Has WikiLeaks Revealed Anything New?

It’s hard to discuss what’s been going on in the US this week without using analogies to bodily functions – actually one in particular. From congressional constipation to the largest document dump in history, it’s been a post-Thanksgiving rectal crisis of epic proportions.

First congress, in which Republicans pledge to let nothing pass until those who don’t need the money get an extension of their decade-long tax break. The military has made it plain that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should go, and millions are losing unemployment benefits, but the GOP – which should now stand for Greedy Old Punks – won’t let anything out – not the START arms treaty, not even benefits for 9/11 responders – until the wealthiest 2 percent get a bit more spending money. That’s legislative constipation at its most worst, a brutal form of blackmail.

At the same time the country and the world have been virtually flooded with documents that expose the dirty secrets of US foreign policy. There’s a saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents is more like a powerful laxative that has right-wingers howling for the head of mastermind Julian Assange.

Much of the media blah-blah has centered on whether Assange should be hunted down, jailed, or even executed. Much less has been shared about the actual contents of the big dump. So, what do the 250,000 cables show? So far we’ve learned about…

  • Use of US embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats gathering not only information from people they meet, but personal details like frequent flyer numbers, credit card details, even DNA.
  • Spying on the leadership of the UN and their staffs, including private VIP networks used for official communication, passwords, and personal encryption keys.
  • Arab regimes urging the US to bomb Iran and destroy its nuclear program, and the strong possibility of an Israeli attack within the next year.
  • Attempts by the US to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. Pakistan’s regime fears that if the media learned about it, they would portray it as the US grabbing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Actually, that’s already a widespread rumor.
  • A diplomatic version of “Let’s Make a Deal” in which various countries are promised aid and access to President Obama in exchange for accepting detainees. The contestants include Slovenia, the island nation of Kiribati and Belgium.
  • US support for the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, an organization that both the US and Turkey classify as a “terrorist” group.
  • Collection of biometric data on Paraguayan presidential candidates, covert orchestration of an anti-Chavez propaganda campaign in Venezuela, work with Brazilian authorities to illegally monitor citizens of Arab descent and jail suspects on trumped-up drug charges, and support for a Honduran coup government that the State Department knew to be illegal.
  • An alliance between the US Military Southern Command and Florida International University to create so-called “strategic culture” reports on Latin American and Caribbean countries, apparently to be used in planning US military operations.
  • Pressure on Germany not to prosecute CIA officers responsible for the kidnapping, rendition and torture of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan, tortured, and held for months before being released on a hillside in Albania. One cable describes a US official’s efforts to prevent accountability, pressuring the Germans to weigh “the implications for relations with the US” of issuing international arrest warrants.

And much more yet to come. But the biggest revelation may be that a small organization, with the help of some mainstream media accomplices, can spark such hysteria. It’s a reminder – though officials are quick to issue denials – that US foreign policy is becoming more and more chaotic, lunging from one half-baked plan to the next, angry and hostile to both “friends” and foes.

In the past, without whistleblowers we wouldn’t have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping. Without leaks we wouldn’t know that civilian casualties from the war in Iraq are much higher than advertised, or that US troops initially went into battle without decent body armor. Sure, some things need to be kept secret. But much more information is classified than necessary, some of it for purely political reasons ­– to protect the government from embarrassment, to manipulate public opinion, or to conceal evidence of crimes. When there are too many secrets, it’s hard to distinguish what should be public from what’s legitimately classified.

Nevertheless, one “official” question of the moment is whether Wikileaks has the right to release classified documents that show US officials violating laws. Another is whether Assange is some kind of cyber-anarchist or terrorist rather than a champion of transparency. But the real question of the week is: Does the big dump actually shed new light on American intrigue and conspiracies, or just confirm what we’ve long suspected?

This article is excerpted from the December 3 broadcast of Greg Guma’s weekly radio report, Rebel Round Up, aired 11:30 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington.