Pro-Cuba, pro-Serbian, pro-Palestinian, pro and anti-Kosovo Independence, Sri Lankan, antiwar and socialist demonstrations were closely monitored by the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia in 2008 and 2009, a secret cable posted by WikiLeaks reveals. The cable also reveals the Embassy kept tabs on Greek, Malaysian, Lebanese, Serbian, Indonesian, Somalian and Sudanese communities in Sydney and Melbourne.
The secret cable is a “security environment profile questionnaire” (SEPQ) sent to the CIA, FBI, US Defense Intelligence Agency and State Department in Washington on March 2, 2009. The US diplomat, who answered the questions, describes both Sydney and Melbourne as cities with communities capable of “mounting very large scale anti-US demonstrations” if “sufficient motivations arise.” During the Israel-Lebanon conflict, 10,0000-15,000 people were brought together for a demonstration.
An itemized list of demonstrations at the US embassy or consulates is included in the cable, suggesting a US official attended each of these demonstrations and attempted to get a head count or regularly contacted police for estimates of how many protesters were present at each demonstration.
February 24, 2008 Pro-Serbian demonstration with approximately 70 protesters;
July 4, 2008 Amnesty International demonstrators with approximately 12 protesters;
January 10, 2009 pro-Palestinian demonstration with 300 protesters.
January 1, 2008 Amnesty International-300 protesters;
March 8, 2008 Kosovo Independence rally-2000 protesters,
November 11, 2008 Stop the War coalition-12 protesters,
November 16, 2008 Syria(after US Airstirke)-20 protesters,
December 19, 2008 End Iraq War-30 protesters,
December 27, 2008 End Iraq and Afghanistan-40 protesters,
December 29, 2008 Gaza Strip-1500 protesters,
January 3, 2009 Gaza Strip-50 protesters
January 4, 2009 Gaza Strip-15 protesters
January 9, 2009 Gaza Strip-30 protesters
January 15, 2009 Gaza Strip-12 protesters
January 28, 2009 Sri Lankans-50 protesters
January 29, 2009 Sri Lankans-50 protesters
January 30, 2009 Sri Lankans-50 protesters
January 31, 2009 Sri Lankans-50 protesters
February 4, 2009 Sri Lankans-5000 protesters
February 21, 2009 Kosovo-125 protesters
February 18, 2008 Anti-Kosovo Independence- 200 protesters
February 22, 2008 Anti-Kosovo Independence-38 protesters
November 5, 2008 Pro-Cuba-13 protesters
January 9, 2009 Anti-war-15 protesters
July 25, 2008 Save our Senate/No War/ Socialist Alliance-12 protesters in conjunction with a Secretary of State visit.
September 12, 2008 No war/Socialist Alliance-13 protesters
October 29, 2008 Australia/Cuba Friendship Society-13 protesters
January 22, 2009 Friends of Palestine-50 protesters
All demonstrations are described under the section heading, “Political Violence.” Yet, in only one case did a protest turn violent. In February 2008, at the US Consulate Melbourne, anti-Kosovo independence protesters allegedly threw objects and launched flares at the front window of the building. Protesters marching to the Consulate burned a Victoria State Police vehicle.
The diplomat even concludes the demonstrations are “generally peaceful.” Australian protests are found to be “generally peaceful” as well (though the diplomat notes Australian law enforcement thinks “issue motivated groups with anti-war, anti-globalization or environmental protection agendas have become more organized and more prone to engage in demonstration tactics that have led to some violence since late 2006.”)
So, why does the State Department security questionnaire appear to function on the premise that demonstrations are most likely to lead to political violence? Why is there such contempt for protest underneath the data and assumptions presented in this secret cable?
In daily press briefings throughout the past months, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has maintained the State Department thinks citizens of the world have the right to “peacefully protest.” For example, when talking about the Iranian people, she told the press, “As you know, we work in Washington, we work at our embassies overseas. In the United States, any group of people, whether they are citizens or whether they are visitors, have the right to peaceful protest.”
The State Department has been very supportive of Syrians’ right to revolt against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The State Department was supportive of Libyans when they rose up against Gaddafi and the Department eventually came around to supporting Tunisians and Egyptians in their uprisings. Does the State Department consider demonstrations which helped precipitate the fall of dictators to be acts of “political violence”? If WikiLeaks released cables from during the uprisings, would there be a security questionnaire with all the Arab Spring protests that led to the uprising itemized under “political violence”?
Are demonstrations expected to be “politically violent” because they have the potential to turn violent? Or, does it all have to do with what is being protested? One thing one finds when examining the cables is many protests in the Middle East and Africa are mostly regarded as “riots.” Ordinary demonstrations are not something the State Department particularly wishes to see snowball.
Most of the demonstrations are “anti-US” to the officials in the embassy and consulates in Australia. They are anti-American because they happen at the Embassy and Consulates. One sentence in the cable even reads, “Anti-American demonstrations are usually triggered by U.S. foreign policy initiatives and military actions.” The US diplomats know actions upset thousands of Australians, but the diplomats quite frankly do not care. And, violent demonstrations only help US diplomats discredit the “anti-Americanism” that supposedly forms the fabric of the majority of Australian demonstrations.
And, why does the US need to know this kind of information for security purposes? Why is it as important as information on what countries are doing to fight terrorism?
The answer is the US has no problem with pressuring, even meddling in a country’s affairs, if only to get the outcome it desires—whatever will be best for US interests. Yet, it knows that it must consider all the variables, stick to talking points and not apply too much or too little pressure in order to achieve success in getting whatever the US wants from a country’s government.
Thus, the US must keep track of a country’s activists and the ability of communities to organize demonstrations because the US stage-manages its foreign policy, military actions and diplomatic activities. It needs to pay attention to how triggered protests might have an impact on how Australian politicians are willing to be subservient to the US. This is true for most if not all countries and especially true since the Arab Spring. US diplomacy is intensely choreographed and anything that could get in the way must be monitored.