert and criminal activities which underlie them.” 'Deep politics’ is the functions and actions of the ‘secret government', according to Scott.
A laying bare of high-voltage communications and secret deals between governments, which are often executed beneath the diplomatic radar, is going to greatly hurt any administration.
But there are hardly any sympathizer for the establishment. Ian Townsend-Gault, director of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says he has "no sympathy for those who decry the leaking of documents because they show "our boys" in a bad light. If people in uniform have behaved less than well, and manifestly contrary to their own human instincts, then society must ponder the reasons why they are where they are, and the collective responsibility it bears for this."
Writing in International Zeitschrift, Townsend-Gault says people should rather take lessons from history. "While conflict-weariness is understandable, and indeed continues through the engagement in Afghanistan, there is a risk of some of the important lessons arising from the debacle being lost. More than this: these lessons are not new, not one of them. They have been learnt painfully before, and then apparently forgotten."
HOW DOES WIKILEAKS GET SECRET DOCUMENTS?
WikiLeaks' strategy is to get and post on the Internet secret documents flying out of the wraps of governments and businesses. In getting hold of damaging details about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the organization has been apparently assisted by a rogue U.S. Army private who downloaded secret cables in their thousands and handed them over to Assange's fledgling organization.
Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who was arrested last spring, had described the cables as documenting years of secret foreign policy and “almost-criminal political back dealings.” “Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public,” he had boasted in an online chat with a former hacker and associate.
Some experts have tried to explain how Manning was able to gain access to the secret cables in their thousands. It has been pointed out that the U.S. military had recently introduced an information-sharing initiative called Net-Centric Diplomacy which allowed insiders to gain access to classified information.
Under the new initiative, a subset of State Department documents are published through a Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, which is supposed to be Pentagon’s Secret-level global network. The information available on this network is accessible to authorized American military service personnel.
Manning, who is believed to have downloaded a cache of documents and passed them on to WikiLeaks, gloated before he was nabbed: “Everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed,” he wrote. “It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”
WikiLeaks too has been firing up popular imagination by suggesting that the impending leaks will have serious consequences on the world.
David Talbott, former Editor-in-Chief of Salon, wrote in his book 'Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years' that John F. Kennedy threatened to “shatter the CIA into a thousand pieces, and scatter it to the winds.” Kennedy could not do it; but ironically the CIA was his undoing, many Americans still believe.
Will WikiLeaks go some way in helping unravel the workings of the 'secret government'?