Wikileaks – A political game changing disruptive technology

It is quite frankly fascinating to observe how technology has enabled one loan individual go to war against the US administration.

This appears to have all started with the disclosure of the Iraq war documents last October that brought to light the “intimate details” of the conflict, where we soon learned some of the dirty little secrets such as …

  • detail the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians
  • torture of Iraqi detainees by the Iraqi authorities, sometimes using electrocution, electric drills and in some cases even executing detainees, with US notes on all this marked “no further investigation”.

Those logs showed that an Apache helicopter gunship fired on two men believed to have fired mortars at a military base in Baghdad in February 2007, even though they were attempting to surrender. The crew asked a lawyer whether they could accept the surrender, but were told they could not, “and are still valid targets”. So they shot them.

Another shows the US military was given a video apparently showing Iraqi Army (IA) officers executing a prisoner in the northern town of Talafar.

From all this we discovered that there were more than 109,000 violent deaths between 2004 and the end of 2009. They included 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy”, 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 coalition troops. The figures contradicted earlier claims that the US did not keep records of civilians killed, thus proving that we had been lied to. [We really knew that, what was new is that we finally had proof]

So what happened next?

An international arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a rape case appears … I don’t know the facts of that case, but I do find it dam suspicious that this suddenly appeared after the Iraq war disclosures. Given the circumstances, this feels very much like a stitch up in revenge for the disclosures … in effect the US went to war against the WikiLeaks founder … now that was a really bad move on their part, given that he had his finger on a journalistic nuclear trigger.

He pressed the button, and now strikes back with the publication of 250,000 diplomatic notes that disclose all their dirty little secrets. The Wikileaks site (click here) puts it like this …

The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.

The full set consists of 251,287 documents, comprising 261,276,536 words (seven times the size of “The Iraq War Logs”, the world’s previously largest classified information release).

The cables cover from 28th December 1966 to 28th February 2010 and originate from 274 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions.

So what details are out now?

  • Prince Andrew’s ‘rude behaviour abroad’
  • Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan by US commanders, the Afghan president and local officials in Helmand. The dispatches reveal particular contempt for the failure to impose security around Sangin – the town which has claimed more British lives than any other in the country.
  • Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government, with one cable alleging that vice president Zia Massoud was carrying $52m in cash when he was stopped during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Massoud denies taking money out of Afghanistan.
  • Attacks on both David Cameron and Gordon Brown, who is said to be branded ‘unstable’
  • U.S. requests for specific intelligence on individual MPs
  • Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime
  • Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, with officials warning that as the country faces economic collapse, government employees could smuggle out enough nuclear material for terrorists to build a bomb.
  • Strong pressure from the West’s Arab allies for a military strike on Iran … this includes King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, were among the Arab leaders lobbying the U.S. for an attack on Iran. One Saudi official reminded Americans that the king had repeatedly asked them to “cut off the head of the snake” before it was too late.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy is called an emperor with no clothes and Vladimir Putin an alpha dog
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is said that – “She avoids risk and is seldom creative,”
  • “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009 [I think this is one secret we all knew anyway]
  • Washington demanded that China block shipments of missile parts from North Korea to Iran
  • How the hacker attacks which forced Google to quit China in January were orchestrated by a senior member of the Politburo who typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticising him personally.
  • The extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, which is causing intense US suspicion. Cables detail allegations of “lavish gifts”, lucrative energy contracts and the use by Berlusconi of a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between.
  • Other revelations include a description of a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium, technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva
  • A profile of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blond” Ukrainian nurse.
  • American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode
  • Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.

For details check out the New York Times and also the Guardian articles, they make truly fascinating reading. And this is only the start, lots of data mining will no doubt be the cause of considerable US embarrassment. The reaction to all this appears to be one of the following … take your pick …

  • I really really hate Wikileaks – they will do an huge amount of damage to our security and our diplomatic relations. This is a disaster.
  • I really really love Wikileaks – they will do an huge amount of damage to the lying, hypocritical, diplomatic relations of the US towards other countries. This is excellent.

Whichever view you hold, one thing is clear, the political stage has been dramatically changed, Wikileaks is truly proving itself to be a politically game-changing disruptive technology. The journalistic equivalent of a thermonuclear device has just been dropped.

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