Salvadorans are not into the idea of other people investigating Salvadorans.
U.S. officials in 2006 were concerned about the security of Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure.
The granddaddy of WikiLeaks is officially released at last.
THE BIG PICTURE
Trying to make sense of the LulzSec hackers' motives.
How WikiLeaks begat the Sarah Palin email frenzy.
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images, Tom Pennington/Getty Images, Flickr user Andy Miah
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
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
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
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
The near-total destruction of Baghdad's city zoo over the course of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was, in retrospect, a grim portent of the poor planning and disastrous mismanagement that would characterize the early years of the Iraq war. The zoo had been the largest in the Middle East before the invasion, with more than 650 animals; eight days after coalition troops arrived in the city, however, all but 35 were dead. "All the Americans would've had to do is drop off 50 men, with a few vets and a truckload of food, and they wouldn't have lost any of the animals," Lawrence Anthony, a South Africa conservationist who salvaged what was left of the zoo after the invasion, told me last year.
So it's heartening to read a February 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, signed by embassy staffer Greg D'Elia and released by WikiLeaks over the weekend, detailing the Baghdad zoo's resurgence as "reportedly … the most popular destination for family outings in Baghdad." As of late 2007, security in the city was still dicey enough that most of the zoo's visitors came from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. But as the worst of the brutal sectarian violence of the preceding years ebbed, some 8,000 Baghdadis were visiting each weekend, and the zookeepers could boast of some one-of-a-kind acquisitions:
[T]he Baghdad Zoo staff took particular pleasure in reclaiming for the Iraqi public the exotic animals formerly possessed by Saddam Hussein and his family. Uday's pampered cheetah is now tame enough for visitors to pet. Two of Saddam's three lions gave birth last year to three cubs each; now the Zoo has nine lions on display. The Zoo also has in its possession Saddam Hussein's former stallion, Al Abor -- "the most famous horse in Iraq," according to Mousa. Saddam Hussein rode Al Abor in countless parades and public ceremonies.
The best part of the cable is its account of the zoo's "highlights and lowlights":
The Baghdad Zoo also featured some primitive practices, including the daily slaughter of two donkeys to feed the lions, and some modern flourishes, such as exotic fish with an image of the Iraqi flag lasered permanently into their scales. (NOTE: These fish sport the old Iraqi flag. Zoo staff could not predict whether they will employ laser surgery to amend these now-outlawed, swimming flags. END NOTE.)
Then there are the alcoholic bears:
To ease the trauma of the brown bears' move from Saddam Hussein's possession into the Zoo, staff reportedly plied them with copious amounts of Arak; visitors repeated rumors that the disheveled bears continue to imbibe this powerful drink.
Over the weekend, WikiLeaks decided to drop what (if memory serves) is its largest single release to date from its cache of U.S. State Department emails, almost all of them from the U.S. Embassy in London over the past few years. We'll be picking through the good bits here over the next few days, although at first glance they seem short on blockbusters, which may explain why they haven't commanded much attention in the media. (That, and the whole dumping-hundreds-of-cables-on-a-Friday-night thing.)
The London cables mostly concern foreign policy issues where Britain's interests are closely aligned with the United States', the war in Afghanistan among them; the effort to thread the needle between the British government's commitment to the war and waning support for it among the British public is a common theme. One cable offers a lengthy account of then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's November 2008 meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, in which Karzai tells Miliband (in the cable's paraphrase) that "it would be difficult or impossible to hold a credible Presidential election" the following year in Afghanistan, ticking off five particularly problematic provinces. (On that much, he was right.)
Karzai also expresses optimism about the United States' new president-elect, Barack Obama, but in his conversation with Miliband you can see the seeds of the estrangement between the Afghan and American presidents that would characterize the years that followed. There's the issue of American-employed private contractors, who Karzai would order out of his country in August 2010:
Afghanistan wanted to end the way in which the Americans sub-contracted major parts of their aid program to "doubtful contractors." He was also concerned that many of the private security companies were little more than "criminal organizations." The same applied to some of the transport companies used by the U.S.; it had become apparent to Karzai that the transport companies were responsible for much of the insecurity on the highways, in order to extract higher fees and insurance payments from the Americans.
Karzai also tells Miliband that he's leery about the United States dispatching more soldiers to his country:
Karzai emphasized that more U.S. troops were not the answer. He hoped the Americans would consult the Afghan Government before sending more troops. Karzai said that the U.S. had failed to send the troops for which Karzai had asked in 2002, but now it might be too late.
Miliband brings up the inevitable question of how all of this ends, and according to the cable suggests that "reconciliation" -- presumably with the Taliban -- "subject to strict conditions, would obviously be part of that."
Karzai agreed, saying that he had consulted "the whole Afghan people," and they were all in favor of reconciliation. They wanted to "bring over the good guys, while excluding the bad guys." Karzai realizes that the U.S., Russia and Iran had doubts about reconciliation, but this was something that the Afghan people wanted, and which he was bound to press ahead.
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
WikiLeaks seems to have rediscovered the news cycle, releasing seven cables from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as the Egyptian government crackdown on protesters and journalists turned ugly Thursday. There's not much in them that you didn't know if you've ever read a Human Rights Watch report on Egypt, though a 2009 scene-setter for a visit by FBI Director Robert Mueller does effectively sum up the sorry state of human rights and civil liberties in Hosni Mubarak's country:
Egypt's police and domestic security services continue to be dogged by persistent, credible allegations of abuse of detainees. Police brutality in Egypt against common criminals is routine and pervasive, resulting from poor training and understaffing. Over the past five years, the government has stopped denying that torture exists, and since late 2007 courts have sentenced approximately 18 police officers to prison terms for torture and killings. In March, a court sentenced a police officer to 15 years in prison for shooting a motorist following a dispute. The GOE [government of Egypt] has not yet made a serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution, but there are indications that the government is allowing the courts increased independence to adjudicate some police brutality cases.
The Interior Ministry uses SSIS [the State Security Investigative Services] to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society. SSIS suppresses political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation. In February following the Gaza war, SSIS arrested a small number of pro-Palestinian activists and bloggers, and detained them for periods of a few days to several weeks.
CHRIS KLEPONIS/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
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
On Thursday, Julian Assange told reporters that WikiLeaks would be releasing State Department cables concerning the assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January, and he has made good on the promise with a couple of short dispatches from the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi. They don't offer any more insight into the still-unsolved killing, but they do paint a picture of the diplomatic conundrum the incident posed for the United Emirates and the United States.
Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander who had orchestrated the
kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers and was suspected of smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip, died in his room at the Al
Bustan Rotana hotel in Dubai on Jan. 19, after being injected with the muscle
relaxant succinylcholine and then suffocated. Although Israel
has denied it won't confirm or deny it, the
list of people who don't believe that Mossad agents did the job is vanishingly
short. The hit squad had deftly
plotted and executed the assassination, using encrypted cell phones and passports
from half a dozen countries, and quickly scattered themselves from Hong Kong to
Paris once their work was done. Their one mistake, however, was a big one:
failing to account for the hotel's CCTV cameras, which caught
their faces on tape.
The story was first reported 10 days later by Reuters, and as it happened, U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson was at a social event with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed when it broke, according to one of the two embassy cables, signed by Olson. An unnamed UAE media advisor, Olson reports in the Jan. 31 cable, "after making a few calls reported back that the UAE's public posture was being discussed between Dubai Ruler Mohammed bin Rashid and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. The two options discussed were to say nothing at all, or to reveal more or less the full extent of the UAE's investigations."
The UAE was no friend of Hamas -- the emirate's discontent with Hamas patron Iran is a recurring theme in the WikiLeaks corpus -- but its government was, of course, not exactly eager to be seen as enabling an Israeli incursion on the sovereignty of an Arab state, either. The cable describes the UAE officials' reasoning, and decision:
Saying nothing would have been perceived as protecting the Israelis and in the end, the UAE chose to tell all. The statement was carefully drafted not to point any fingers, but the reference in the document (see below) to a gang with western passports will be read locally as referring to the Mossad.
American officials had their own decision to make about where their loyalties were -- one documented in the second cable, signed by Olson deputy Doug Greene, several weeks later. Greene reports that UAE officials requested the embassy's help in acquiring account data for credit cards, issued by a bank in Iowa, that investigators had linked to suspects in the assassination. The request was apparently turned down, and as Haaretz reports, the State Department denied at the time that any requests had been made. "By not accepting the request," Haaretz's Yossi Melman writes, "the Obama administration harmed the Dubai investigation efforts and assisted Israel instead." The U.S. government did eventually assist in the investigation, however, identifying American companies that may have been used to finance the operation.
David Silverman/Getty Images
Of all the shoes we've been waiting to see drop in as the cables slowly -- slowly -- trickle out of the WikiLeaks vault, few seemed as inevitable as India. Considering the country's intractable standoff with Pakistan, domestic and border conflicts, politically sensitive (for the United States, at least) economic rise, and place in Asia's delicate new balance of power, the odds of someone in the New Delhi embassy writing something headline-worthy seemed to be -- oh, about 100 percent.
And surprise surprise, someone did:
US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables released tonight.
That's the lede on today's Guardian story parsing a handful of newly released State Department documents out of Delhi. (As has been the case over recent days, WikiLeaks itself has been slow and erratic in actually posting the material on which the newspapers entrusted with the whole stash are reporting, but the new ones are available here, here, and here on the Guardian site.) The worst of them concerns a briefing given to embassy officials in April 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in which the (unnamed) Red Cross representative lays out in appalling detail the acts of torture committed by Indian security forces in their prosecution of the quarter-century-long conflict in Kashmir.
Following 1,491 interviews with Kashmiris who had been detained at Indian government facilities in Kashmir from 2002 to 2004, the cable says, "The continued ill-treatment of detainees, despite longstanding ICRC-[government of India] dialogue, have led the ICRC to conclude that ... New Delhi condones torture."
In 852 cases, detainees reported what ICRC refers to as "IT" (ill-treatment): 171 persons were beaten, the remaining 681 subjected to one or more of six forms of torture: electricity (498 cases), suspension from ceiling (381), "roller" (a round metal object put on the thighs of sitting person, which prison personnel then sit on, crushing muscles -- 294); stretching (legs split 180 degrees -- 181), water (various forms -- 234), or sexual (302). Numbers add up to more than 681, as many detainees were subjected to more than one form of IT. ICRC stressed that all the branches of the security forces used these forms of IT and torture.
The Red Cross representative calls this a "representative sample," but he also makes clear that the organization hadn't had access to all of the Indian detention facilities. The cable notes that this kind of briefing from the Red Cross was uncommon, and reflected the organization's sense of desperation in dealing with the Indian government -- as well as the hope, if not an outright request, that the embassy might bring some pressure to bear.
(A poignant footnote here is that, according to the 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA's own horrific treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism that was leaked to the New York Review of Books last year, the Red Cross had filed its first report on the United States' own detention program five months before the Delhi briefing detailed in the cable -- meaning that at least someone in the organization was aware that the country to which the Red Cross was appealing for support in Kashmir was complicit in similar activities elsewhere in the world.)
There is certainly other documentation of similar crimes in Kashmir out there, even if it doesn't carry the same weight as the Red Cross's condemnation. In 1993, Physicians for Human Rights released a report on torture of detainees by the Indian government in Kashmir; the 2005 cable notes that "officials have maintained that the human rights situation in Kashmir is ‘much better than it was in the 1990s,' a view [the Red Cross briefer] also agreed with." But there have been no shortage of accusations leveled at the Indian government (and, in fact, the Red Cross) in more recent years, as well as the occasional news report. Another cable, signed a year after the Red Cross dispatch by the same author, Charge d'Affaires Robert Blake, matter-of-factly notes that India's "terrorism investigations and court cases tend to rely upon confessions, many of which are obtained under duress if not beatings, threats, or, in some cases, torture. These factors, along with a creaky and corrupt judiciary, contribute to cases lingering in the courts for years."
The Guardian teases a few more tidbits in yet-to-be-released India cables, most notably that "Rahul Gandhi, the crown prince of Indian politics, believes Hindu extremists pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants, according to the American ambassador to India." Given Gandhi's family name and relationship with India's National Congress Party -- whose efforts to play religious politics have gotten a gimlet-eyed treatment from the U.S. embassy in Delhi elsewhere in the WikiLeaks files -- that one ought to be good.
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
In May, Thailand's capital city of Bangkok temporarily became a war zone, with rural populist "red shirts" opposed to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva fighting pitched battles in the streets with government forces. The fighting was the other shoe dropping after the 2006 military coup that deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a politician who was venal and not especially democratic but was nevertheless immensely popular with Thailand's rural poor. Thaksin's ousting was seen as the work of the urban Bangkok elite, and Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej was widely suspected to have had a hand in it, or at least given his tacit consent, despite the Thai royal family's traditional neutrality in the country's politics.
That's the backstory to a series of U.S. State Department cables the Guardian is reporting on (but hasn't released) this morning, which allege that Queen Sirikit, Bhumibol's wife, had a hand in the 2006 coup. Samak Sundaravej, who briefly served as prime minister during the chaotic post-coup years, tells U.S. diplomats that Sirikit
was indirectly "responsible for the 2006 coup d'état." ... Samak also claimed, the cable writers add, that Sirikit had a hand in the "ongoing turmoil generated by PAD protests", a reference to the mass protests by the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy which have contributed to the downfall of several Thaksin-associated governments since 2006.
Samak alleged the queen "operated through privy council president Prem Tinsulanonda who, along with others presenting themselves as royalists, worked with the PAD and other agitators", according to a report by US ambassador Eric John, within a cable from October 2008.
The Guardian adds that "there is no mention in the cables of any coup involvement by King Bhumibol himself," but that they do report that shortly after the coup, "Bhumibol called the leaders of the coup to his palace for a meeting the evening after Thaksin was ousted and was 'happy, smiling throughout.'"
Speculation that North Korea is aiding the Burmese junta in its aspiring nuclear program have been around for years, at least since the Far Eastern Economic Review first published an investigation on the subject in November 2003. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly fretted about North Korean involvement in July 2009, and the U.N. security council accused the Hermit Kingdom of shipping centrifuge components to the Burmese junta via a series of shell companies in a report last month.
These reports range from speculation to informed speculation, and the cables from the U.S. embassy in Rangoon released by WikiLeaks yesterday aren't qualitatively different, though they add a few new intriguing data points.
In January 2004, an "expatriate businessman" told the embassy that he had heard rumors of a nuclear facility under construction in Magway Division along the Irawaddy River, and reported other suspicious goings-on: barges traveling up the river with building materials of a size too large for any of the industrial development projects in the area, a new airport with a landing strip so wide, the informant said, that "you could land the space shuttle on it."
The following August, an informant told the embassy that "some 300 North Koreans" were in the same area, assembling missiles and building an underground facility at a secret construction site. The author of the State Department cable seems skeptical, both about the storyteller and the story ("the number of North Koreans supposedly working at this site strikes us as improbably high"), but notes that this "second-hand account of North Korean involvement with missile assembly and military construction in Magway Division generally tracks with other information Embassy Rangoon and others hve reported in various channels."
North Korea has generally been suspected of helping Burma with its ballistic missile efforts, but not necessarily the actual nuclear program. So it's notable that this August 2009 cable reports a conversation with Australian Ambassador to Burma Michelle Chan, who told the U.S. embassy that her contact in the Burmese government
told her the Burma-DPRK connection is not just about conventional weapons. There is a peaceful nuclear component intended to address Burma's chronic lack of electrical power generation. When Chan cited reports of a Burma-Russia agreement for development of a peaceful nuclear reactor, XXXXXXXXXXXX responded that the agreement with Russia is currently just for "software, training." The DPRK agreement is for "hardware." XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed reports Burma's Army Chief of Staff (third highest ranking) General Thura Shwe Mann visited the DPRK last November. Asked why Thura Shwe Mann, XXXXXXXXXXXX responded, "Because he is in charge of all military activities." XXXXXXXXXXXX reportedly seemed surprised that the West might be concerned by a Burma-DPRK "peaceful" nuclear relationship. XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that, after all, given sanctions, Burma really has "no other options" but to develop the relationship with North Korea.
A couple other somewhat less conclusive cables about Burma's nuclear activities are here and here. Speculation about what exactly the Burmese junta is up to has increased since a former army major went to a Burmese pro-democracy group with a mountain of inside information on the country's nuclear agenda. Democratic Voice of Burma's thorough debriefing of the major, Sai Thein Win, is still the most authoritative account of what's going on in the isolated country. For now, most of the rest -- including these new cables -- is difficult to definitively parse one way or the other.
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
Australian citizen and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is clearly an "enemy of the United States," as the Wall Street Journal argues, and the Obama administration is rightly considering prosecuting him for espionage. I agree with my colleague Peter Feaver that the disclosure of State Department cables hurts our diplomats' abilities to do their jobs. But a more pressing and complex question is whether the New York Times should be prosecuted as well.
It is a crime to disclose classified information under the Espionage Act of 1917 (see 18 U.S. Code § 793, paragraph e). The Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality in Schenck vs. United States (1919). The Court ruled that "Words which, ordinarily and in many places, would be within the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment may become subject to prohibition when of such a nature and used in such circumstances a to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent." The First Amendment does not protect espionage.
The most famous prosecution under the Espionage Act was the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times vs. United States (1971), in which the Nixon administration attempted to stop the publication of a Department of Defense internal history of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration lost the case and the New York Times (and others) published the history in full. Since the Pentagon Papers case, administrations have been generally reluctant to prosecute under the Espionage Act both because of the perceived difficulty of winning a conviction and because of general discomfort with the idea of suing the media for the content of what they publish.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaks hasn't posted the cables yet, but the New York Times's Scott Shane has a piece out drawing from a forthcoming batch of Yemen dispatches, focusing on the United States' relationship with the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's president of three decades.
Nothing in it is terribly surprising if you've read much about Saleh, whose attempts to capitalize on the American government's sudden interest in his country following last year's foiled Christmas Day bomb plot, which was hatched in Yemen, are notorious enough to have inspired a Saturday Night Live skit. Still, some of the best character studies in the cables thus far have been of the United States' inconvenient allies in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union -- rulers like Saleh, Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev, and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev -- so the piece is definitely worth a read.
The WikiLeaks cables do add some interesting details to the story of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, who has emerged since last year as an important player in counterterrorism efforts in Yemen. After al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula botched an assassination attempt on Nayef in August 2009, the Saudis, who share a sprawling border with Yemen, stepped up their cooperation with American intelligence agencies, and were instrumental in foiling AQAP's attempt to blow up two cargo planes over the United States last month. A May 2009 cable released earlier this week captures Nayef's growing sense of alarm even before the assassination attempt, in an account of a meeting between the prince and U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
Nayef tells Holbrooke, "We have a problem called Yemen." He says that Saleh's "vision of Yemen has shrunk to Sana'a," the capital city in the north, and the Yemeni president has lost what connections he had once had with the tribes that form the de facto government of Yemen's once independent and now tenuously controlled south. The Saudis, Nayef claims, have better relations with the southern tribes, and have taken matters into their own hands, financing development projects in the tribal regions that host AQAP in an effort to win Yemeni hearts and minds. I wonder how that's working out...
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Is Tehran convinced the United States is out to steal its oil? Here's Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a cable describing a Jan. 14, 2009, meeting in the capital city of Astana between Nazarbayev and U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, in which the Kazakh leader recounts his recent conversations with Iran's leaders:
[Nazarbayev] said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni told him that even if Iran compromises on the nuclear issue, the United States would always find another reason to criticize "because they hate us -- all the United States wants is to conquer the entire region and steal the oil." General Petraeus interjected, "We could have bought all the oil in the region for 100 years for what we've spent in Iraq!" Nazarbayev, looking a bit amused, said, "I know. I'm just telling you what he said."
The cable, signed by Richard Hoagland, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, is also interesting for Nazarbayev's pretty shrewd insights into Afghan politics. Nazarbayev is worried about publicized efforts to bring the Taliban into the Kabul government. Petraeus, then the head of U.S. Central Command, replies that this is just an attempt to break up the movement, while roping certain elements into the power circle. That's all well and good, Nazarbayev replies, but suggests that the Taliban is all about control, and not sharing power: "The Taliban leadership will never change its position," Nazarbayev says.
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Is China through with North Korea? That's the Guardian's takeaway from the exchanges between American diplomats and their Chinese and South Korean counterparts in the first batches of State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday and Monday. "China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime," Simon Tisdall writes, and goes on to note evidence of "China's shift:" Nods of approval from Chinese officials for a single Korea governed from Seoul, expressions of alarm from Beijing about Pyongyang's 2009 missile tests, and a Chinese official's complaint that Kim Jong-il's regime is behaving like a "spoiled child."
It's all in there -- but sifting through the Wikileaks cables, that reading strikes me as a bit breathless. It's true that there are a couple of significant nods toward the idea of reunification. One comes in a 2009 meeting between Richard E. Hoagland and Cheng Guoping, respectively the American and Chinese ambassadors to Kazakhstan, at a hotel restaurant in the capital city of Astana. (Hoagland, incidentally, is a great reporter -- his account of the meeting is some of the best reading in the Wikileaks files.) "When asked about the reunification of Korea," Hoagland writes, "Guoping said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term."
The other is some intelligence relayed from South Korean then-Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who told U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens that Chinese officials "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a ‘benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China." The breaking point, Chun reportedly told Stephens, was North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, after which Chinese officials were increasingly willing to "face the new reality" that North Korea had outlived its usefulness as a buffer between Chinese and American forces. Chun (in Stephens's paraphrase) notes that the "tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies" in a newly opened North Korea might would make reunification easier to swallow, and points out that in any case, "China's strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- not North Korea."
Otherwise, Beijing's sharpest words -- such as Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei's remark that the Kim regime is acting like a "spoiled child" trying to get the attention of the "adult" United States -- came mostly in the wake of Pyongyang's April 2009 missile test, in the context of Beijing's efforts to engage Washington in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il's principal diplomatic goal at the time. Beijing's emissaries mostly just seem to be trying to keep the Americans at the table.
David E. Sanger's take in the New York Times better captures the essence of the cables, which is to say their ambiguity -- based on the selective evidence here, Beijing seems only somewhat less in the dark about what exactly is going on in Pyongyang than North Korea's enemies. Other corners of the Wikileaks trove are rich in plot and detail: the Obama administration's slow disenchantment with Turkey, byzantine Azeri-Iranian money laundering schemes, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh's entanglements with the U.S. military. The North Korean cables are mostly a lot of chatter around the edges of a giant question mark. As Sanger writes, they "are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia." The dominant mood of the Chinese diplomats who appear throughout them is exhaustion -- a sense, plenty familiar in Washington and Seoul, that no one really knows what to do next.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
The latest dump of classified information stolen from the U.S. government is extraordinarily damaging to U.S. national security, but not in the way that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, apparently intended. (If the summer leak was a gusher what does that make this latest round, a tsunami?)
Assange is a garden-variety anti-American who believes that the United States is a malevolent actor which engages in all sorts of shameful secret activities that, if revealed, would discredit all aspects of American power. Prior to earlier dumps of classified material, Assange claimed that the secret files would document massive war crimes by the United States. They did not.
Based on the depictions of the cables in the media (the New York Times coverage begins here, the Guardian coverage begins here, and Der Spiegel's coverage begins here, it appears the same thing is true for this latest batch. The media apparently found no instances of shameful behavior -- I am assuming that if they had done so, they would have led with those stories. Instead, the cables document that American diplomats have been doing what they are supposed to be doing: collecting information, reporting their opinions and insights back to headquarters, and trying to build international cooperation in pursuit of core American foreign-policy goals.
The cables document that diplomats often relay information that would be, well, undiplomatic to say publicly. Diplomats often get foreign interlocutors to be more candid when they believe their discussions will remain confidential. Diplomats also opine on a range of topics -- the limitations of current lines of U.S. policy or the weaknesses of allies -- that would compromise an administration's effectiveness if shared with a general audience, but not because the views were dishonorable, or indicated that the United States was engaged in reprehensible behavior.
Assange's damage to the United States is not in what he discovered about the past, but rather in the peril he has placed our diplomats, our friends and partners, and our policies in the future. The massive security breach has made every bilateral relationship more difficult and likely lowered the quality of diplomatic reporting. Will our interlocutors be as candid now that they have seen what happens? Ironically, Assange's attack on our diplomats has meant that our statecraft may be more dependent on cruder instruments of state power, especially brute force. (Elsewhere on FP, Dan Drezner reads the situation just as I do and notes one further likely result: an uptick in intelligence failures as the bureaucracy responds by stove piping information to prevent future espionage of this sort.)
If WikiLeaks had uncovered evidence of gross misdeeds, I suppose reasonable people could debate the balance of interests the dump might have served. Outlandish claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the leaks have done nothing of the sort. Instead, they have damaged the United States and in doing so achieved no higher purpose than the damage they have done. To fervent anti-Americans, weakening the United States is an end unto itself.
In wartime, we should expect enemies to seek to damage us in this way. How will President Obama respond to an enemy attack of this sort?
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
The new WikiLeaks documents show that Iran has been hunting for missile technology all over the world, seeking to buy gyroscopes, jet vanes and metals, and perhaps whole missiles from North Korea. But Iran also has experienced great difficulty building longer range missiles. Why? Some clues can be found in one of the most interesting documents just released, a briefing that Russian officials gave their American counterparts on Iran's progress, or lack of it.
A summary of the Dec. 22, 2009 meeting was marked "secret" but tumbled out on Sunday in the reams of memos released by WikiLeaks and major news organizations. Fourteen Russian and 15 U.S. government officials compared notes that day about missile threats from Iran and North Korea.
Judging by the summary, it was a lively back and forth, during which the Russians claimed the threat from Iran's missiles is not as great as some have predicted in the United States. The size and nature of the threat is important because it undergirds the U.S. plans for a multi-billion dollar ballistic missile defense system.
The Russians were prepared to talk "seriously" with the U.S. group, the summary says. Their message was Iran is struggling to lengthen the range of missiles that could carry heavy loads, such as a one-ton nuclear warhead, that might threaten the region or beyond. The Russians said their basic conclusion is that "Iran's ballistic missile program continues to be directed toward developing combat ready missiles to address regional concerns," not targets like the United States.
This was also the assessment made in May by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
In the December meeting, there was a sharp disagreement about the U.S. claim that North Korea sold to Iran a batch of 19 missiles, known as the BM-25. The transfer was first reported publicly in 2006; the BM-25 missile is supposedly based on a Soviet naval ballistic missile design, the R-27, known in the West as the SS-N-6. This missile was first developed in the 1960s and later modernized; it was in service in the Soviet Union until 1988. Iran has not tested any of the missiles it imported. The U.S. officials speculated that Iran may have purchased it to reverse-engineer the technology (although North Korea has been known to ship parts, expertise and manufacturing facilities as well as the missiles themselves.) The U.S. officials said photos of the Iranian space launch rocket, the Safir, show an engine which looks like the one on the R-27, as well as fuel tanks and welds that resemble it. The U.S. officials said they had received "direct evidence" of the missile transfer from North Korea to Iran.
But the Russians strongly dismissed the BM-25 as a mirage, according to the summary. They said Iran would not have purchased an untested missile, and they doubted whether it even existed. "For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile," the summary says. "Russia does not think the BM-25 exists." They asked why North Korea would sell an untested missile; the Americans responded: for cash.
Both the Russians and Americans acknowledged the limitations of Iran's older, liquid-fueled missiles, based on the Soviet Scud and its modifications, including the Shahab-1, Shahab-2 and Shahab-3. Both sides also seemed to agree that the Safir is not a military threat because of the small size of the payload.
The key issue is Iran's pursuit of more modern and powerful solid-fuel missiles that could hit medium-range targets, such as those in the Middle East or Europe. Iran has been working on such a missile, called the Sajjil-2, which it has flight tested. (See my earlier post about it.) In the meeting, U.S. officials were more worried about this than the Russians, who said Iran continues to stumble with solid fuel technology. "In Russia's view, Iran appears to be having very serious problems with engine development," the summary says. U.S. officials countered that Iran has a decade of experience with short-range missiles using solid fuel, importing equipment from China, and could now extend it to larger missiles.
The Russians said Iran was a long way from building intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the United States. "Russia said its bottom line is that Iran lacks appropriate structural materials for long-range systems, such as high quality aluminum," the summary says. "Iran can build prototypes, but in order to be a threat to the U.S. or Russia, Iran needs to produce missiles in mass quantities, and it lacks materials sufficient for the type of mass production needed to be a security threat. Russia further noted that the technology for longer-range missiles is sophisticated and difficult to master."
At another point, the Russians said they think the North Koreans are working on a new, 100-ton capacity rocket engine using older technology, clustering the motors or stacking them. But Russia said the technology hasn't been actually spotted.
AFP/Getty Images; from Iran's ISNA agency, the two-stage solid-fuel missile, Dec. 16, 2009
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with French Minister of Defense Herve Morin Feb. 8 in Paris, he had a harsh assessment of the Russian government and some severe differences with his French counterpart on several issues of international security.
"SecDef (Gates) observed that Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services," read a cable about the meeting classified by Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow and leaked to the self described whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The website posted Sunday just over 200 of the over 250,000 sensitive State Department documents it claims to have in its possession.
"President [Dmitry] Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin, but there has been little real change," Gates told Morin, according to the cable.
Gates was pressing Morin to rethink the French sale of the amphibious assault ship the Mistral to Russia, a sale that several NATO member countries and the country of Georgia loudly protested around the time of the meeting. The cable details how strongly Gates pressed the French on the issue and how strongly he was rebuffed.
Gates' comments about the Russian leadership were an attempt to explain why he and many central and eastern European countries couldn't accept Morin's statement that the West must trust the Russians when they claimed the ship would not be used for aggressive purposes. In fact, Morin told Gates that he personally pushed hard for the sale, despite that Russia has not lived up to its agreements following its 2008 war with Georgia. Ultimately, the sale of the Mistral went through and U.S. officials never publicly condemned it.
Gates' frank analysis of the Russian government matches the take of top Russian opposition leaders, such as Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who told Foreign Policy last month that, "We have no democracy at all. We don't have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the authorities."
But the comments go far beyond what top U.S. officials have said in public about their concerns of the retreat of democracy and good governance in Russia. In a separate cable sent in late 2008, the U.S. embassy in Moscow reported that Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin's Batman," the Guardian reported.
In their February meeting, Morin told Gates that expanding NATO to include Georgia would weaken NATO Article 5, which provides for a common defense. In response to that remark, Gates "stated his preference for NATO to focus its efforts in the Euro-Atlantic area, perhaps extending into the Mediterranean," the cable stated.
The cable also reveals how strongly the French defense minister opposed U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe, especially the drive to link the plans with NATO, as was codified at the Lisbon summit only last week. Morin said the Obama administration's new plan would "give publics a false sense of security," and argued for a system based more on deterrence. He asked Gates who the system was aimed at and told Gates European countries don't have "infinite" funds to spend on such a system.
Gates replied that the system did add to deterrence and would have increased the capability as opposed to the Bush administration's plan. The new scheme also allowed Russian participation, which was impossible under the previous design, he said.
On Iran, Gates told Morin that Israel had the capability of striking Iran's nuclear facilities, but "he didn't know if they would be successful." He also told Morin that even a successful Israeli strike would only delay Iran's nuclear program "by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker."
Read the full cable after the jump: