The release of U.S. diplomatic correspondence by WikiLeaks casts a bright light on behind the scenes dialog going on between diplomats and the U.S. State Department. There will be many revelations over the next few months. The Guardian does a nice job of encapsulating some of the key ones they zeroed in on.
For me, in this initial round, one that jumps out is the U.S. directive to its UN representatives to spy on UN leadership, by collecting biometric (e.g. DNA samples, fingerprints, signatures, and iris recognition data) and personal (e.g. credit card info) information.
While it really comes as no surprise, the U.S. has clearly been outed. This obviously goes on all the time by everyone. What’s changed is that it can no longer be credibly denied. What’s surprising is the very personal nature of the information they want collected. The UN is looking into whether the U.S. activities breach international law.
The other item that jumps out is that Iran is in the cross-hairs of the Arab world over its nuclear acquisition program. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia states succinctly that he and other Arab states WANT THE U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” — to militarily remove the threat of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Their frustration and desperation have reportedly led Saudi Arabia and Jordan to secretly grant Israeli bombers access to Iran through their airspace if needed. A stunning alliance to counter a common enemy.
WikiLeaks also confirms what has been suspected and talked about for some time — that members of the Saudi Royal family have been funding Al-Qaeda for years. This revelation follows recent reports that Pakistani secret police are funding and training the Taliban in Afghanistan. And that Hamed Karzai is literally taking bags of money from Iran to run his office.
While it comes as no surprise, there is a stunning amount of duplicity in this entire middle eastern adventure.
Der Spiegel offers an FAQ on how to place the diplomatic papers in context (quoting from Der Spiegel):
“… — around half of the embassy cables aren’t secret, with 40.5 percent classified as “confidential.” And only 6 percent, or 15,652 cables, are classified as “secret.” Of those, 4,330 are so sensitive that they carry the additional label “NOFORN,” meaning that they should not be made accessible to non-US nationals.
– close to 2.5 million people have access to the SIPRNet data, including staff at many government departments and agencies. Experience has shown, however, that the largest share of users are at the Department of Defense. The classified data is available on special computers that are set up at centers where US forces operate. The log-in procedures and passwords are changed approximately once every 150 days. But even documents that are classified at the highest level of “top secret” are still accessible to around 850,000 Americans. The leak of the diplomatic cables is an accident that was bound to happen sooner or later.”
So the information is hardly contained as it is. How “secret” is that? With the digitization of such content, making off with this volume of information would never have been possible with paper. Can you imagine James Bond using his miniature camera to photograph 250,000 pages of paper? “… hold on Q, I have 245,000 pages to go …”
While governments are quivering about the embarrassment this latest round of WikiLeaks is causing, it blows the lid off of the political machinations that drive foreign policy in the U.S. and other states. Fascinating? Very. Frustrating? Definitely.
Watching the Watchers.