US foreign policy gets enhanced patdown: oddities from the leaks

tsa-gloves1.jpg • An elderly American, Hossein Ghanbarzadeh Vahedi, rode a horse over a mountain range to escape Iran after officials confiscated his passport. • The King of Saudi Arabia advised Obama to "implant computer chips in Guantanamo" detainees, "like horses." Did you know that Stefano DiMera was king of Saudi Arabia? • The EU plotted to boycott Ahmadinejad at his own presidential inauguration. Iranian agents entered warzones via the Red Crecsent. The medical organization denies it. • Reuters sums up early reactions from pundits. Most agree that the leaks are unprecedented and will frustrate diplomatic links with certain countries and people. A British think tankee believes that nothing seismic will happen to Earthly geopolitcs because the really secret stuff hasn't and probably won't get leaked. Millions of people already had access to these cables. • Editorials from newspapers about their 'decision' to publish the leaks have begun appearing! Here's Le Monde's. Of the outlets involved, the New York Times again seems quite resentful at being unable to ignore the scoops Wikileaks feeds it. Compare to The Guardian's exultations. • This is actually "a moment of American strength" in the making. Take it away, Bill Kristol.
Coverage of the leaked cables:

"9/11 of diplomacy" IDs Putin as Batman and Medvedev as Robin
Colonel Gadaffi uses Botox to maintain own youth, beauty
"Global diplomatic crisis" sparked. U.N. spied on; Saudis want Iran bombed
Korea unification plan; Illicit Pakistan nukes; U.S. warns Germany "under attack"
Wikileaks under legal assault
US will press criminal charges against Manning



  1. Some of this was secret stuff. But some of the rest of it .. why have news organizations not report on it? Surely there would have been enough leaks or other information to start stories before this.

    The NY Times position seems to explain it. Have newspapers really become that afraid of reporting on stories with really political presence?

    1. The problem is that there is to much money at stake.

      All big news sources are talking heads of big economic hydras that also have heads in the places of big decisions. It is all PR, the journalists call to report the news is long gone (if it ever existed).

  2. Rode a horse over “an mountain rage?”
    I couldn’t parse that sentence, so I had to click through. It didn’t turn out to be as interesting as I’d hoped.

    I know several Persians who escaped religious or political persecution in Iran by hiking or riding horses over the mountains in perilous circumstances. Some lost family in the process, too. When your life is in danger, you flee any way you can.

  3. I think B. Kristol’s suggested approach actually has some merit. Adopting a policy of “don’t feed the trolls” would probably be pretty wise.

  4. Kristol’s proposal of a universal “no comment” policy doesn’t seem that bad. I don’t know if it’ll have the results he describes, but it seems like the most dignified response.

  5. Well if we want to bomb Iran, now is the time to do it. It is clear now that a whole bunch of middle eastern countries have been pushing us to do just that (and take the flack for it) for years.

    1. Bombing Iran right now is not a good idea. Ahmadinejad is a little nuts and a bit paranoid since we’ve invaded two countries bordering Iran on both sides. He’d probably start lobbing bombs at neighbors, inciting retaliatory ground operations from the Arabs and Israelis. We’d naturally need to commit troops since we started the whole thing, which is not feasible since we’ve got woefully few troops and little support at home for the two wars we are currently running. And no one would support a draft right now.

      Plus there’s crazy ol’ North Korea. If we opened up another resource-draining front in the Middle East Kim Jong-Il & co. would start something serious with the South. Then China gets involved, everyone takes sides and we’ve got a happy little world war on our hands.

      So, yeah, let’s throw bombs at Iran because the Saudis may secretly want it to happen.

    2. I would like to go on record that I, for one, do not want to bomb Iran (or for that matter, anyone else), now or any time in the near future. I mean, if you are asking……

  6. Seems the Americans are more interested in protecting their self given right to act sketchy and deceptive than anything else.

  7. That last article by the Standard is completely ridiculous. I refuse to accept Americans can actually be that retardedly patriotic.

  8. So when do we get to read UK and German cables? Oh wait…never because the the U.S. is the only government that ever does anything wrong according to Mr. Assange.

      1. If there were a bunch of German cables published today instead of American ones, it probably would be met with a resounding “meh,” or perhaps a “yeah, we figured as much.”

        While it’s by no means the only player in “doing sleazy shit while pretending it’s not,” the U.S. government has a LOT of dirty laundry at the moment that nobody’s been airing out. I imagine the only reason the Times is covering it at all is to not let Spiegel get all the attention.

    1. So when do we get to read UK and German cables? Oh wait…never because the the U.S. is the only government that ever does anything wrong according to Mr. Assange.


      1. Julian Assange’s political agenda is blatantly obvious. Transparency in government applies to to all governments, not just the first one you can get your hands on.

        1. Julian Assange’s political agenda is blatantly obvious. Transparency in government applies to to all governments, not just the first one you can get your hands on.

          So Rob’s right, and Wikileaks is giving the US an enhanced patdown, huh? Good for them.

          That doesn’t explain why Wikileaks published things like a decision to assassinate Somali government officials by Somali Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, allegations of illegal activities at the Swiss bank Julius Baer’s Cayman Island branch, several thousand pages of documents from the Church of Scientology, the content of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account, and so on and so forth. But you’re welcome to your opinion.

    2. I don’t believe that Mr. Assange would be unwilling to post documents from any governmental source, but I think it is telling that Mr. Assange is getting so many documents from America and so few from other countries.

      I find the most interesting part about this story that there are more Americans willing to report the secret and classified documents of America than other countries’ citizens are willing to report their own documents.

      Is it the lack of documentation supporting the crimes?
      Is it the lack of guts that the citizens of other countries have?
      Is it a lack of patriotism the citizens of other countries have for their causes that Americans lack?
      Are the Americans passing these documents to Mr. Assange ultimately better patriots than their foreign counterparts?
      Are the moles would-be spies?
      Does Mr. Assange pay the moles?

      There are a lot of questions I have about this situation and I hope that we hear more about this in the future.

      I will be a stronger advocate of Wikileaks and Mr. Assange when I see the volume of incriminating documents connected with any other government or any corporation make its way on Wikileaks (I know there are a few, obviously). To be honest, I think that Mr. Assange should have stepped down as the public face of Wikileaks when the rape allegations began to develop in the media.

    3. You get to read UK and German telegraphs when the UK and German civil services implement the same lack of information control that the US government has demonstrated in this instance.

      I’ve had access to secure civil service networks in the UK, and every computer on those networks is locked down tighter than you could imagine, and for very good reason. Manning brought in his own CDRW with music on it, wiped it and then rewrote the CD with classified information. This represents at least three fundamental failures on the part of the IT administrators working within the US government: allowing external media to be used in a government PC (there is absolutely no need for this), allowing classified information to be saved en masse without needing permission (any classified document that a user wants to save onto external media should first be justified, and then saved onto government screened media by someone accountable, on a file by file basis) and failing to restrict access to information to those to whom it is relevant (if you need access to something that has ramifications to your policy area, fine; anything else should be cleared only after justification, and again, on a file by file basis).

      If anyone’s is at fault here, it’s not Assange or Manning, it’s the IT/security administrators who facilitated such a gargantuan leak through their own negligence. If you leave the keys in your ferrari, don’t get pissy when someone is tempted to steal it…

  9. I knew that Kristol lived in a parallel universe of his own, created according to his desires by sheer will; but that article really takes the cake.

    Has anyone, in the entire history of PR flackdom, given official affirmations or denials the slightest credence? Also, extra credit for describing the “political class” floating in Mandarin serenity above the hubbub of the vulgar, whose opinions will definitely be swayed more by what their betters refuse to confirm or deny than what the documents say.

    No wonder he was a PNAC enthusiast until the end…

  10. Hmm. The first cable I read involved information leaked to the US from an Iranian who although not named in the cable, was sufficiently well described that I believe he would be very easily identified by the Iranian authorities.

    I hope this doesn’t royally fuck him over.

  11. Still kinda failing to see how any of this was secret. Sure, these leaks give a few fine details, but most of this stuff is just obvious. *shrug*

  12. “The really secret stuff hasn’t and probably won’t get leaked.”

    Nothing on UFOs and the Illuminati then? Ho hum.

  13. From here to the eyes and the ears of the ‘Verse, that’s their motto, or it might be if Wikileaks start having a motto.

  14. most of it not surprising. even the surprising stuff, when you think about it makes sense. The best solution for Korea is either a two state solution with north korea moving to a stable /peaceful dictatorship or democracy or a re-unification plan. Why wouldn’t U.S. and China work on this? The involved countries are so dependent on each other now it just makes sense. (U.S. not so dependent on north Korea, but I think you know what I mean). Putin probably enjoys being called an alpha dog.

    It only really confirms what most people already suspect.

  15. Wikileaks got this huge windfall specifically because the United States had an electronic information availability network (like, you know, severs and routers and stuff?) that made some of their intelligence digital and available to any government schmuck with a classification — and did not practice a need-to-know compartmentalisation with it, probably did not control or audit who accessed it within the classified community, and if they did so, did not follow up on the audits.

    Combine that fact with the fact that the United States — supposedly a land of freedom and integrity — started a war with an organisation that has no state and used it to justify toppling a state (hated by all those around it) and heyho look at all those oil fields, kidnapped people off streets and imprisoned them without trial and without hope of ever seeing freedom, wiretapped 3/4ths of the world’s communications networks with the collusion of 2/5ths of the world’s communications networks, abused “National Security” gag orders in order to circumvent the due process of law, murdered innocent civilians, wiretapped every single off-the-shelf copy of Microsoft Windows and probably can do the same for OSX and iOS and the hardware many Android devices run on (sweeping ITAR export restrictions on cryptography dropped the same time NT4 is released (and OS/2 breathes its last breath)) — and add one or two idealist kids who are considered legally capable of understanding the implications of their actions such that they can pledge to die for their Constitution yet are set to the furtherance of the military-industrial complex’s betterment, and who might happen to have had access to an education beyond the propaganda pushed by Fox News, who can reason and think and who come to the conclusion that history will judge them, and if they pledged to die for their Constitution then they bloody well will die for their Constitution, and you get this.

    The law, in the United States, applies to everyone. Those who manipulate the process for their own benefit will find it less and less easy to do so as time goes on.

  16. For the most part, these leaks seem to just show a lot of “how the sausage is made.” The revelations include the well-known nuts and bolts of foreign policy (yes, Virginia, we all spy on each other), to well-circulated saws about Medvedev being Putin’s sidekick, to King Abdullah saying the sort of things your crazy uncle Owen might say over Thanksgiving dinner. In other words, they range from “duh” to “best left forgotten.” Since nothing else particularly substantive is likely to come from this, I have to wonder if it’s worth putting the informants at risk.

    While a few papers are printing the cables, they’re more or less incidental to the real story: that the cables were leaked at all. “Wikileaks reveals government documents” is the story here, but it’s a story that can be summed up on TV in 30 second. Papers are only commenting on the cables themselves to satisfy a voyeuristic urge in the readers. “Government secrets REVEALED” is an intriguing headline to people who don’t normally pick up a paper, and a hell of a lot more eye-catching than “Yep, the world really does work like you thought it did.”

  17. After getting over my initial reaction to the details written about from these archives, I realized that this is really just a bunch of gossip. Some of it is terribly interesting gossip, but I don’t really see anything here that paints a picture that the US is doing anything particularly evil… or at least, any worse than we already knew about.

    If anything, these documents appear to paint the picture of a bungling Bush in Iran succeeded by a far more effective Obama and an incredibly sharp group of diplomats stationed around the world trying to keep the whole chaotic world together.

  18. I have a feeling that the reason why German diplomatic communications have not been released is because no one has bothered to leak it. No one has leaked it because no one cares enough about the contents to risk prison. The fact of the matter is that the US is a big rich super power. That means that do “stuff”. Germany does some stuff, but most of that stuff is small potatoes and done on the budget of a largish American state. I am sure you can find some German (or French, or Norwegian, or whatever) skeletons, but they just don’t have the same sort of scale that Americans do. If Europe united fully into a single EU nation, I bet their secrets would start to look a lot more juicy.

    Now, all of that said, there is another nation out there with as much juicy spy goodness as the US. China. If China leaked it would be very big news. You KNOW those guys are up to some serious hardcore sketchy shit the likes of which would make even the Americans pause and go “Wow man… that is sketchy shit you are into”. China, however, is a lot less likely to leak. Being able to circumvent due process at the drop of the hat make security a whole hell of a lot easier. If the Americans catch you leaking you will get a trial and then be sent to rot for the majority of your life. If the Chinese catch you leaking you are just going to vanish, you WILL tell them everything you know, and they are going to snag everyone you ever touched and give them the same treatment. They don’t need to screw around pretending that there is some nuanced difference between torture and “enhanced” interrogations. They just hook your balls up to a car battery and suggest you start talking.

    1. Another possibility is that Wikileaks’ sources are people they’ve developed a relationship with. If they don’t have strong relationships with people in a position to get this scale of info from other countries, they aren’t going to get it.

      That said, America seems to have a lot more people with access. I’ve seen figures of five million with access to this system, mostly from the military, which is insane. Once you get that high a number with even a chance of getting this info out, leaks are a matter of when, not if.

  19. If anything, these documents appear to paint the picture of … an incredibly sharp group of diplomats stationed around the world trying to keep the whole chaotic world together.

    Yes! There’s nothing like reading State work product to help build a profound respect for the men and women who work hard to promote US interests in what are often incredibly complex and chaotic international situations.

    As I mentioned in a previous thread, this was mostly going to be anodyne discussions on local politics and reports of dinner conversation. The cables I’ve read so far range from the obvious (USG believes GOI should provide economic, social and political opportunities to Palestinians, also thinks GOI is paralyzed c. 2007), to the mildly interesting (details of US-GCCC support networks in re: Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan; UAE lobbies for Pred Bs), to quite interesting (USG lobbying FRG to not issue arrest warrants for OGAs involved in kidnapping and rendition; USG asks striped-pants diplos to do the kind of HUMINT work normally done by CIA officers under black-passport cover).

    Contra my earlier prediction, very little of it that I’ve seen is undiplomatic, and much of it was released to allies already. Compared to the sorts of things I regularly come across from the 1950s and ’60s, these are pretty bland gruel, mostly of interest in that they provide primary-source footnotes to stuff we already knew but had trouble sourcing. (For example, the NK-to-Iran missile transfer was already known, but these docs provide governmental affirmation.)

    Not earth-shattering stuff, and nothing I couldn’t have waited a few decades to learn. Sure, it makes my job easier, but it sure makes Foggy Bottom’s job harder.

  20. The charges being leveled at Mr. Assange seem an awfully convenient way to discredit someone who has been a serious thorn in the side of governments the world over. But then, I grew up in a world where people were innocent until proven guilty. Even if it were to turn out that he is guilty, it doesn’t make the stuff in the leaks any less real.

    Like many “new things” on the Internet, WikiLeaks is filling a need that used to be filled in another way. We used to see Investigative reporters sometimes risk jail or even their lives to ensure important stories were told and democracy triumphed. But today newsrooms have downsized into entertainment.

    Today the hard news stories seem to come from ordinary people, like those risking harassment and possible incarceration and fines to get the TSA scanner story out, passing it along to sites like YouTube and boingboing to spread it. Only then does the mainstream “news media” climb aboard.

    If you’re going to have democracy, there must be government accountability. Traditionally we used to be able to trust the news media to make sure we knew when out own governments were gaming us. Now, not so much.

    I can’t read the NYT editorial linked to in the article because I am not a subscriber, and am unwilling to give up personal information to do so.

    A lot will come out of these cables, but I’m inclined to think the initial story is the state of the News Media.

  21. The only real game-changing issue, to me, looks like the confirmation that Al Qaeda is funded almost entirely by Saudis (i.e. a US ally, in theory).

    Somehow, it’s being downplayed like hell by the NYT and all other papers, who seem more interested in stupid suggestions to bomb Iran and generic gossip about heads of state.

    It’s incredible how the media can consistently ignore real stories these days.

  22. “But he is running out of options and in the swirling gases of the new Zimbabwean constellation that is starting to form, the economic, political and international pressures are concentrating on Mugabe himself.”

    i cant be the only one to read cable 07HARARE638, right? i mean cmon, its titled ‘The End is Nigh’

  23. Guardian comments on its main wikileaks article – 153
    The Telegraph – 53
    Independent – 314
    Daily Mail – 487

    The Times – 12

    Not a good day for a newspaper to be behind a paywall.

  24. Thank you Bill Kristol, for recommending that the US follow its established decades-old policy of neither confirming nor denying documents classified as secret. Never would have occurred to us to take the default action without your incisive analysis.

  25. I wonder how difficult it would be for the US gov to funnel disinformation to wikileaks. How does this guy know what he is leaking is even accurate? I am not doubting the recent leaks accuracy but in the future governments may just leak false info just to render wikileaks an unreliable source.

  26. I just checked and I did not see where they post documents related to non US governments and companies. I know that several months ago they did. They had lots of stuff from China, Russia, several European countries and several African countries. Not sure why you can’t get to that stuff now though.

    1. Most of the site was taken down when the Iraq War Logs were published, probably trying to resist the inevitable flood of traffic. It’s been like that ever since.

      I do hope they’ll bring back everything as soon as possible, it would help them counter allegations of “hating America”; but they seem to be a very small organization and at the moment they’re clearly too busy trying to manage the Manning-provided material.

  27. As the US government is so very fond of telling us in regards to privacy issues, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”

    Well, if they’re not doing anything wrong, then they have “nothing to fear”, right?

  28. In a marriage, we expect total transparency. Why not in our government? Who governs this country is a matter of life and death–not just for us, but for millions of others. We make the choices about our public officials based on who we perceive these people to be. We don’t have the luxury of courtship, only a shotgun wedding at the polls.

    Consider our relationship with our government in America to be the most rotten marriage around, infidelity abound. Who could blame us for wanting to see their text messages and wanting to see who we’re really married to?

    1. Speak for yourself. I don’t expect total transparency in a marriage, and even if I did, total transparency to everyone outside the marriage as well as inside it would be too high a price to pay.

  29. I don’t think very many people really want to know the details of diplomacy, and the many soap operas and high school dramas within. I do find it funny when things get leaked like how country A had made up plans to invade country B and years later did it- countries are constantly doing this, if only as intellectual exercises for the generals, but they file them since it might be useful. Most of this does seem like standard nuts and bolts stuff, and isn’t all that harmful- seems to me like refusing to bomb Iran when all the local neighbours want it to happen would be seen as a good thing.

    1. While many don’t, having the ability to is invaluable.

      It allows someone to go “how the hell did we end up in this mess”, and then trace back the various information and decisions taken.

      Without such access, it boils down to a whole lot of “he said, she said” until the onlooker gives up and goes elsewhere (see US politics right now).

  30. The highlighted part does sound like it came from Stefano’s lips. I filly expected his next words to be “The Phoenix will rise up on Persia’s ass”.

    Note to self: Stop reading BB while SoapNet is on the tube.

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