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Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Wikileaks and Lies

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, at New Media Days 09

Over the past six or eight months, I've put aside a number of interesting newspaper and magazine articles about WikiLeaks and I'm writing this post in order to pull together a number of quotes and examples from those pieces just in case I need them for teaching or research purposes.

Let's begin with some analysis from former British diplomat Carne Ross in The New Statesman, December 6, 2010. He claims that WikiLeaks has changed world politics forever:
what we have witnessed is something very dramatic in the world of diplomacy - and thus in the way that the world runs its business. We may now date the history of world politics as pre- or post-WikiLeaks....The presumption that governments can conduct their business with one another in secret, away from the prying eyes of the public, died when the leaks started to emerge on 28 November. Diplomats and officials around the world are now realising that anything they say may hit the public sphere - ie, the internet....From now on, it will be ever more difficult for governments to claim one thing and do ­another.
Indeed, as readers of John Mearsheimer's book Why Leaders Lie found out, governments have historically been far more likely to lie to their own people than to other states. It was easier to get away with it.

Micah Sifry asserted in The Nation, March 21, 2011, that domestic lies about foreign policy are pervasive:
Unfortunately there is a large gap between what American officials have told the public about their actions and what they have actually done.
Some of my old blogging about the Iraq war certainly suggested a fair measure of lying.

For a more recent example of an important lie told by the US, in December 2010 journalist Jeremy Scahill found one in WikiLeaks:
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke lied to the world when he said bluntly in July 2010: "People think that the US has troops in Pakistan, well, we don't."

A US special operations veteran who worked on Pakistan issues in 2009 reviewed the Wikileaks cables for The Nation. He said he was taken aback that the cable was not classified higher than "SECRET" given that it confirms the active involvement of US soldiers from the highly-secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command engaging in combat—not just training—in Pakistan. And offensive combat at that. JSOC operations are compartmentalized and highly classified.
Former Marine company commander Matthew Hoh told an interviewer in October 2010 that US personnel on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq have almost pathologically misled American visitors:
For the bigger picture, reporters are briefed at headquarters by people like me, civilian or military, who do dog and pony shows...PowerPoint presentations and windshield tours to areas of progress. We also show them to Congressional delegations, administration or military staff, academics, development firms and think tanks. There are multiple varieties of briefings and tours, which are updated and tailored depending on the visitor. But the briefings are almost always rosy: acknowledging some difficulties, but predicting success....If you [visitors] do speak with Afghans, they’re on our side or payroll, and tell stories we want to hear. It is extremely rare for a visitor to ever speak to Afghans with a different point of view.

If delegations go out, we take them to what you can call Potemkin villages. These are the places we want people to see, like a school or road we built. Meanwhile, what’s happening a kilometer away is totally different. The Soviets did this. We did this in Iraq and probably in Vietnam.

...The presentations are really for Washington consumption...Congress. You’re not going to tell the ones who fund the war that things aren’t going well.
The US, of course, isn't the only country that lies to its own people. This particular lie, also reported by Scahill last December, may have helped spark internal revolt in Yemen:
"We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," President Saleh told Petraeus during a meeting in early January 2010, according to one cable. Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi then boasted that he had just "lied" by telling Parliament "that the bombs...were American-made but deployed by" Yemen. According to US Special Operations sources, US teams also conduct targeted killing operations and raids inside Yemen.
Yemeni officials likely regret that decision

However, as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted in October 2010, WikeLeaks apparently hasn't hurt US security very much:
"...the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure."
Obviously, this story is to be continued.

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