Cathartic Crisis

By Dr. William Mallinson | 25 December 2010


At long last, a man, a real hombre, Julian Assange, has arrived to outdo the revered American Daniel Ellsberg. He is aided, it must be said, by the manic electronification since Ellsberg’s heyday in 1971, of so many of the trillions of words produced by government officials. The Wikileaks story does not need to be put into any particular context or mind-freezing politically correct ‘conceptual framework’ to understand. As a former diplomat, several things have struck me.

a) It is highly unfortunate that Wikileaks was not sufficiently developed in 2002 to expose the web of deceit and lies that led to the illegal attack on Iraq. The evil war might then have been prevented.

b) We should remember that state confidentiality is often a cover for illegality, and therefore needs to be exposed in the public interest. Although Harold Nicolson wrote that while negotiations should be private, policy should not, it is quite clear that nowadays, far too much policy is kept secret, usually for suspicious reasons.(no snide slurs about left-wingery, please: I am a true-blue British conservative, albeit a critical one).

c) Much of the subject matter in the leaked material merely shows the tendency of some Anglo-Saxon diplomacy to be supercilious in its sometimes cosily arrogant pseudo-ivory tower. I remember that when I was writing confidential and secret letters on various political topics in the country to which I was accredited, I took care not to write slanderous things. It seems that the lowering of educational standards in what we call ‘the West’ is reflected in the low quality of many of the current batch of diplomats’ reporting.

d) The massive spread of use of the internet in sensitive government work has not only taken away the space to actually think about what one writes, but weakened security almost beyond repair. The asinine obsession with deadlines (usually false) and the sheer massive amount of extra paperwork and information overload created by the abuse of computers by lazy government departments has created confusion. Without the manic abuse of the internet, and the concomitant electronification of relations between – and within – states, this alleged scandal could never have occurred.

e) Much of what has been exposed (and I write as a diplomatic historian who deals almost exclusively with original documents, rather than with silly and conflicting theories) is remarkably similar in nature to what I have been recently reading in thirty-year old documents. The only essential difference is the lower quality of the use of the English language, and a pleasing lack of paranoia in security matters. In a large number of cases, even as a former diplomat, I am surprised about what the fuss is all about. Most of the ‘scandalous’ information is obvious stuff.

f) There is an enormous level of hypocrisy in the whole orchestrated slur campaign against Assange, since governments, particularly the British and American ones, themselves regularly leak documents illegally to further their own sometimes dubious objectives. Most intelligence relies on the media to a large extent (it’s a lazy business!), and is also polluted by chicken-feeding, disinformation, and officially sanctioned illegal selective leaking.

g) Thank goodness that the paranoid state surveillance with which we have to put up these days (so well depicted by George Orwell in ‘1984’) is now rebounding on the state paranoids, and that normal people can now put these unaccountable control freaks themselves under surveillance. As Ellsberg said, they are the danger to security, by encouraging terrorism and feeding the springing up of primitive-minded and money-grubbing ‘security companies’.

I suppose that I now run the danger of being murdered by the paranoid brigade of manichean neo-con slave-‘thinkers’, promoting their childish political realism theories, and lying themselves to hell, those such as the semi-literate and emotional Palin, who has issued some pretty rum statements about how to deal with Assange, statements which would send many people into paranoid paroxysms. But the cool, calm and collected Assange would certainly see off her and her ilk in any debate on the meaning of democracy.

In my diplomatic days, we had none of these problems, since our secretaries did not use even electronic typewriters, let alone computers. So perhaps we’ll have a return to tradition, and scrap all the technological trash that has so befuddled and then lobotomised and de-sensitised the brains of so many.

As for accusations that Wikileaks has endangered agents’ lives, only a moron would put down the name of an agent on a document below the ‘Top Secret’ category. If any US diplomats have recorded the names of agents or informers on the leaked documents (which are of a fairly low security category), then they should be fired for having endangered them by recording their names on merely confidential documents in the first place.

The world, or rather the dirty and jingoistic side of the national and international ‘Establishment’, has simply been gobsmacked by the publication of the documents. I am reminded of that scene in Bunuel’s The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie when, during a meal, the curtains are suddenly drawn, and the diners realise that they are on a stage, being watched by an audience. They simply do not know what to do. Despite several warnings of what was to come, it seems that the sheer volume of the information released (is ‘leaked’ really the right word, in the same sense that ‘whistleblowing’ is a sensational media word for ‘integrity’?) has left politicians and various pundits scrabbling around in their own dirt. Thus, a once proud Swedish state has shown itself to be wanting in honesty, indulging in its own leaking, but of a grubby and selective kind. Assange, after pleasuring two women admirers who were obviously out to have his body, continued to see them and to be friendly with them, after the alleged events took place. Although he remained in Sweden for several leaks (oops, I mean ‘weeks!), he was not charged. The affair stinks to high heaven, as does the current Swedish establishment. Perhaps the late Stieg Larsson’s portrayal in his superb trilogy about Lisbeth Salander is not pure fiction, and betrays a disturbing aspect of Swedish society. As for the fact that we are now being treated to a rehash of the fact that Assange has a son from a previous relationship, and went to a large number of schools in his life, the result of a broken family, this is far more likely to draw support and sympathy than the intended opposite. The fact that he has come through it all shows guts. He is clearly a great Houyhnhnm, under attack from a swarm of Lilliputian Yahoos. He is an hombre, and the more he is attacked, the smaller his detractors become. Thank you, Julian, for showing us how to be real men!


Dr. WilliamMallinson, a former British diplomat, is Head of the International Relations Department of New York College,teaches at the Ionian University andisthe author of Cyprus, A Modern History, I. B. Tauris, London and New York 2005, and Papazissis (in Greek) Athens, 2005.
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