New crimes, lies exposed -- WikiLeaks strikes again

Issue 

The steady stream of revelations of political, military and corporate bastardry from the stash of US diplomatic cables leaked to WikiLeaks became, in late August, a torrent.

It is about to become a deluge.

Between December and August, the number of secret US cables published by WikiLeaks was fewer than 20,000 of the more than 250,000 in the whistleblowing website's possession.

All of these had been carefully analysed in cooperation with human rights and media organisations. Where appropriate, names mentioned in cables were redacted (removed) to stop civilians and informers being put in harm’s way.

In the week leading up to August 29, a further 133,887 cables were released, similarly redacted.

However, amid mutual recrimination between WikiLeaks and its former partners in the mainstream media, it was revealed that all 251,287 cables were already available on the internet.

Previously unpublished cables, now accessible, had not been analysed for redaction.

WikiLeaks released a statement on September 1, titled “Guardian journalist negligently disclosed Cablegate passwords”, explaining the responsibility lay with British newspaper The Guardian's investigations editor David Leigh.

Leigh included WikiLeaks' passwords in his book WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, which was publish in February.

Leigh was given the password as part of an agreement between WikiLeaks and The Guardian for the British paper to publish the cables' contents.

On September 2, after polling its followers on Twitter, WikiLeaks announced that it would make the cables available on its searchable database.

As well as the large flood of cables now public, WikiLeaks has shifted to the use of “crowdsourcing” (encouraging members of the public to go through the cables to extract important information), rather than its previous practice of relying on mainstream media organisations.

This has also increased the size and scope of revelations reaching the public.

Politicians reacted with predictable outrage.

On August 31, Australian attorney general Robert McClelland responded to the revelation of the names of 11 Australians on a US “no-fly list” and 12 on a US “terrorism watch list” (none of who have been charged with any offence).

McClelland said: “The publication of any information that could compromise Australia’s national security ― or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats ― is incredibly irresponsible.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused McClelland of bemoaning “having his department being publicly caught ratting out 23 Australians to the US embassy without due process,” The Guardian reported on August 31.

He suggested McClelland confiscate his passport. “It has not, after all, proven terribly useful to me in the last 267 days of my detention without charge. Or perhaps he could do us all a favour, cancel his own passport and deport himself?”

Assange was referring to the failure of the Australian government to come to his assistance while he is under house arrest in Britain.

Swedish authorities are seeking to extradite Assange for questioning over sexual assault allegations, but have not yet laid charges.

On September 2, McClelland alleged: “I am advised that many of these documents contain identifying information. I am aware of at least one cable in which an ASIO officer is purported to have been identified.
“ASIO and other Government agencies officers are working through the material to see the extent of the impact on Australian interests.”

He noted that to publish, or cause to be published, the identity of an ASIO officer violated the ASIO act, the September 2 Canberra Times said.

In the US state of Virginia a grand jury was already deliberating over whether to prosecute Assange on espionage charges.

The mainstream media have joined the attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange. The attackers prominently included titles that were previously associated with the publication of WikiLeaks cables.

On September 2, the Guardian, the New York Times, El País, Der Spiegel and Le Monde said in a statement: “Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis that we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process.

“We will continue to defend our previous collaborative publishing endeavour. We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data ― indeed, we are united in condemning it.

“The decision to publish by Julian Assange was his, and his alone.”

This ignores the fact it was not Assange but a Guardian employee who was responsible for the unredacted cables becoming accessible.

Also, Daniel Domscheit-Berg ― who left WikiLeaks to set up a rival site ― is alleged to have highlighted the security breah to German media groups, thus ensuring it became widely known, independent journalist Nigel Perry said on August 31.

Domscheit-Berg recently said he had destroyed more than 3000 cables he stole from WikiLeaks, citing a lack of faith in its ability to protect informants.

WikiLeaks' statement pointed out: “Leigh states the book was rushed forward to be written in three weeks ― the rights were then sold to Hollywood.”

The statement described how WikiLeaks worked with 90 human rights and media organisations on the painstaking process of redacting names from the cables.

“The mammoth task of reading and lightly redacting what amounts to 3,000 volumes or 284 million words of global political history is shared by WikiLeaks and its partners,” it said.

“That careful work has been compromised as a result of the recklessness of the Guardian.”

Foreshadowing their decision to publish all the files, WikiLeaks said: “Knowledge of the Guardian disclosure has spread privately over several months but reached critical mass last week …

“For the past month WikiLeaks has been in the unenviable position of not being able to comment on what has happened, since to do so would be to draw attention to the decryption passwords in the Guardian book.

“Now that the connection has been made public by others we can explain what happened and what we intend to do.”

The media have predicted that whistleblowers will be reluctant to leak information to WikiLeaks following the failure to remove names from all the US embassy cables.

However, WikiLeaks’ attempts to redact the names notwithstanding, the people revealed were people providing information to the US diplomats who wrote the cables, not people providing information to WikiLeaks.

The US embassy cables came from a single whistleblower. “Leigh, without any basis, and in a flagrant violation of journalistic ethics, named Bradley Manning as the Cablegate source in his book,” WikiLeaks said.

Since his March 2010 arrest in Iraq, Manning, a US army private, has been held in US military jails facing 34 espionage charges concerning alleged leaks to WikiLeaks for which he could be jailed for decades.

Due to the slow pace of the mainstream media in researching the cables for news, and the deteriorating relationship between WikiLeaks and its media partners, WikiLeaks has begun crowdsourcing analysis of the cables.

An August 29 WikiLeaks statement explained: “Stories of the recently released material is being shared on twitter under the #wlfind hashtag.

“The site www.cablegatesearch.net is a powerful tool for those scouring the cables: it enables keyword searches for over 140,000 released cables.

“This page also has a ‘comments’ field where readers can share research and valuable contextual knowledge regarding the cables, as well as link cables across themes and countries.

“Crowdsourcing allows for the significance of the material to grow organically: along with readers’ geographical diversity comes a diversification of subject matters and a plurality of angles.”

By allowing members of the public all over the world to decide which cables are newsworthy, crowdsourcing helps overcome the mainstream media’s political and geographic biases.

The result has been that, despite most of the cables being routine and often simply reflections of the prejudices of US diplomats, the 133,887 cables released in August have already produced a flood of revelations.





Among the more explosive cables was the forwarding from the US embassy in Geneva of a letter from the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston.

The letter demanded information concerning the March 15, 2006, execution by US forces in Iraq of 10 members of a farming family, aged between 3 and 74.

From the US ignoring, and denying knowledge of, atrocities in Honduras after the US-backed June 28, 2009 coup, to United Nations “peacekeepers” trading food for sex (including with minors) in Cote d’Ivoire, the ugly secrets of the current world order are being revealed.

Some of the revelations are not surprising, such as the November 2007 cable from the US embassy to the UN, giving a detailed progress report of US efforts to get countries to vote against (or, failing this, to refrain from) a motion criticising Israel.

More revealing was an August 2007 cable from the US embassy to the UN that warned against attempts by Cuba and other, unnamed, countries, to move a motion in the UN General Assembly to classify violence against women by US forces in Iraq as human rights abuses.

The cable warned that “to advocate a human rights approach to issues of violence against women may be contrary to larger US foreign policy aims in the sphere of human rights law”.

It also said: “We see little to be gained in opening a topic under the human rights agenda item which could be fraught with killer amendments from the Cubans or others, putting us into a potentially embarrassing position of voting against or abstaining on a condemnation of rape.”

The cables also show political support for corporate wrongdoing.

A March 2009 cable from the embassy in Manila showed support for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s economic threats against the Philippines for trying to introduce legislation to make medicines affordable.

“The Philippine government must tread carefully and should not ignore Pfizer’s warning that it could withdraw many drugs from the Philippine market if price controls are put into effect,” the cable warned.

Many more such revelations about the crimes, lies and hypocrisies of the powerful are likely to emerge from these cables for a long time to come.

This, not any concern for the wellbeing of those named in unredacted cables, explains the hostility to WikiLeaks from governments and the corporate media.