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The Irrelevance of WikiLeaks

November 29, 2010

The latest tranche of WikiLeaks documents which rake up classified US Departmet of State documents and that of the Pentagon are out. These are 250,000 in number. The numbers are huge. There are more to come if we were to believe the head of WikiLeaks Julian Assange. To make sure these documents reach the public WikiLeaks has made them available to New York Times, Der Spiegel, the Guardian etc. I have not gone through the documents and I believe neither has anyone else in totality in this short period of time. Clearly this is a breach of security from the US point of view and for the world at large. The snippets that are coming out of these highly classified documents are details and facts about events and situations. I do not think these leaks serve any purpose except that they reinforce what is already known. For example, how does it matter to the world at large if Muammar Gaddafi has a fear of flying! Millions of us have a fear of flying.

Logo used by Wikileaks

Logo used by Wikileaks

Observation of American diplomats about situations and problems has little relevance to the world at large. To leak a document that talks about American fears about highly enriched uranium being used by Pakistan for making nuclear devices is not something that the world did not know. What is the WikiLeaks trying to prove by releasing such documents? That Gaddafi relies on a Ukrainian nurse for daily needs and is perhaps having a relationship with her is again something that intelligence agencies keep a tab on as a matter of routine but this definitely is not for public consumption. Below are some of the snippets appearing in some of the newspapers and journals! I have outlined them just to make the readers understand that this is not something that should be condoned and encouraged. A glance at what has been reported will make it clear as to what I mean:

The January 2009 cable, posted on the Web site of Der Spiegel, laments that many Pakistanis consider bin Laden “an Islamic hero because the U.S. has named him ‘public enemy number one.’ ” A plan to distribute “wanted” posters and matchbooks depicting bin Laden – presumably advertising the U.S. offer of a reward for his capture – might only increase his stature “as a kind of folk hero,” the cable says.

The perception of the United States also apparently has hampered a secret effort to move highly enriched uranium out of a Pakistani research reactor. U.S. officials have pushed Pakistan since 2007 to accept help in moving the material, fearing it could be diverted for illicit purposes, according to a New York Times description of cable traffic discussing the issue. – Washington Post

On Iranian question: The diplomatic memos disclose the extent to which many of the United State’s allies in the Arab world repeatedly implored Washington to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In one such plea, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reportedly urged U.S. officials in 2008 to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.

In another, in May 2009, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, argued that the world had six to 18 months “in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” According to a secret cable that the U.S. ambassador to Israel, James B. Cunningham, sent to Washington, Barak said: “Any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

In November 2009, Bahrain’s King Hamad argued forcefully for taking action to terminate Iran’s nuclear program, by whatever means necessary, according to one diplomatic cable.

“The program must be stopped,” Hamad said in a meeting with Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of the U.S. Central Command. “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”Washington Post

Moammar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya, has an intense dislike of staying above the first floor of hotels and cannot climb more than 35 steps. His fear of flying creates logistical headaches for his staff, who make great attempts to avoid long flights over water.

And Gaddafi is reportedly obsessively dependent on traveling with a Ukrainian nurse described as a “voluptuous blonde” because she alone “knows his routine.”

The details on Gaddafi were included in a State Department cable in September 2009 during the leader’s visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

In the cable, Gene A. Cretz, U.S. ambassador to Tripoli, concluded: “While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, Qadhafi is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for forty years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods.”

U.S. diplomats quoted sources describing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “flabby old chap” and someone who had suffered “physical and psychological trauma” as a result of his stroke.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in the view of U.S. diplomats in Paris, has a “thin-skinned and authoritarian personal style” because of his tendency to rebuke his team and the French prime minister.

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow wrote in late 2008 about the relationship between Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.”

– Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader,” according to a U.S. official in Rome. Another cable remarked on Berlusconi’s “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard.”

– Afghan President Hamid Karzai is described in one cable from Kabul as “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him.”

These are observations of American diplomats. A lot of things are said within organizations. A lot of observations made. That is the way governments function. Many a times there will be communications admonishing the other or with vehemence in them. This is like peeping into someone’s bedroom and reporting what went on between the sheets including what the couple talked.  Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks are being hailed as heroes. I do not for a moment dispute the fact that these documents are being released amidst a lot of pressure on the WikiLeaks, and for taking that pressure and still going ahead with the leaks is indeed commendable. But I would suggest the futility of such details being released. These Leaks I assume also mention the close relationship between Sonia Gandhi and Quatrrochi of the famous Bofors scandal. Quattrocchi has himself said that he is a friend of the Gandhi family and is proud of that. The Gandhi’s have not contradicted the man. Clearly Quattrochi and Gandhi’s are close, but whether this was a romantic relationship between Sonia Gandhi and Ottavio Quattrochi is something that the world does not need to know.

Do we not know that Berlusconi loves to party? What if the Americans made such observations among themselves! Is it not true that Karzai is extremely vary of the Taliban and feels insecure! The man is scared shit and that is clear to all. This is not some vital information.

These are unnecessary details. This is the American viewpoint on certain facts. Most of them are well known as it were. This is unnecessary. This is raking muck in the name of journalism. I have not gone through WikiLeaks and do not intend to. They serve no purpose except giving details that are best left out.

Lastly, I am surprised that a bunch of individuals are able to access such sensitive file and keep doing it at regular intervals. How can a government allow such a breach to happen? Is there no security in place? To top it all the US government seems to have an idea as to what is going to be published. For the US administration to sound out friends and allies about the leaks is fine but why allow such a slip to happen in the first place. The president and the administration need to answer these fundamental questions. Or are we to assume that it is the US government that is allowing such selective leaks for their own unspecified strategic aims?

And once the leaks are published to get the WikiLeaks site to be hacked is another blooper. To harass Julian Assange is not in good taste either. To charge him with rape in an allied country, namely Sweden smacks of total disregard for norms. Can we not just ignore the WikiLeaks for once and leave Julian Assange alone?

Addendum: Indian media has latched on to the fact that Hillary Clinton termed India as a ‘self appointed’ front runner to expanded UNSC seat. Well, we have been pretty shrill about our claims. What the media is not reporting is that she also included Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa in the same breath.

There is ‘outrage’ in Pakistan about US trying to monitor enriched uranium. But then the US has stated officially that they were keeping a ‘close watch’ on Pakistan nuclear program for long. This is the American stated position. There is nothing new in this.

Indian media is also pointing out that UAE and Turkey had backed American plans to sell F-16’s to Pakistan. While it is true that this was not in public domain, does this surprise anyone? Our relations with both Turkey and UAE are not very close. I am sure the Indian diplomatic community must be knowing about the position of these countries on this issue.

In the west, there is embarrassment on the fact that American diplomats were told to keep a tab on the movements of officials to the UN from the Security Council seats aspirant nations and that their credit card numbers and their frequent flier numbers were recorded. Espionage is being done by most prominent nations. These details were perhaps with the CIA anyway. The Secretary of State does not need to point these out. I find this rather unprofessional, if this was indeed done.

The one big setback if one may call it that, is that these files show pattern of working of American diplomats. It tells the way Americans think and approach problems, and that is vital information. Rest, as they say, is routine.

A small detail here: Julian Assange has been booked for alleged rape in Sweden, right? Remarkably, most of WikiLeak servers are also in Sweden!

I am also struck by the complete lack of humor that most governments have. There have not been any major ‘revelations’ in the leaked cables. Governments are reacting to names that American diplomats used in their internal communiques! This is not just lack of sense of humor but taking things personally that should just be set aside. If these trivia lead to bitterness between nations then that will be a sad commentary on the personality of world leaders.

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