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Monday, November 29, 2010 

The illusion of secrecy.

Poor Hillary Clinton. It's a hard enough life being married to Bill without having to phone round your supposed foreign allies informing them of how the entire world will shortly know exactly what the US really thinks about their good selves. Just as depressing for her should be the eventual realisation that she - and dozens of other rent-a-mouths - have developed a conditional reflex. Mention Wikileaks and they start foaming at the mouth, spitting flecks of saliva everywhere as they denounce the criminal actions of Julian Assange and friends, putting thousands of lives at risk and jeopardising peaceful relations between nations. According to Clinton, the latest Wikileaks publication, this time of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables covering a period of 44 years isn't just an attack on the US, it's an unprecedented assault on the international community. The only thing she hasn't done so far is urge NATO to invoke Article 5 of its charter and begin preparations for the invasion of Wikileaksistan.

There really is little other way to describe the response, principally from commentators in the US, than as Pavlovian. We're dealing with the sort of mindset where releasing material which exposes the Yemeni government lying to its citizens over bombing raids conducted by US forces is more of a crime than the deaths of innocent civilians that went along with it. From their point of view, the release of a cable signed off by Clinton which urged diplomats to spy and collect "humint" on their hosts, such as their frequent flyer and credit card numbers, and if possible even their "biometric information", is more unethical than the original order. Assange, according to someone who could conceivably be president in a couple of years, should be pursued with the same urgency as al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.

Not that we should even begin to imagine the response from the related quarters in this country would be any different should Wikileaks at some point get hold of our own dear establishment's communication with embassies across the globe. If anything, our obsession with secrecy has always been even more fanatical than that of the Americans: witness the current obscene farce which is the government trying to ensure that the 7/7 inquiry can't hear the full intelligence behind the decision to discontinue surveillance of two of the bombers. This information wouldn't be heard in open court, only in a closed session where the families of those killed would be able to attend. That's the level of contempt which our security establishment has for the public: not even the bereaved can be allowed to know what they do.

More than anything, that's the real reason why new levels of hyperbole are being reached over a very preventable breach of security. These documents not only show in unforgiving and unstinting detail how the Americans view the world, they also make clear, especially so in the case of the cable signed off by Clinton, just how little difference there sometimes is between diplomacy and spying. For years being a "member of the diplomatic service" has been the euphemism of choice for those who've hidden their real career behind a very thin layer of obfuscation. Diplomats almost always have immunity from prosecution as a result of their status, something which spies notably lack should they find themselves exposed, hence why the revelation that diplomats are being urged to do the job usually expected of spies is so unwelcome. Of course, we shouldn't pretend that all sides aren't involved in exactly the same kind of skulduggery, it's just that usually it's the lesser nations that find their undercover operatives being exposed.

The other thing to bear heavily in mind is that these leaked cables were so sensitive that only over 3 million Americans have daily access to them. An "accident" of these proportions was therefore waiting to happen. Whether Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old army private widely fingered as being responsible not only for this latest leak but also the previous Iraq and Afghanistan war logs tranches is the only source or not is impossible to tell, although unlike Craig Murray I wouldn't dismiss entirely the possibility that there may well be more than meets the eye. Certainly, that Assange is still free and only being pursued currently over what may be malicious rape allegations is intriguing; you can't imagine the previous administration being so relaxed over his organisation's continuing ability to release such treasure troves of ostensibly secret material. True, his turning over of the data to newspapers with an at least sympathetic world view has ensured that the information couldn't possibly be stopped from being released, yet there's still relatively little that's emerged so far from the three sets of logs to trouble the Obama White House.

Indeed, much of it bears their foreign policy objectives out, as you would expect it do. There's no surprise either that the Arab states ruled by Sunni authoritarians would very much like the upstart Shias of Iran to be put back in their place. Equally lacking in shock value is the possibility that both Egypt and Fatah were informed by Israel in advance of the attack on Gaza in December 2008. The cables that do contain revelations are the ones which log meetings with prime ministers or other higher up officials, such as this one, containing the minutes of a meeting between Binyam Netanyahu and some members from Congress. According to Netanyahu the main threats facing Israel were Iran's nuclear program, the build-up of rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, and the Goldstone Report. That would be the Goldstone report from the UN into the attack on Gaza which found that both sides had committed war crimes. As ridiculous statements from leaders of nations go, it has to rank up there.

Even the insults and the chronicling of the mundane or prurient tell us something about the nature of those doing it. These are the people we should remember who at various points in recent history failed comprehensively to foresee the events that were going right under their noses. They didn't see the invasion of South Korea coming, nor the fall of the Berlin Wall, or 9/11, even if the warning signs were there, but at least they know essential details regarding Alan Duncan's possible relationship with William Hague, Cristina Kirchner's mental health, as queried by Hillary, or whether Gaddafi's going around with a buxom Ukranian nurse (considering he surrounds himself with female bodyguards, it's not exactly a bombshell). And perhaps, despite everything, that's the other key factor behind the furore. The details of confidential meetings they can take being leaked; it's the fact that they look stupid and shallow on so much else that really pisses them off, and as an empire, that simply won't do.

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Still at last we now know that Prince Andrew is a thick, overprivileged, reactionary, arrogant, useless arsehole with very little to be arrogant about. Without Wikileaks, we'd still be in ignorance.

... but a true patriot - foreign corruption, disgraceful; British corruption, inviolate .

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