Cassandra Vinograd and Bradley Klapper of the Associated Press conducted a partial review of US State Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks focusing on the sources the State Department “categorized as most risky.” The findings in the report cast further doubt on the official party line the government promotes when commenting on anything WikiLeaks and concludes, US examples of threatened sources have been “strictly theoretical.” The review found “several of them” are “comfortable with their names in the open” and no one feared death.
The story highlights the reactions of several sources, whose names have now been exposed. One is Ferrari Bravo, who worked for the Italian Foreign Ministry’s Iran desk and was a “veteran of her nation’s embassy in Tehran.” She openly discussed “her government’s view of the Iranian nuclear standoff” and “urged continued dialogue.”
Her reaction to her name being “protected:”
There is nothing that we said that was not known to our bosses, to our ministers, to our heads of state,” she said. On having her identity protected, she said: “We didn’t ask. There is nothing to protect.”
A 73-year-old Bosnian refugee, Hadzira Hamzic, according to AP, “wasn’t bothered about being identified as one of thousands of victims from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. She told AP, “I never hid that…It is always hard when I have to tell about how I had been raped, but that is part of what happened and I have to talk about it.”
A former Malaysian diplomat Shazryl Eskay Abdullah had an “unofficial lunch meeting” years ago with a US official. His name is in a report in the cables. Abdullah “was shocked” that his name was in a cable. But, “his role in southern Thailand peace talks was well known, and he doesn’t “see why anyone would come after” him.
All raises the question: What is the State Department’s process for deciding what names deserve strict protection and what names do not? The US State Department told AP they have “two criteria for sensitive sources”:
The first deals with people in totalitarian societies or failed states who could be imprisoned or killed, or perhaps denied housing, schooling, food or other services if exposed as having helped the United States. The State Department has also sought to censor names of people who might lose their jobs or suffer major embarrassment even in friendly countries, if they were seen offering the U.S. candid insights or restricted information.
The second criteria is not a criteria WikiLeaks adopted. Nawaat in Tunisia agreed to help WikiLeaks redact names of individuals “at risk of either persecution or prosecution resulting in death or serious injury.” Those who were seen as able to “defend themselves either through an impartial legal process or through their political or financial power” were not to have their names protected.
The motivation behind such a decision being if transparency were to hold people in power accountable names of people involved in blackmail, coercion, deceit, secret planning and underhanded business dealings would have to be made public. Take for example Arnold Sundquist, a Swede who “provided the US Embassy with sensitive details on an Iranian attempt to buy helicopters.” Even though Swedish media didn’t use his name when covering the helicopters story, he would probably be someone WikiLeaks would expose as he likely has “financial power” to defend himself.
This investigation, although admittedly incomplete, follows up on a story Vinograd published on August 30, when WikiLeaks released 130,000 US State Embassy cables. The AP went through over 2,000 cables and allegedly found “more than 90 sources who had sought protection and whose names the cable authors had asked to protect.”
PJ Crowley, former State Department spokesperson, who helped set up a “crisis management team” to mitigate the impact of the leak, told AP the release “had the potential to create further risk for those individuals who have talked to US diplomats.” He claimed a “handful” of people have been “relocated.” And, the releases “could be used to intimidate activists in some of these autocratic countries.”
People like Crowley have fiendishly emphasized the fact that no US policy has changed as a result of WikiLeaks. The reason, of course, is the government as a whole believes nothing exposed, no corruption, no war crimes, merit investigation.
The recent AP story notes, “The State Department has steadfastly refused to describe any situation in which they’ve felt a source’s life was in danger.” The State Department will not “provide any details on those few cases” of individuals that have been relocated.
The State Department’s secrecy means we take them at their word, which is as legitimate as the fact that the department may not have been “scouring the documents” for details on sources exposed with the vigor they have led the world to believe. Hamzic, Sharzyl and Ferrari Bravo, according to the AP. were not contacted by the department.
Their official line is as legitimate as the fact that some of these “sources” have no idea why their names would need to be kept secret. Diplomats did not inform these “sources” they would be included in a cable. Now, “sources” may ask to not be included in cables because they might fear another security breach to government databases could put them at risk.
It is as valid as all previous instances of fearmongering and hyperventilation on the part of the US government. Robert Mackey of the New York Times blogged in January the State Department found the leak “caused only limited damage to US interests abroad.” Crowley had said there had been “substantial damage” and “hundreds of people” had been put at risk. The State Department did a complete reversal.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, in the aftermath of the release of the Afghanistan War Logs, said, “Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier.” Gates suggested the leak disclosed “intelligence sources and methods.” Months later that official line became “the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure.” And in November, McClatchy reported, “U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death.”
The government hopes every time it cries WikiLeaks the American people will respond in such a reactionary way that they do not consider whether the charges are true or not. This is the same reaction they expect from Americans when they claim the country has to go to war or continue to occupy a country or else the country might face some “imminent” threat.
From the moment WikiLeaks began to make a splash, the government has deployed its propaganda to ensure the American population does not shift its beliefs on certain programs and policies that are key to waging empire. They have targeted the media organization and intimidated WikiLeaks supporters, who are now caught up in a grand jury investigation in Alexandria, Virginia, because they did not want “unity,” a sense of shared purpose post-9/11, to be eroded.
The danger for US government has never involved endangered informants or sources. The US government knows if those individuals die they could easily turn another group of people into informants or sources and use them. If an informant’s cover is blown, that informant is on his or her own because there are only so many resources government can invest in protection. As a propaganda tool, however, the notion of transparency putting innocent lives at risk seems ghastly and crying wolf about informants at risk has been the most persuasive argument the government has had to delude Americans into believing WikiLeaks is some “info-terrorist” outfit.
The threat has never rested upon risks to diplomacy. A shuffling of diplomats or officials here and there and a new fig leaf offered here and an olive branch extended there can easily take care of any short-term problems. The real threat is and has always been that WikiLeaks would force America to suspend its entire project, abandon a good portion of its 800-plus military bases around the world and stop carrying out secret programs of torture, rendition and targeted killing of which the government enjoys great impunity.
The real threat is and has always been that, one, people now know their government’s secrets and, two, they might think they have a right to know those secrets, because up to now government has been able to convince Americans they should “trust” their government and many have forgotten what investigative journalist I.F. Stone said, “Governments lie.”
The real threat is and has been that a citizenry might grow disenchanted with American foreign policy and challenge the agendas of both neoconservatives and neoliberals who write the policies, craft the theories, and design the global scenarios that Americans are made to understand in terms of “us vs. them.” And so, in a classic case of “kill the messenger,” Americans have been (pretty successfully) made to believe that Assange has committed espionage against America (even though he isn’t a US citizen) and WikiLeaks might pose such a threat that a JSOC raid ending in the kill or capture of Julian Assange might be justified.