[Marxism] Wikileaks: Empire Unmasked

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 15 08:13:38 MST 2010

Counterpunch December 15, 2010
The Wikileaks Deluge
Empire Unmasked


     "Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied 
minority, which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to 
subject it to its interests. Imperialism, with its dark plans of 
conquest and its robber alliances and deals, developed the system 
of secret diplomacy to the highest level."

     – Leon Trotsky, Foreign Affairs Commissariat, USSR, 1917.

On November 28, four newspapers and WikiLeaks' website released 
the first tranche of almost 250,000 United States State Department 
and embassy cables. Orchestrated with a great deal of care, the 
website provided only the 291 cables that were being written about 
separately by El País, Der Spiegel, The Guardian and The New York 
Times. Each day a set of cables saw the light of day and the 
papers reported on them in tandem.

A few days after the trickle, The Guardian provided a downloadable 
index of all the cables, with information of their provenance and 
their dates, but with nothing about their content. It whets the 
appetite. What we have to look forward to are cables from 274 
embassies and the State Department at Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC.

These cables cover the years 1966 to 2010, although the bulk of 
them belong to the period after 2006. The cables carry such varied 
material as Ambassadors' assessments of the political situation in 
the countries they are deputed to, the State Department's 
questions to Ambassadors, and Ambassadors' or political officers' 
reports on meetings they attended. Some Ambassadors and political 
officers are remarkably perceptive; others are, predictably, duds.

Thus far, just over a thousand cables are in the public domain. 
WikiLeaks' public face, Julian Assange, is under arrest in the 
United Kingdom, and capitals across the world are either in 
nervous anticipation or in shocked disbelief. There is no question 
that this deluge by WikiLeaks is the most significant blow to the 
world of secret diplomacy since the Soviet Union opened the 
Tsarist correspondence with the grandees of Europe in 1917.

In early 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey wrote to 
Hillary Clinton to prepare her for her visit with Egyptian Foreign 
Minister Aboul Gheit. The cable is a model of diplomatic acumen, 
providing a character sketch of Gheit ("smart, urbane with a 
tendency to lecture") and offering a series of options that Gheit 
might push Clinton on (such as an invitation to the Gaza Donors' 
Conference in Cairo). Scobey, a career foreign services officer, 
knows her business. No wonder that the Indian Ministry of External 
Affairs asks its trainee diplomats to study the cables "and get a 
hang of the brevity with which thoughts and facts have been 

Early in the cable, however, Scobey reveals the problem with her 
profession. She correctly points out to Hillary Clinton that Gheit 
"may not raise human rights (specifically Ayman Nour), political 
reform, or democratisation; but you should". Ayman Nour is the 
leader of the El Ghad liberal party who had been in Cairo's 
prisons since 2005 (he was released shortly after Clinton's 
meeting with Gheit).

The problem here is that while Scobey tried to push the agenda of 
human rights in one room, in other, more shadowy rooms, the 
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military intelligence 
officials of the U.S. carried a more powerful brief. Since 1995, 
the U.S. government has provided the Egyptian secret service (the 
Mukhabarat) with various prisoners through the extraordinary 
rendition programme. These prisoners, often suspected of being Al 
Qaeda members, are alleged to have been tortured in those very 
jails that Ambassador Scobey criticised.

Idealism vs new diplomacy

What the cables demonstrate, therefore, is the blind idealism of 
the State Department, which has been sidelined by the new 
diplomacy in the shadows conducted by the U.S. government's arms 
of war.

In cable after cable, we read of the visits of U.S. military 
officials and their conversations with heads of state in various 
countries. The Ambassadors act as fixers or go-betweens for these 
military luminaries. For instance, Ambassador Stephen Seche, 
another career diplomat, filed a cable from Sana'a, Yemen, in 
January 2010 on General David Petraeus' meeting with Yemen's 
President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Seche sat by as stenographer as Petraeus and Saleh colluded 
against Yemeni sovereignty and the U.S. public – the U.S. has an 
active military presence in Yemen, and is at war there, something 
that is not known in the U.S. and has not been admitted to the 
Yemeni Parliament.

"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh told 
Petraeus. His Deputy, Rashad al-Alimi, said he had just lied to 
Parliament, telling it that the bombs are American, but fired by 

Petraeus pointed out that Saleh must tell the Yemeni customs to 
stop "holding up embassy cargo at the airport, including shipments 
destined for the [Yemeni government] itself, such as equipment of 
[Yemen's counter terrorism unit]". In other words, the diplomatic 
pouch no longer carries only letters; it now carries military 

In 2007, Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin John Koenig wrote to 
the State Department after a briefing at the German Chancellery. 
The Bush administration was afraid that the German government 
would pursue a case against the 13 CIA agents who were responsible 
for the extraordinary rendition of a German national, Khalid 
el-Masri. The CIA kidnapped, tortured and then released El-Masri 
when they discovered that they had the wrong man. The Germans 
found out the names of the agents and traced their orders to 
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

As legal scholar Lisa Hajjar put it to me, "the cables indicate 
that the U.S. exerted political pressure on the German legal and 
political system to shut down the criminal case, a serious and 
unlawful intervention in the domestic law enforcement process of a 
sovereign state." Once more the embassy is doing the legwork of 
the CIA and the NSA, both of whom have begun to run foreign policy 
but use the State Department to clean up behind them.

Even here, diplomacy is reduced to naked power. The Deputy Chief 
of Mission "pointed out that our intention was not to threaten 
Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh 
carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations 
with the U.S." This is, of course, a threat. Much the same dance 
took place in Madrid.

Spying on U.N. staff

No surprise then that the State Department, in July 2009, asks its 
embassy staff to collect credit card information, frequent-flyer 
numbers and biometric data of members of the United Nations 
Security Council and of the U.N. Secretary-General. What is 
revealing is that we do not know who has asked the State 
Department to collect this information and what will be done with it.

It is unlikely that the State Department has use for such 
information; more likely that this goes off into the entrails of 
the Defence Intelligence Agency, the CIA and the NSA. These 
shadowy entities are the only ones with the wherewithal to use 
this kind of data. They have smothered the capacity of the more 
urbane State Department to conduct its kind of handshake diplomacy.

The embassy now appears as the emissary of the military and the 
CIA. This is precisely what Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke meant 
when he called for the diplomatic arm to be a "support for the 

Cloak and Download

The WikiLeaks cable dump brought embarrassment to capitals across 
the world. In Beijing there were shudders when the U.S. cables 
quote officials calling the North Koreans "spoilt children" and 
when the cables pointed fingers at Chinese officials for the 
cyber-attack on Google.

A tremor crossed Buckingham Palace when the well-written cable 
from Ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller showed up Prince Andrew's nasty 
side. Ex-government officials in London blushed when the cables 
suggested that they had released the Libyan prisoner Abdel Basset 
Ali al-Megrahi because of pressure from Tripoli, where Gaddafi 
must be unhappy that the world knows that he cannot climb more 
than 35 steps at a time.

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi must enjoy the notations about his 
notorious party-life, as much as Germany's Angela Merkel must 
despise the characterisation that she "avoids risk and is seldom 


The cables from the Gulf had the royals, in a position of utter 
subservience, telling the Ambassadors what they think the U.S. 
wants to hear: during the Bush administration begging them to 
attack Iran, and then during the Obama administration calling for 
tougher sanctions.

The Gulf royals are a mirror of Washington's whims. American and 
Israeli newspapers saw the selective calls for a military attack 
on Iran as confirmation of the views of their own governments.

If Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan called 
for Iran's nuclear programme to be stopped "by all means 
available", on another day his government was "clearly nervous 
about any U.S. actions that could upset their much larger and 
militarily superior neighbour". By 2009, the Crown Prince worried 
that a military strike "would have little impact on Iran's 
capabilities", even as he fulminated, "Ahmedinejad is Hitler" (the 
last quote was highlighted in The New York Times).

Evidence of U.S. operations in Yemen was not as devastating as 
evidence of its Special Force operations in South Waziristan. 
Ambassador Anne Patterson's agony is evident. In February 2009, 
she wrote to Washington that the relationship with Pakistan is 
"transactional in nature," as well as "based on mutual mistrust". 
"Pakistan hedges its bets on cooperation because it fears the U.S. 
will again desert Islamabad after we get Osama bin Laden," she 
wrote perceptively. "Washington sees this hesitancy as duplicity 
that requires we take unilateral action to protect U.S. interests. 
After 9/11, then President [Pervez] Musharraf made a strategic 
shift to abandon the Taliban and support the U.S. in the war on 
terror, but neither side believes the other has lived up to 
expectations flowing from that decision. The relationship is one 
of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the U.S. 
cannot afford to walk away; the U.S. knows Pakistan cannot survive 
without our support." It is hardly the kind of thing that the 
State Department would like to have in the public domain, even as 
it demonstrates that Washington does not operate without the 
benefit of reality.

Everybody denounced the leaks and rejected the claims made by U.S. 
Ambassadors. Washington, DC, reacted in an obvious way. It went 
after the messenger. A charge that Julian Assange did not use a 
condom when he had consensual sexual relations in Sweden (which 
has some of the best rape laws in the world) was resurrected 
miraculously by the prosecution office in Gothenburg; the Swedish 
Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, had declined to prosecute the case in 
August of this year.

The American right wing went off the deep end, with several 
prominent people calling for the assassination of Assange. Even 
Democrats lost their commitment to free speech – Senator Diane 
Feinstein called for Assange to be jailed for 2.5 million years (a 
10-year sentence for each offence, and with 250,000 documents the 
sentence is biblical). Senator Joe Lieberman put pressure on 
Amazon to remove WikiLeaks from their web server. It complied, and 
so did MasterCard, Visa, Tableau, PayPal and EveryDNS. The Hindu's 
editorial on December 5 called this a procedure of "Digital 

Why is there this massive outrage at these cables when there was 
virtual silence at the release of the Iraq and Afghan war logs? 
These cables show the elite at their venal worst, conniving with 
each other, making light of each other's failings. Imagine what 
must be in the Russian diplomatic dispatches or those of the Saudi 
intelligence services. The war logs, on the other hand, showed the 
misadventures of teenaged working-class soldiers, suborned to a 
war that they did not understand. Their violence was dismissed as 
the work of a few "bad apples", men and women who had not been 
sufficiently civilised. In these cables, on the other hand, the 
civilised talk about their "dark plans of conquest". It is an 

Before his arrest Assange took on the liberal concept of free 
speech. In a chat on The Guardian website, he noted, "The West has 
fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of 
contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings, and so on. In such 
an environment, it is easy for speech to be ' free' because a 
change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic 
instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any 
effect on power, is like birds and badgers."

Assange's dry, elliptical wit emerged once more in his last 
published dispatch ( The Australian, "Don't Shoot the Messenger 
for Revealing Uncomfortable Truths," December 8). Here he compared 
his endeavour to the campaign of Rupert Murdoch's father Keith. 
Keith Murdoch fought to bring to light the sacrifices of 
Australian troops at Gallipoli because of muddled British 
commanders. "In the race between secrecy and truth," the elder 
Murdoch wrote, "it seems inevitable that truth will always win." 
Assange then went on to say, "Democratic societies need a strong 
media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep 
government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about 
the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate 

The point about "corporate corruption" is withering. WikiLeaks has 
already announced that it is set to release documents from a major 
U.S. bank. In haste, Bank of America pre-emptively said it may be 
the bank. It wants to take the sting out of the surprise.

When the talk of assassination heated up, Assange and his team 
released an insurance file to their allies. This heavily encrypted 
file contains damaging material on British Petroleum, Guantanamo 
Bay and other matters. It sits on computers, awaiting the 
256-digit key. The WikiLeaks team has appropriately called this 
the Doomsday File.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South 
Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity 
College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A 
People's History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book 
Prize for 2009. The Swedish and French editions are just out. He 
can be reached at: vijay.prashad at trincoll.edu

A version of this piece originally ran in Frontline.

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