The Obama administration urged McCain and Lieberman not to bring up the Lockerbie bomber at the meeting. (They did anyway.)
Qaddafi's weird inauguration letter to Barack Obama.
The U.S. Embassy in Manama requested talking points for answering questions about an allegedly tortured Bahraini Guantanamo detainee in 2005.
Meet the Coast Guard officer who serves as a back-channel emissary to Havana.
A U.S. diplomat went undercover as a Korean tourist to visit a Chinese tiger farm.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou told U.S. embassy officials in 2009 that People's Liberation Army activity in the Taiwan Strait could push Taiwan and China toward political talks.
An April Fools Day cable from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi.
WikiLeaks drops a giant tranche of nearly 100,000 new cables -- we're still working through them -- and is reportedly unhappy with the media's mounting disinterest in its work. (A bit of advice from your humble Wikiblogger: Not releasing thousands of cables during the fall of Tripoli might help.)
WikiLeaks dissident Daniel Domscheit-Berg tells Wired he destroyed thousands of WikiLeaks documents "in order to ensure that the sources are not compromised."
U.S. Embassy officials cautioned the Kenyan government to restrain itself in the violence following the country's 2007 election.
The U.S. State Department's energy envoy urged Canada in 2009 to improve its "messaging" on a proposed oil-sands pipeline to the United States, including promoting "more positive news stories."
U.S. officials accused the leader of a pro-Cuban government peace group of threatening to pull U.S. medical students' scholarships if they met with the U.S. mission on the island in 2007.
Julian Assange's extradition appeal decision is deferred. After his hearing -- complete with another round of more-than-you-wanted-to-know details about Assange's sex life -- Swedish prosecutors blast the Assange legal team's "19th Century" view of sexual consent.
U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez says the U.S. government is violating U.N. rules in refusing him access to Manning.
Blocking WikiLeaks donations prompts a competition complaint against MasterCard and Visa in Europe.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
More than 700 files on Guantánamo Bay detainees obtained by WikiLeaks are released. Extensive coverage is here, here, here, and here. The Huffington Post has the backstory on the release. Also check out FP's roundup of the coverage and roundtable discussion of the cables with Karen Greenberg, Robert Chesney, Morris Davis, and Matthew Alexander.
Someone should tell the U.S. Department of Defense that World Net Daily is a somewhat less-than-credible source of information.
The Guantánamo file on former detainee and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj suggests just how suspicious the U.S. government was of the network.
Did the Ecuadorian government manipulate the country's bond market?
U.S. diplomats worry about Muammar al-Qaddafi's relationship with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
Embassy officials don't think much of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli.
The U.S. government apparently considers Pakistan's intelligence agency a terrorist (or at least terrorist-supporting) organization.
The arrest of Hmong guerrilla leader Vang Pao did wonders for the U.S.-Laos relationship.
WikiLeaks received nearly $2 million in donations last year.
Most people in 24 countries surveyed by Ipsos don't think Julian Assange is a criminal (though a lot of Americans disagree).
London's Telegraph newspaper is in hot water for publishing the name of a 15-year-old rape victim contained in the Guantánamo papers.
WikiLeaks' document cache is now pretty solidly out of the organization's control.
THE BIG PICTURE
What the Guantánamo documents tell us about mission creep in the War on Terror.
The Guantánamo papers aren't likely to change much of anything for the detainees themselves.
The New York Times owes WikiLeaks big time.
Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. diplomats' relationship with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government wasn't always so cold.
Is Chinese demand for ivory killing Kenyan elephants?
An Israeli settlement leader tells U.S. officials he's willing to move, for a price.
Bahrain's king is proud of intelligence ties to Israel, wants his government to drop references to the "Zionist enemy."
Israel and Egypt locked horns over smuggling on the Gaza strip.
Israel suspects that Turkey is helping Iran skirt international sanctions.
What the WikiLeaks cables tell us about the United States' relationship with embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ecuador kicks out U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges (above) over a WikiLeaks cable.
The Pentagon won't let anyone -- including U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and investigators from the United Nations and Amnesty International -- meet with Pfc. Bradley Manning in private. The British government is also raising concerns over Manning's treatment.
Julian Assange has another court date.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee proposes new penalties for leakers.
The feds won't leave friend of WikiLeaks Jacob Applebaum alone.
Karl Rove is copping WikiLeaks' style.
Qaddafi's Ukrainian nurse tells all.
Pentagon contractor (and Anonymous nemesis) HBGary's ambitious scheme to catch the next WikiLeaker.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Has Hugo Chávez been selling missiles to Muammar al-Qaddafi?
The Kenyan government wanted to arrest a prominent opposition leader in 2007.
The Colombian military maintains a 100-man counter-guerrilla force inside Venezuela.
Colombia has been using U.S. drones to fight the FARC for five years.
A staffer in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party shows U.S. embassy aides chests full of cash being used to buy votes.
India faces a "growing Naxalite menace."
U.S. diplomats viewed Mohamed ElBaradei as "part of the problem" in the Middle East in 2009.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a "hunger for absolute power and for the material benefits of power".
U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual steps down over WikiLeaks-fueled flap with Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Damning corruption allegations in the WikiLeaks cables have India's Manmohan Singh on the ropes.
Protesters demonstrating over Pfc. Bradley Manning's treatment are arrested at Quantico.
An art group in Russia's Ural region is building a monument to Julian Assange.
Is Michael Bay basing the villains in the next Transformers movie on Julian Assange?
THE BIG PICTURE
FP tallies the biggest losers so far in the Cablegate saga.
More on the role of WikiLeaks in the Arab revolutions.
Bradley Manning's long road to WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange, houseguest: a reenactment.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sierra Leonean military officials blew $1.9 million in British aid money on big-screen TVs and hunting rifles.
U.S. officials helped in a corruption case against Tanzanian banking executives.
Kenyan officials told U.S. diplomats that an investigation into the country's 2007-2008 election violence would risk provoking civil war.
Nigerian politician Joseph Ibori wanted to create a "trust fund" with his stolen wealth.
The owner of Japan's currently imperiled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant falsified inspection records for the facility.
U.S. diplomats say British defense contractor BAE bribed a Saudi prince to secure a fighter jet deal.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley
is fired quits after
calling the Defense Department's treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc.
Bradley Manning "ridiculous
and counterproductive and stupid."
The Pentagon says its own security weaknesses enabled the leaking of the WikiLeaks documents.
Mexican President Filipe Calderón is "barely on speaking terms" with the U.S. ambassador to Mexico over WikiLeaks disclosures.
A federal judge rules that Twitter must hand over its records in WikiLeaks case.
Gawker goes inside Anonymous's war room.
Jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki praises WikiLeaks.
The top lawmaker on the U.S. House of Representatives' intelligence committee says WikiLeaks have been "devastating" to diplomacy.
THE BIG PICTURE
Julian Assange: WikiLeaks sparked the Arab revolt.
How the WikiLeaks documents helped reporters covering Japan's nuclear woes.
WikiLeaks suffers the most damaging leak of them all: pictures of Julian Assange dancing.
In the summer of 2007, a "U.S. businessman and reputed lobbyist" approached American diplomats in Nigeria with a message from James Ibori, a Nigerian state governor. Ibori, the source said, wanted to "make a deal," according to a diplomatic cable released to the Nigerian newspaper Next on March 11: He'd create a foundation with a percentage of his probably ill-gotten wealth if foreign authorities promised not to prosecute him:
former Delta State Governor Ibori would like to establish a development trust fund for Nigeria, endowed with 20 to 50 percent of funds he "acquired" over the years, in return for promises by foreign governments not to prosecute him. This contact estimated Ibori's "acquired" earnings at some three billion U.S. dollars. As part of Ibori's proposal, an international board of directors would oversee trust fund spending, with five persons selected by the international community, including the United States and United Kingdom, and the remaining four chosen by Nigeria. The Ibori-proposed trust fund would support development projects for electricity generation, potable water supply, and police reform. Ibori would also undertake to convince other former governors currently under investigation to follow suit, and return billions of dollars in stolen money in exchange for agreements not to prosecute them.
There are few more storied politicians in Nigeria than the former Delta State governor, James Ibori, believed to be one of the country's most corrupt -- and hence, richest -- men. For years, he has operated in the upper power-echelons of the country's ruling People's Democratic Party, playing godfather to countless lower-level politicians and governors. But then in 2007, his luck started to run out. The British government started investigating him for corruption, and in a move that shocked everyone (including Ibori), the Nigerian government's anti-corruption body arrested him for graft in December 2007. (Within days, the top-corruption fighter who had issued the warrant, Nuhu Ribadu, had been sacked. Conspiracy theories -- suggesting that Ibori and his cronies had somehow exacted political revenge -- ensued.)
It's hard to say if the source quoted in the 2007 cable is for real. But the story he tells about Ibori certainly fits with the common urban mythology of the man. The lobbyist describes Ibori as the most powerful person in the ruling party -- the real power behind then-President Umaru Yar'Adua. It's widely believed, for example, that Ibori was allowed to appoint several of the ministers in the Nigerian president's cabinet in exchange for his support, financial and otherwise.
Reminiscent of Equatorial Guinea's president's recent attempt to create a "prize" in his name -- somehow legitimizing his wealth via philanthropy -- Ibori's deal would never have been laughed at in public, if it ever came to that. But it wouldn't be the first time that Ibori, believing in the invincibility of his power, would make such a silly mistake: Before his indictment for corruption in Nigeria, he tried to bribe the corruption commission with $15 million in cash. Little did he realize, it was being caught on tape.
How Coca-Cola got embroiled in a fight between Muammar al-Qaddafi's sons.
An aide to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki tells U.S. diplomats that Kibaki is soft on corruption.
The Kenyan president's mistress also has alleged links to mercenaries.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the "George Steinbrenner of Iran."
Twenty-two new charges have been filed against Pfc. Bradley Manning, including capital offenses -- enough to send him to jail for life.
The Department of Defense won't let Rep. Dennis Kucinich visit Manning in jail.
Did a WikiLeaks cable finally push the director of the London School of Economics to resign over the Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi affair?
Mexican President Felipe Calderon says WikiLeaks disclosures have caused "severe damage" to U.S.-Mexico relationship.
Julian Assange appeals his extradition to Sweden on sex assault charges.
PayPal has a change of heart about letting people give Assange money.
Anonymous manages to force its nemesis HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr out of his job, moves on to bugging the Koch brothers.
Julian Assange wants to trademark his name.
Assange is, or maybe isn't, an anti-semite.
THE BIG PICTURE
What's at stake for American journalists if Assange is prosecuted.
Why Assange is ruining WikiLeaks.
Why the best way for the U.S. government to prevent the next WikiLeak is less secrecy.
BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Qaddafi worried about a U.S. military presence in Africa.
Bernie Madoff once discussed investment opportunities with Qaddafi.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe OK'd "clandestine operations" against FARC rebels across the border in Venezuela.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (and later Afghanistan) William Wood was not aware of the top Colombian military leader's dodgy résumé.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce tried to take down Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
China used U.S. debt obligations to pressure the United States on arms sales to Taiwan.
For the first time since World War II, Japan is building a full-blown foreign intelligence agency.
U.S. diplomats pushed Norway to buy American-made fighter jets.
Britain blocked an arms sale to Swaziland over fears the weapons could end up in Iran.
Bahrain's crown prince is not a big fan of the whole democracy thing.
A British judge rules in favor of Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden.
George W. Bush doesn't like the idea of sharing a stage with Assange.
Gaddafi's "voluptuous nurse" has had enough of Libya.
WikiLeaks cable revelations are factoring in Peru's 2011 elections.
PayPal freezes the account of a group raising defense funds for Pfc. Bradley Manning.
More on HBGary, the cybersecurity firm that tried to take down WikiLeaks' supporters.
WikiLeaks now has a gift shop.
Anonymous makes "The Colbert Report" (slightly NSFW)
THE BIG PICTURE
As Libya spiraled further out of control today, WikiLeaks posted two new cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli detailing the family squabbles of strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi's family. Both are from March 2009, and both are signed by U.S. Ambassador Gene Cretz, the United States' first ambassador in Libya since 1972, who lost his job last month following the release of the infamous "voluptuous blonde" cable (and/or other more serious dispatches) he had signed.
The cables date from an eventful period in the life of the Qaddafi family. The previous July, Hannibal al-Qaddafi, the Qaddafi son best known for getting in trouble in Europe on a semi-regular basis, had been arrested in Switzerland for beating his servants at a Geneva hotel. Meanwhile, Saif al-Islam, Muammar's heir-apparent and the best-regarded Qaddafi outside of Libya, was fuming over the growing closeness between his father and his brother Muatassim (above, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April 2009), the elder Qaddafi's national security adviser and Saif's only real competition for the family business. According to the cable, "Saif reportedly bridled at the fact that Muatassim accompanied Muammar al-Qadhafi on the latter's visit to Moscow, Minsk and Kiev last year..., and played a key role in negotiating potential weapons contracts."
All of this, plus a verboten trip to Rome by Qaddafi son Saadi, prompted a family meeting in August, at which the siblings aired their grievances:
At the meeting, Saadi reportedly criticized his father for having ignored him, and specifically cited the fact that his (Saadi's) efforts to establish an Export Free Trade Zone near the western Libyan town of Zuwara had not enjoyed the kind of support that Muatassim's activities as National Security Adviser or Saif al-Islam's high-profile efforts under the Qadhafi Development Foundation and Libya Youth Forum. As reported ref C, Muammar al-Qadhafi subsequently made an unusual visit to Zuwara last September and significant work on the development project began within a few days of his visit.
The cable relates that Qaddafi assigned his daughter Aisha "the task of monitoring the activities of ne'er-do-wells" in the family: Saadi, Hannibal, and the less notorious Saif al-Arab. But interestingly, the cable suggests that Aisha may have been part of the problem in the case of Hannibal's arrest, which blew up into an international incident when the irate Qaddafi pere threw Swiss diplomats out of his country in retaliation. According to the cable:
XXXXXXXXXXXX have told us that Aisha played a strong role in urging a hardline Libyan position with respect to the Swiss-Libyan contretemps over Hannibal's arrest. Separately, the Swiss Ambassador told us that Aisha's less than accurate rendering to her father of the events surrounding Hannibal's arrest and treatment by Swiss authorities helped stoke Muammar al-Qadhafi's anger, limiting the extent to which Libyan and Swiss officials could maneuver to find an acceptable compromise. The Swiss have told us that in the most recent effort between the two sides to resolve the issue in Davos, Saif had approved an agreement that had the Swiss literally bending over backwards to assuage Libyan demands. After making a phone call (to either Aisha or the leader), Saif returned somewhat chastened after several minutes to rescind the aproval.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Saif seems to have embraced his family tradition of giving long, weird, paranoid speeches, and it seems clear that, whatever his Davos and LSE credentials, the Qaddafi apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. diplomats in 2008 called the Libyan city where protests erupted this week "a locus of extremist activity" not really under the control of Muammar Qaddafi's government.
What U.S. diplomats have to say about Xi Jinping, China's next leader.
NATO on Russia's military: Meh.
Inside the United States' cozy relationship with Bahrain.
Bahrain's king told U.S. officials that his country's opposition was trained by Hezbollah.
The U.S. government's WikiLeaks probe makes its courtroom debut in the United States.
The preposterously complex hacking and counter-hacking saga engulfing WikiLeaks' online allies.
Australia wants to make sure Julian Assange is treated justly in Sweden.
Anonymous is now going after Iran.
THE BIG PICTURE
Free speech advocate and celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, now Julian Assange's lawyer, tells FP why WikiLeaks is "the Pentagon Papers case for the 21st Century."
WikiLeaks' Asia cables could be a whole lot worse.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
During the summer of 2008, Britain, France, and the United States discussed the possibility of delaying the Internatoinal Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into Sudanese President Omar Hussein al-Bashir -- if Bashir's government played ball in Darfur and Southern Sudan. According to a series of cables released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday, the three powers considered enticing Sudan's president with an Article 16 deferral of his indictment -- a U.N. Security Council resolution that could suspend the investigation for up to 12 months. According to an August 2008 cable, "If 'played right,' the UK [United Kingdom] assessed the leverage of an Article 16 deferral could provide an opportunity to ameliorate conditions in Darfur and possibly the [implementation of the] Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) [that ended conflict between northern and southern Sudan]."
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
One of the last U.N. resolutions put forward by George W. Bush's administration was an ambitious plan to get blue-helmeted peacekeepers in Somalia. The bid came in January 2009, just when Ethiopian troops were withdrawing from the country, having invaded two years earlier with U.S. support. African Union (AU) peacekeepers were already working to prop up Somalia's transitional government, but the Bush administration wanted to go further, first boosting support for the AU and then sending in the U.N. forces as backup.
But the United States met opposition to the measure from an unlikely foe: Britain. In a cable written just a month earlier, U.S. diplomats in London summarized Her Majesty's Government's opposition to the peacekeeping mission:
"senior British government officials assess that "there is not enough peace to keep in Somalia" and that "there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the Djibouti process [which installed the transitional Somali government] will fail."… HMG is not convinced by arguments that a potential security vacuum following a possible Ethiopian and AMISOM withdrawal would necessarily allow al-Shabaab to take control of southern Somalia, as there are many actors who will be competing for primacy in various areas, in the British view. A more likely outcome, HMG assesses, is a situation similar to medieval Italy, where different actors control and secure small pockets around the country.
Then, there's the technical objections:
HMG thinks that force generation will be almost impossible and that troops identified will likely be inadequately trained for such a difficult security environment and reconstruction task. It would be "irresponsible" to put ill-trained and poorly equipped troops in such a complicated peacekeeping operation. Additionally, HMG is seriously concerned about the UN's peacekeeping reputation, if such a mission were to fail, especially in the wake of UNAMID's [the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan] lack-luster deployment. The UN's peacekeeping reputation is extremely important to HMG. Moreover, HMG's peacekeeping budget is over-stretched and likely to be decreasing. HMG does not want to commit the UN to a long-term mission without re-assurance that the effort will be funded.
Some of that British realism must have made an impact in Washington -- or at least at the U.N. Security Council in New York. Despite repeated resolutions to back the African Union peacekeeping mission, no U.N. peacekeepers have yet been deployed, now two years later. (Not that Britain was the only one offering these critiques -- many analysts, myself included, said the same.)
Interestingly, however, in recent years Britain has stepped in to boost one of the areas of concern: troop preparation for AU peacekeepers in Somalia. A January 2010 cable describes Britain's push for n European Union program to train 1,000 soldiers in Uganda over 12 months. "If approved," the cable claims, "the UK's new resources for Somalia will represent a significant shift in the UK's Somalia policy, especially in a resource-scarce environment, where funding for many of the UK's programs around the world is being reduced."
Two months after Somali pirates made their debut in the international spotlight by hijacking the MV Faina, a ship filled to the brim with Ukranian tanks and weapons, the U.S. government sent a cable from London with alleged details about the piracy circuit, recounted during a debriefing with a Canadian captain who had recently escorted an aid ship ashore: "there is clear evidence of collusion between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and pirates in Somali waters and links between pirates and terrorist networks," a November 2008 cable claims.
These were the early day of Somali piracy, when some of the high-profile hijackings were just beginning to occur. No international task force montitored the waters those days; no one was yet sure just how to handle the threat -- or just how deep the treat really went. The Canadian captain, Chris Dickison, believed that the hijackings were just the tip of the iceberg: "Dickinson also said clear links between the pirates and established terrorist networks exist. In many cases, they are the same people, using the same routes. Most commercial maritime operators in the area are surprised that the international community does not do more to disrupt the linkages." (When pressed for more details, the embassy source apparently dubbed further information for "Canadian Eyes Only.")
The 2008 cable also goes on to provide a bit more insight into what happened to the MV Faina itself -- an international intrigue that in some ways is still unfolding. When the ship was first apprehended, it became clear that it was transporting weapons to Kenya -- on what appeared to be the behalf of the government of Southern Sudan. This was later confirmed in cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this year. But it's never been totally clear where all the weapons ended up after they were released by the pirates (in exchange for ransom.) The 2008 cable offers some insight: "Dickinson added that the weapons on board the MV Faina, still being held hostage when the cable was written, were all offloaded onto Somali shores."
One might imagine that such information -- if it was (and is) true -- would raise red flags, particulary when it comes to U.S. support for the Somali government. Maybe it did; just months later, the Somali government admitted to having information about who the pirates were and how they operated -- but Somali officials argued that they lacked the resources to tackle the problem (and requested international help to do so.)
Either way, international help certainly came. A coalition of Navies -- everyone from the United States to China to Greece to India -- sent ships to the Gulf of Aden, where many remain today, patrolling the seas. As another 2008 cable presciently puts it, piracy was a "growth industry."
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
The Libyan frogman who couldn't swim.
The FBI pursues a team of alleged Qatari would-be 9/11 conspirators in the United States.
The rift between Washington and Beijing is deeper than either government would like you to think.
The United States' secret space arms race with China.
A Croatian man tries to get back at his ex-girlfriend by telling U.S. embassy officials that she's hanging out with Osama bin Laden.
Making an oil and gas deal in Russia is really complicated.
Newly appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman is close to Mubarak and foreign intelligence agencies, but not Mubarak's son. And a lot of people seem to think Mubarak's new deputy prime minister is a bureaucratic dinosaur.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuses Syria and Iran of arming Iraqi militants.
Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh wants his money.
U.S. diplomats doubt reforms are on the way in Jordan.
Did WikiLeaks hack into New York Times reporters' email accounts?
WikiLeaks' release process has become so complicated that even the papers involved don't know what's a scoop anymore.
Amnesty International wants Britain to pressure the U.S. government over the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning.
THE BIG PICTURE
George W. Bush administration Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith thinks Assange will be prosecuted in the United States.
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller and Guardian Editor in Chief Alan Rusbridger talk WikiLeaks.
Forty-two percent of Americans have no idea what WikiLeaks is.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a while since WikiLeaked checked in on Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's newly embattled president and a reliably interesting character in the WikiLeaks oeuvre. Most of what we've seen from Saleh in the leaked U.S. State Department cables has followed a pattern in which U.S. diplomats try to coax more counterterrorism cooperation out of the veteran strongman, while Saleh -- whose government received $155 million in military aid from the United States in 2010, twice the previous year's amount -- tries to finagle more cash and materiel out of the Americans. A newly released December 2004 State Department cable recounting a meeting between Saleh and U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski (pictured above with Saleh in a 2007 photo) is no exception.
The meeting takes place a little more than a month after U.S. President George W. Bush's reelection; Saleh badly wants to meet with Bush in Washington to congratulate him personally, he tells Krajeski, and also talk about "important new developments in the region 'that can only be discussed face to face,'" according to the cable. Krajeski hems and haws a bit about this, at which point, the cable notes, "True to form, Saleh launched into a list of what he believes the U.S. owes him. 'Where is the money for the Army, and what about my spare (F-5) parts?' Saleh demanded." (The cable notes, a little acidly, that there have been reported problems with getting the Yemeni Ministry of Defense "to follow through with the necessary paperwork on parts and equipment in order to spend the 17 million USD in Yemen's [foreign military financing] account.")
Pointing out that any meetings with senior U.S. officials would quickly turn to the subject of Yemen's huge grey market in SA/LW [small arms/light weapons], Ambassador told Saleh that Yemen needs to gain control over the huge flow of these weapons in and through the country. Washington is very concerned about this issue and ready to help the ROYG tackle it, added Ambassador. "I will do it!" Saleh exclaimed, insisting that he was insisting that he was already "cracking down" on the SA/LWs market.
The conversation soon turns, inevitably, to counterterrorism, in which Saleh has been a longstanding if not unproblematic partner to the United States. Pressed on the subject of Hadi Dulqum, an arms dealer with alleged links to Al Qaeda, the cable reports that "Saleh stuck to his line that Hadi Dulqum is just a 'simple arms dealer:'"
The Saudis want Dulqum, said the President, "they are crazy for him. What do you expect?" he asked, "if we arrest every arms dealer in the country, we will have hundreds of them in prison." The USG [U.S. government] agrees with the Saudis, said Ambassador, adding that Dulqum's connections with AQ are too extensive for him to be simply another Yemeni arms dealer.
Months later, Saleh does manage to swing a White House invite, prompting a June 2005 cable from the Sanaa embassy titled PRIORITIES FOR WASHINGTON VISIT: SALEH NEEDS TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION. The cable characterizes relations with Saleh's government as "frustrating and difficult," noting that "Saleh has indicated to top advisors in the past that he believes he can pull the wool over the eyes of the [U.S. government.]" On the political front, "Saleh touts Yemen as a leader in regional reform and has committed to democratization," the cable says. "Domestically, however, he has run-out of reforms he can implement at no political cost to himself."
The cable proposes "a public show of support via a greater role in public fora such as the G-8" as a possible inducement to greater democratization, but it seems that half a decade later, the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt may have done the job more effectively.
KHALED FAZAA/AFP/Getty Images
Has Cablegate claimed its first State Department scalp? McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel reports:
In what appears to be the first diplomatic casualty from the latest WikiLeaks revelations, the U.S. ambassador to Libya has returned to Washington and is likely to leave his post, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ambassador Gene Cretz (above), who had held the post since 2008, signed a handful of cables about the health and personal eccentricities of Muammar al-Gaddafi which were among the first and most high-profile State Department documents published by WikiLeaks. The most notorious among them (which was high-profile enough to make it into a Saturday Night Live skit) noted that Qaddafi "relies heavily" on a Ukrainian nurse, "who has been described as a ‘voluptuous blonde.'"
Strobel reports that even if Cretz's recall was not entirely WikiLeaks related, the scandal apparently had a lot to do with it:
A senior State Department official said that the WikiLeaks revelations were not the only reason for Cretz's return, noting the frustrations of U.S.-Libyan ties.
"It's a complicated relationship, and WikiLeaks just added to that complication," said the official, who requested anonymity because no announcement has been made on Cretz's status.
Cretz was the first U.S. ambassador dispatched to Libya since his predecessor was withdrawn in 1972, three years after Gaddafi took power in a coup. Where Cretz is headed next hasn't been announced.
Cables from the U.S. Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare account for just 13 of the nearly 2,000 State Department documents that WikiLeaks has posted so far, but President Robert Mugabe's government has gotten a lot of mileage out of them -- in fact, he's probably made more enterprising use of the slow-rolling scandal than any other world leader. When an independent Zimbabwean newspaper reported on a cable alleging that members of Mugabe's circle -- including his wife, Grace Mugabe -- had profited extensively from the country's black -market diamond trade, the first lady sued the paper for $15 million (a move that has prompted reprisals from hackers). When WikiLeaks published a year-old cable detailing a meeting between Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and U.S. officials, Mugabe -- who had grudgingly acceded to a power-sharing arrangement with his old nemesis -- jumped at the opportunity.
Last week, Johannes Tomana, Zimbabwe's attorney general, announced that he would consider charging Tsvangirai with high treason over the contents of the cable, in which Tsvangirai suggests the possibility of working with U.S. and other foreign officials on the international sanctions regime imposed on Mugabe's government -- penalties that Tsvangirai publicly opposed but privately insisted "be kept in place," according to the cable. High treason carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe, and a number of writers -- Christopher Albon in the Atlantic, James Kirchick in the Wall Street Journal, and James Richardson in today's Guardian, among others -- have pre-emptively placed Tsvangirai's blood on Julian Assange's hands. Richardson's piece is a particularly good summary of the events thus far and builds to a withering conclusion:
And so, where Mugabe's strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe's democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed. Twenty years of sacrifice and suffering by Tsvangirai all for naught, as WikiLeaks risks "collateral murder" in the name of transparency.
Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled -- in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump -- WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it -- at least to those who understand the value of a life.
It's certainly true that Assange has been maddeningly unwilling to examine the implications of his actions -- or, alternately, convinced that he can have it both ways, remaking the business of geopolitics while claiming no casualties. But I'm somewhat more persuaded by Albon's measured take from last week. After noting that a Tsvangirai conviction based on the cable alone is unlikely, he writes:
It's difficult to see this as anything but a major setback for democracy in Zimbabwe. Even if Tsvangirai is not charged with treason, the opponents to democratic reforms have won a significant victory. First, popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC will suffer due to Mugabe's inevitable smear campaign, including the attorney general's "investigation." Second, the Prime Minister might be forced to take positions in opposition to the international community to avoid accusation of being a foreign collaborator. Third, Zimbabwe's fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.
As Robert Rotberg wrote here last week, WikiLeaks may have provided Mugabe with a useful pretext for dispatching Tsvangirai from his government, but it's an open question whether he needed one. In reward for his decade-plus of political efforts, Tsvangirai has been variously arrested, beaten, tortured, thrown from a 10th-floor window, and involved in a suspicious collision with a truck that claimed his wife's life. WikiLeaks is useful to Mugabe, but it's hardly necessary.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
Another day, another cable about alleged central-African multi-million-dollar embezzlement -- this time in Gabon.
The Obama administration dispatches a Florida senator to urge Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon not to pursue a torture case against Bush administration officials.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency quietly evolves into an international intelligence agency.
How a Brazilian who once kidnapped a U.S. ambassador managed to get into the United States.
McDonald's tries to muck up a free trade agreement in El Salvador.
The Jamaican government warned U.S. officials that extraditing a local drug lord would lead to trouble.
Britain trains a "government death squad" in Bangladesh.
Did Britain try to cheat Mauritius out of an island chain?
Inside Russia's awful prisons.
Shell thinks that Ireland could become a booming offshore gas supplier -- or not.
More U.S. complaints about Egypt's lackluster military.
Behind the scenes of an assassination in Dubai.
Julian Assange claims (dubiously) to have the names of CIA moles in Arab governments.
The FBI pays back "Operation Payback" over PayPal attack.
77 percent of Americans disapprove of WikiLeaks' cable release.
Did WikiLeaks dash Zimbabwe's hopes for democracy?
Hackers claim to have brought down Zimbabwean government websites in retaliation for a WikiLeaks-related lawsuit against a Harare newspaper.
THE BIG PICTURE
Daniel Ellsberg lawyer Floyd Abrams says Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg.
Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times has taken a quality-over-quantity approach to the WikiLeaks cables so far, favoring occasional big-picture reports over the Guardian et al.'s zone-flooding approach. Most recent is an excellent piece by Ginger Thompson and Scott Shane on the picture the cables paint of the Drug Enforcement Agency's transformation "into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies." The whole piece is worth a read.
Among the source cables, the documents from the U.S. embassy in Conakry, Guinea -- which caught the attention of the DEA as it emerged as cocaine trafficking hub -- are notable for their (occasionally ironic) narration of the country's drug-smuggling troubles. Best is a perceptive and elegantly written May 2008 cable, signed by Ambassador Phillip Carter III, recounting a meeting with Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate, whose relationship with President Lansana Conté (who died seven months later) was strained by, among other things, the fact that Conté's son Ousmane was suspected of being the country's preeminent drug kingpin:
[Kouyate] told the Ambassador that he then went to the First Lady, Henriette Conte, about Ousmane's complicity. Henriette reportedly described Ousmane as totally out of control, and directed the PM to take the matter up directly with the president. When Kouyate raised the incident, President Conte reportedly asked why his son would do such a thing. Kouyate told the president that it was a way for his son to get rich quickly and that it reflected poor character. Kouyate said that he reminded Conte that he had raised concerns about Ousmane years ago with the President but that nothing had been done. Kouyate then revealed a confidence from Conte to the Ambassador, mentioning that the President has had no contact or any communication with his son in over two years.
The elder Conté fired Kouyate two weeks later. As for the ailing strongman -- who would die in December 2008 of an unspecified illness believed to be diabetes -- the last we see of him in the cable is this arresting King Lear moment:
As the [prime minister] was leaving, the Ambassador asked him about Conte's health. Kouyate, slowly shaking his head said that "the president's health is up and down but he is not doing well." He admitted that "it is difficult to deal with that man", revealing that he is never sure what he is thinking. The Ambassador stated that he has been hearing much criticism of the president and that he is not well regarded in the countryside. Kouyate said that one does not need to leave Conakry to hear the same thing. He said that at a opening ceremony for a new stadium at the small university in Sonfonia, the crowds jeered every time Conte's name was mentioned. According to Kouyate, he had to admonish the crowds to be respectful, particularly given that the stadium is named after President Conte. "It was incredible" he said, shaking his head again with forlorn look on his face.
You thought you'd heard about every attempt to get Robert Mugabe to step down from office: sanctions, suspension from the commonwealth, economic isolation, and even free and fair elections in 2008 that Mugabe actually lost. Apparently, however, there may have been one attempt that we all missed a decade ago. According to a September 2000 cable, an opposition source believed that then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan approached Mugabe with a financial retirement package abroad:
KOFI ANNAN, IN THE RECENT MEETING IN NEW YORK DURING THE MILLENIUM SUMMIT, OFFERED MUGABE A DEAL TO STEP DOWN. ALTHOUGH XXXXXXXXXXXX SAID THE MDC WAS NOT PRIVY TO THE DETAILS, HE SURMISED THAT ANNAN’S SUPPOSED DEAL PROBABLY INCLUDED PROVISION OF SAFEHAVEN AND A FINANCIAL PACKAGE FROM LIBYAN PRESIDENT QADHAFI. THE OPPOSITION PARTY HEARD THAT MUGABE TURNED DOWN THE OFFER THE FOLLOWING DAY, AFTER DISCUSSING IT WITH THE FIRST LADY. ANNAN, XXXXXXXXXXXX CONTINUED, IS NOT THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO FACILITATE MUGABE’S DEPARTURE.
It's not clear how reliable the U.S. Embassy source is, given that he admitted to the Americans that his information was hearsay. (And as the Guardian notes, some of the other information the same source told the U.S. embassy has been churning in the rumor mill for decades -- and was scoffed at by the British High Commission when it attempted to verify the reports.) But what's more interesting about the cable is the potential splits that it indicates within the ruling party, Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Certain members of his circle were growing concerned that the the country's economic woes would suffocate their business interests. And they were apparently willing to make a deal. Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) -- the party that won the 2008 elections and has been in a coalition government with Mugabe since February -- was also willing to let the old man step down gracefully. The cable reads,
ALTHOUGH HE IS NOT ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT IT, MDC PRESIDENT MORGAN TSVANGIRAI HAS AGREED THAT IT IS IN ZIMBABWE’S BEST ... INTERESTS FOR THE MDC TO DO ALL IT CAN TO SECURE A GRACEFUL EXIT STRATEGY THAT PRESERVES SOMEWHAT OF A POSITIVE LEGACY FOR MUGABE. OTHERWISE, THE PRESIDENT WOULD HAVE LITTLE INCENTIVE TO GO.
Aside from financial incentives, the source believed that a conference could be convened joining the ruling ZANU-PF party with Tsvangirai's MDC to essentially set up the strongman's legacy and secure certain parameters for a successor government.
One can imagine why this failed. In addition to the massive distrust between the two parties, it became clear as Mugabe got closer to the 2002 presidential election that he could win it (if not fairly) -- which he did. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir allegedly has $9 billion in oil money stashed in Britain.
American diplomats at the United Nations don't like to talk much about human rights anymore.
Joking about Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, or even above Venezuela, is ill-advised.
How Brazil got pharmaceutical companies to hand over cheap HIV/AIDS drugs.
WikiLeaks is banned there.
The Red Cross reported extensive torture of Kashmiris at Indian detention centers in Kashmir to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi in 2005.
Singapore's government owes an apology to basically every major country in Asia.
The Dalai Lama says fighting climate change is more important for Tibet than political independence.
The heir to the Gandhi family political dynasty thinks Hindu extremists are a bigger threat to India than Muslim ones.
Turkmen strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov doesn't like people who are smarter than him.
Eric Clapton's weirdly persistent influence on North Korean politics.
Silvio Berlusconi for the win?
The German government is still not digging L. Ron Hubbard.
The Stockholm embassy discusses Sweden's WikiLeaks-enabling Pirate Party in a particularly meta cable.
The Azeri first lady's plastic surgery creates confusion among U.S. diplomats in Baku.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is "bizarre" and "disturbed."
Do Arab leaders actually care about the Palestinians?
Hosni Mubarak thinks his son is a perfectionist.
Is the Egyptian military in "intellectual and social decline"?
The Arab League doesn't like Steven Spielberg.
Julian Assange is released on bail after a media-circus-attracting hearing, but not before Michael Moore manages to get involved. Now that he's out of jail, Assange is pretty chatty -- as is Vaughan Smith, the journalist and WikiLeaks supporter who's hosting him until his next court date.
Things are not going nearly so well for alleged Assange document source Bradley Manning.
Someone posts a manifesto on behalf of Anonymous, the ad-hoc group of hackers that has cyber-attacked an array of targets in solidarity with WikiLeaks over the past two weeks. The manifesto quotes KISS bassist Gene Simmons. A Greek web designer is arrested for it.
A lot of people think Assange should have been Time's 2010 person of the year. Richard Stengel, the magazine's managing editor, isn't one of them.
Would Henry David Thoreau join Anonymous?
Congress considers WikiLeaks.
Mark Prendergast, ombudsman for the U.S. military's official Stars and Stripes newspaper, argues that military personnel should be allowed to read the cables.
If WikiLeaks doesn't get things rolling a little faster, we'll be writing this blog for another 7.6 years.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
On Dec. 12, The Standard newspaper in Zimbabwe printed a WikiLeaked cable calling out Grace Mugabe, wife of Robert Mugabe, for being wrapped up in a messy and largely illegal diamond trade. Mrs. Mugabe isn't taking this revelation lightly. And she announced today that she is suing the newspaper for $15 million for defamation.
The cable in question is indeed damning. During a rare meeting with U.S. officials, a disillusioned mining executive, Andrew Cranswick of African Consolidated Resources, explained in detail how the illegal diamond trade is profiting Zimbabwe's strongman. The summary reads like this:
The CEO of a British mining company described to us how high-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe. They are selling the undocumented diamonds to a mix of foreign buyers including Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese, Russians and South Africans who smuggle them out of the country for cutting and resale elsewhere. Despite efforts to control the diamond site with police, the prospect of accessible diamonds lying just beneath the soil's surface has attracted a swarm of several thousand local and foreign diggers. The police response has been violent, with a handful of homicides reported each week, though that number could grow as diggers arm themselves and attract police and army deserters to their ranks.
Grace Mugabe isn't the only named. Also included in Cranswick's blame list are the country's central bank governor, vice president, and several other prominent individuals.
Of course, The Standard had nothing to do with the cable -- they just printed it. Which raises alarming questions about the unanticipated consequences of WikiLeaks in less-than-democratic countries. The lawsuit names the publication’s editor, the journalist in question, and the media company as defendants. The heavy hand of tyranny falls on local journalists here, not on WikiLeaks or U.S. diplomats. And to be honest, most Zimbabweans probably already knew -- or at least suspected -- that the ruling elite were in on the diamond jackpot.
JEROME DELAY/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, you'll recall, WikiLeaks brought us the story of a meeting a year ago between Jerry Lanier, the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, and Tim O'Hanlon, an executive of Britain's Tullow Oil, which was trying to buy a stake in a pair of big Ugandan oil fields at the time. Lanier's cable paraphrases O'Hanlon as saying that two other companies had somehow swooped in and grabbed the deal out of Tullow's hands. The suggestion was that a Ugandan minister had been paid off.
Not so, say almost all of those mentioned in the Lanier cable. Last Friday, O'Hanlon wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, saying that Lanier got the story all wrong. He had heard the talk circulating of such backroom dealing, O'Hanlon wrote, but he never believed it. "I have no evidence implicating the honorable ministers in corruption and have no reason to believe that the rumors sweeping Kampala at the time were actually true," O'Hanlon wrote.
Amama Mbabazi (above), Uganda's security minister and the official named in Lanier's cable -- in which Lanier told his superiors that the United States might consider revoking Mbabazi's U.S. visa -- said he was equally perplexed by what the cable had to say about his relationship with Italy's Eni and Britain's Heritage Oil. He said:
These allegations are absolutely untrue. I have never received even an offer let alone payment from Heritage or ENI of that kind or for anything. However at that time there was report in The Times of London which did not name anyone but talked about corruption over the deal. What surprised me is that the embassy believes that the allegations are true and concluded that the deal showed signs of high level corruption in Uganda's oil sector. This is incredible. I am surprised they would make a statement like that without cross checking with me about my alleged involvement.
Eni also said that Lanier was far off the mark, and that it intended legal action against WikiLeaks. "ENI denies the serious allegations which are completely without foundation and has instructed its lawyers to initiate legal proceedings to compensate for any damage caused to the company's reputation," a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
U.S. Defense Department via Wikimedia Commons
Italy's oil company Eni has long enjoyed a privileged position in oil and gas deals in both Russia and Kazakhstan. The company enabled Russia's dismantlement of Yukos, and has been Gazprom's top-tier partner in tightening its grip on gas supplies to Turkey and Europe. Allegations in one WikiLeaked cable that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and some pals have profited personally from this intimate relationship are not entirely surprising -- nor is it particularly shocking to read allegations of similar Eni activity in Uganda.
The details come in an unusually descriptive new cable released by WikiLeaks. The cable describes a Dec. 14, 2009 meeting between U.S. Ambassador Jerry Lanier and Tim O'Hanlon, vice president for Africa for Britain's Tullow Oil. We have written previously about scrappy Tullow, a serious player around Africa's Lake Albert region, which is believed to potentially contain more than 1 billion barrels of oil.
Here is the backdrop: Tullow was wishing to exercise a right of first refusal to buy the second half of two Ugandan oilfields in which it already held a 50 percent interest. But Eni somehow stepped in and, right around the time of the Lanier-O'Hanlon meeting, announced that it, and not Tullow, would secure the $1.35 billion purchase. O'Hanlon asserted that he knew just how Eni had managed it -- the Italians had created a London shell company through which they were funneling money to Uganda's security minister, Amama Mbabazi.
This bit of news really irritated Lanier, who suggested that he was sick and tired of hearing of "corruption scandals" involving Mbabazi. From the cable:
Depending on the outcome of this major deal, we believe it could be time to consider tougher action - to include visa revocation - for senior officials like Mbabazi who are consistently linked to corruption scandals impacting the international activity of U.S. businesses, U.S. foreign assistance goals, and the stability of democratic institutions.
Lanier said in the cable that he planned to confer with the local British High Commission, plus the Irish ambassador, and talk about writing a joint letter to President Yoweri Museveni expressing their dismay "about these very troubling signs of high-level corruption in Uganda's oil sector, and advocating for the open and transparent sale of oil assets and management of future oil revenues."
We do not know if those meetings took place or if the letter was written. However, the deal was overturned just seven weeks later and given to Tullow under the same terms as Eni.
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
One of the latest WikiLeaks scoops is that Royal Dutch/Shell managed to infiltrate employees into every important Nigerian ministry, and obtain regular inside intelligence on government doings, as my colleague Beth Dickinson wrote late last night. My question is, if Shell is so capable and has Nigeria so well wired, why does it continue to be the main target of attack by local militants?
This is a company that three weeks ago yet again declared force majeure to protect itself against lawsuits for non-delivery of some 125,000 barrels a day of oil because of militant attacks on its pipeline network in the country. It could take until next month to repair the Escravos-Warri pipeline, the company says.
All in all, Shell produced 629,000 barrels of oil a day last year, which sounds like a lot until you consider that its facilities are capable of producing more than 1 million barrels a day. Much of that difference is accounted for by massive attacks on its installations. In 2008, Shell also had a bad year, with militants attacking and shutting down its flagship 200,000-barrel-a day Bonga oil platform. Two years before that, Shell threatened to pull out of the Niger Delta entirely after a spate of attacks on its installations resulted in numerous deaths and kidnappings.
This is not meant to be snarky. But is the Nigerian government all that important in this case? Given the stakes, one does wonder if Shell is putting as much effort into infiltrating the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group responsible for much of the mayhem. A five-year-old story by Michael Peel, the Financial Times' former Nigeria correspondent, reported that militants and others were stealing somewhere between 275,000 barrels a day and 685,000 barrels a day of oil from Shell and other pipelines, at the time worth between $1.5 billion and $4 billion a year. They were spending much of that money on weapons -- which in their business counts as reinvestment into future attacks.
DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images
The latest WikiLeaks document dump is decidedly Africa-centric, and among other things includes a sizeable stack of cables from the U.S. embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe. One of them, an account a diamond-smuggling operation involving several top government officials, would have a decent shot at be optioned in Hollywood.
First, the background: Zimbabwe's economy has more or less vanished over the past decade, but the Mugabe regime does have one thing going for it: diamonds. In 2006, a huge diamond field called Marange was discovered in eastern Zimbabwe, prompting a mad dash for the riches. A British company called African Consolidated Resources, taking over a claim that had belonged to diamond giant DeBeers, opened large-scale mining operations, only to be forcibly evicted by Mugabe's government, which took over the diamond field in 2007. The national mining company attempted to run things there for a little while, but eventually excavation was ceded to a small army of independent hand-panning prospectors, giving rise to a lawless, Wild West environment; the Zimbabwean military was reported to have gunned down illegal miners from helicopters in its efforts to gain control over the chaos.
The Marange diamond operation has been a stone in the shoe of the international community ever since. The Kimberley Process, the international gem-trade-governing body that certifies exporters in an effort to control the trade in blood diamonds, has accused the Zimbabwean government of committing various human rights abuses at the Marange mines, and eventually stopped certifying the diamonds mined there. Mugabe, in turn, has blasted the Kimberly Process as illegitimate, and continued to export diamonds without the group's stamp of approval (he has found plenty of buyers in China and India). The whole affair has led to some soul-searching about the means the international community has chosen to regulate the diamond industry; an International Crisis Group report in November suggested it was time to "rethink" the Kimberley process, since the Zimbabwean trade had demonstrated so many gaping holes in it.
It was in this context that Andrew Cranswick, CEO of the recently ousted African Consolidated Resources, met with U.S. embassy officials in November 2008 to spill the dirt, so to speak, on who was cashing in on the diamond field -- including many officials of the government that was nominally trying to bring the situation to heel. (At the time, Zimbabwean diamonds were still Kimberley-certified -- but the Marange exports were being sold on the black market.) Cranswick is of course hardly a disinterested party here, so caveat emptor; "it is clear," the cable -- signed by U.S. Ambassador James McGee -- notes, "that Cranswick is a businessman trying to find any pressure point he can through which to leverage his own claim. At the same time, he sheds light on an industry that is enriching many of the same old corrupt Zimbabwean elite -- and causing violence and deaths that so far have received little attention."
Indeed, the account of how the Zimbabwean diamond trade worked is pretty interesting reading. First there are the principals: Eleven Zimbabweans including Mugabe's wife, prime minister, and minister of mines and mining development, plus the local governor. (The cable notes that the embassy's own inquiry yielded a similar list of names.) Then there's the pipeline: Once they were sold to "a mix of Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese (the largest contingent), Russians, and South Africans," the low-grade diamonds were smuggled into Dubai and traded in an economic free-trade zone there, while gem-quality stones found their way to Belgium, Israel, or South Africa.
Back on the diamond field, meanwhile, things were slipping ever deeper into chaos, as prospectors from half a dozen other African countries flocked to Marange for a cut of the action, and efforts to control them "led to hundreds and possibly thousands of homicides." This was known at the time, but still, the details here are engrossing:
In response to aggressive police action, diggers began arming themselves with handguns and in some cases automatic weapons. They also formed loose gangs in an attempt to protect themselves as well as "claimed" areas. Cranswick said that some members of the police and army have deserted in order to join the digging, and they typically brought their firearms with them. Some former police even still wear their uniforms as they search for diamonds.
John Moore/Getty Images
If you want to make some enemies in Nigeria, just say you're from Shell -- especially after Wednesday's WikiLeaks release. Cables from 2009 and 2010 indicate that the oil company -- the firm with the longest history and the most tarnished reputation in Nigeria -- has infiltrated government ministries, speaks of its Nigerian colleagues as amateurs, and seems to have U.S. diplomatic help in pushing its agenda through the national assembly.
Shell has been operating in Nigeria since 1936, and over the decades, it has been the most prominent international oil company operating in the resource-rich Niger Delta. Its mishaps are almost as old, but things took a particular turn for the worse in the early 1990s, when Shell was allegedly complicit in the government assasination of local environmental activists who were protesting the oil pollution in their communities. Shell was kicked out of those communities and only recently let back in.
Yet in a series of cables discussing Nigeria's Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), an effort at sector-wide reform that has been held up in the assembly since 2008, it becomes clear just how much influence Shell still wields.
Shell -- and, according to the cables, all international oil companies operating in Nigeria -- are adamantly opposed to the legislation, as it stands to "reduce the corporation's [Shell's] overall value in Nigeria." As such, Shell told the U.S. ambassador that the company and its peers would be reaching out to diplomats from the United States, Britain, and Denmark to "convey points on the bill to GON [government of Nigeria] policymakers," a Feb. 10, 2009 cable recounts. In a meeting in October 2009, the U.S. ambassador asks "what the Embassy could do to help" with the congressional committee working on the bill. The ambassador also reminds Shell Managing Director Ann Pickard "that the U.S., U.K., Dutch and French Embassies had already made a joint call on [Nigerian national oil company] NNPC General Managing Director Dr. Mohammed Barkindo" regarding the bill. (Nigeria is was the fourth-largest OPEC oil supplier to the United States in September, the most recent month for which data is available.)
But more disquieting is the influence Shell wields within the Nigerian government. Pickard recounts direct meetings with former Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua as well as other top oil officials. This isn't unexpected. But in a meeting between the U.S. ambassador, Pickard points out that Shell is able to keep tabs on the Nigerian government's dealings with other oil partners China and Russia in part because "Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."
Of course, there are damning revelations about the government of Nigeria's role in the slippery oil business as well. Shell alleges in the February 10 meeting that illegal oil sales go all the way to the top of the govenment: "Oil buyers would pay NNPC GMD Yar'Adua, Chief Economic Advisor Yakubu and the First Lady Turai Yar'Adua large bribes to lift oil."
Still, the revelations about Shell will likely overshadow those pertaining to the Nigerian government -- at least in Nigeria, where corruption in the government is a well-recognized fact. There, the cables will hammer one more nail into Shell's coffin as far as public opinion is concerned. It doesn't help that the company refers to its local colleagues in incredibly demeaning terms. A cable recounting a Feb. 23, 2010, conversation with the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnny Carson, recalls: "Amateur technocrats run the oil and gas sector according to Shell’s Peter Robinson. They believe that they can control the industry via spreadsheets and pushing through the PIB."
For a population that has lived for decades with oil -- to little benefit -- Shell's political obituary writes itself.
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
In an op-ed published Tuesday in the Australian newspaper, WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange wrote:
WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed.
But just four months ago, Assange was singing a different tune:
When I try to question him about the morality of what he's done, if he worries about unleashing something that he can't control, that no one can control, he tells me the story of the Kenyan 2007 elections when a WikiLeak document "swung the election".
The leak exposed massive corruption by Daniel Arap Moi, and the Kenyan people sat up and took notice. In the ensuing elections, in which corruption became a major issue, violence swept the country. "1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak," says Assange. It's a chilling statistic, but then he states: "On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya. And many more die of money being pulled out of Kenya, and as a result of the Kenyan shilling being debased."
It's probably unlikely that WikiLeaks swung the Kenyan election and provoked massive violence. But Assange can't have it both ways.