Wikileaks Official I: Nothing to Report?

By Prof. Inderjeet Parmar | 05 February 2011

It’s the ‘line’ heard everywhere whenever the issue of Wikileaks’ publication of secret US embassy cables comes up – from academic conferences to the mass and broadsheet media, and from confidential briefings (official and, therefore, “good” leaks) from the US Department of State and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “We got away with it” appears to be the line from Anglo-American diplomats and others, echoed in the media – and in an impressive 16 page supplement in today’s Guardian newspaper (5 February, 2011).

In the next few posts, USBlog, which has followed the Wikileaks ‘story’ closely for some weeks, aims to analyse the matter with a view to determining in as balanced a manner as possible, the effects of the Wikileaks cables (both in terms of content but also in terms of their significance as a political issue in its own right) mean for America’s global standing.

That they’ve “got away with it” is the chosen expression is instructive in itself: that the third level of secrecy at which the leaked cables were designated revealed little that damages America’s global standing. It’s pretty cynical. And it suggests that at the top two levels of secrecy there would be much more damaging material. Hence, the orders issued by the White House to all executive departments in December 2010 to review information security procedures and limit even level 3 information to far fewer than the previous 2.5 million government officials.

That just ca 2500 cables have yet to be published, and that ca 249,000 remain unpublished, is left increasingly unacknowledged. Maybe there’s more to come? How representative is what we’ve seen up to now, even of the 250,000 in the original cache of leaked cables? And how representative are the quarter million leaked cables of the total number of cables? There is an eagerness to close the book on Wikileaks. Indeed, the Guardian’s supplement is headed “After Wikileaks”. Perhaps the Guardian’s new book on the matter is the final word on the subject. They certainly think so.

The cynicism is quite staggering. David Miliband, former foreign secretary (2007-2010), an ex-emperor looking for a role, notes in the Guardian that most diplomats would be glad they got away with it. Yet, did Britain ‘get away with it’? He does not address the question of the deal with the Americans first to remove and then to prevent, in the most undignified and cynical manner, the people of the Chagos Islands from returning to their homes after an enforced decades-long expulsion to make way for American military bases. What a wheeze it must have been to designate the islanders home as a marine park and make the whole sordid matter look like an environmental issue. Nor the issue that his government manipulated parliament to permit the Americans to retain cluster bombs, against British and international law, on British soil.

It seems that you “get away” with things by just ignoring them, with media connivance and lack of investigative follow up. (Which is why Wikileaks and others like them will remain significant actors).

Take the matter of William Hague’s promise to the Americans of a “pro-American regime” should the Conservatives be returned to power in the may 2010 elections. Surely worth a few questions from the Guardian one would think, even in the House? Going by Prime Minister Cameron’s declaration this week that Britain would shun anyone who lacks or rejects “British values”, Hague should be called to explain why American values are so attractive that Britain’s foreign policy is closely aligned to them. A British regime should really be “pro-British” one would have thought.

Then there’s the issue of State Department orders to diplomats to spy on UN officials – including the secretary-general and his staffs – and diplomats, violating international law, specifically the US-UN HQ agreement of 1946 and the Vienna convention of 1961. The CIA’s wish list, you may recall, included iris scans, DNA, credit card numbers and statements, encryption codes, finger prints. For sub-saharan Africa, US diplomats were asked to collect military base information, aircraft markings, vehicle licence plates of cars used by Hamas officials, and the like.

All illegal. And met with astonishing silence from Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, except for relentless war – cyber, financial, words, and legal – on the wikileaks organisation , its founder, and Bradley Manning, in military custody and held under conditions now revealed to be so harsh that the UN and Amnesty International have taken up the case.

Miliband praises those US diplomats who noted the corruption in Tunisia and Egypt: we need more like them, he says. The problem is, David, that those diplomats did not suggest that the US should change it’s policies towards those regimes. The Obama administration, following in the footsteps of administrations from Ronald Reagan through the Bushes, had already promised Mubarak $2 billion dollars military aid for 2011.

And one diplomat who did upset the applecart – former Pakistan ambassador Anne Patterson – is now, well, an ex-ambassador. Has US policy to Pakistan’s terror-backing regime changed at all? No. Has US policy to Saudi Arabia changed as a result of revelations that they’re backing Taliban forces against US troops in Afghanistan? No.

More to follow…


Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government. He studied Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Sociology at the University of London. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Manchester. He joined the Department of Government as a lecturer in 1996. From 1991, he was lecturer in American Studies. 


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