Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wiki Leaks: Analyzing the World Wide Story for What We Can Learn About Our Media

Wiki Leaks leak of the US State Department secret cables allows us to gain a snapshot of the world as the US sees it in the post 9/11, post Bush era. It is also another one of those teachable moments to understand how different countries handle a world wide story involving many of the world’s major countries. We learn for example from The Washington Post,  that China and the Arab world “have suppressed virtually all mention of the documents, avoiding the public backlash that could result from such candid portrayals of their leaders' views.” The article suggests that the documents present an interesting question as to see whether new social media forces can overcome the authoritarian control. Marc Lynch, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, writes in his Foreign Policy blog

"This may be a critical test of the real impact of Arabic social media and the Internet: can it break through a wall of silence and reach mass publics if the mass media doesn't pick up the story?".
It is interesting to sample the comments that have largely focused in the US on the damage to the country from such revealations. Dothat writing in the New York Times believes that,
“Systems will turn inward; information-sharing will decrease; further centralization, rather than any kind of devolution or transparency, will be the order of the day. And all the while, the useful work that’s done by “America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices” — the prevention of wars, the anticipation of crises, the discreet management of difficult situations — will become that much more difficult to accomplish.”

The popular media were also concerned about the diplomatic fallout but more attention was paid to the  mysterious fugitive from justice, Julian Assange, and the Interpol search he has caused to be launched. The right wing and its media in arms was eager  to cast Assange as a terrorist while  the center and the left adopted a more reflective stance; for example the Economist opined,

“If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.”

The Guardian noted the misdeeds included in the leaks in startling and embarrassing detail. The paranoid style of American foreign policy sometimes seems to take an oddly lunatic turn,

“..It (the State Department) called for detailed biometric information "on key UN officials, to include undersecretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers, top SYG [secretary general] aides, heads of peace operations and political field missions, including force commanders" as well as intelligence on Ban's "management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat". A parallel intelligence directive sent to diplomats in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi said biometric data included DNA, fingerprints and iris scans.”

Revealed in the Guardian story are the concerns about the interconnected ways drug running and terrorism are connected--the State Department before it meets with any officials from many countries needs to assuire itself that they stay away from officials with connections to the widespread endemic around the globe  For example, "In a cable to the embassy in Sofia last June, five months before Clinton hosted Bulgaria's foreign minister in Washington, the first request was about government corruption and the links between organised crime groups and "government and foreign entities, drug and human trafficking, credit card fraud, and computer-related crimes, including child pornography".

“Washington also wanted to know about "corruption among senior officials, including off-budget financial flows in support of senior leaders … details about defence industry, including plans and efforts to co-operate with foreign nations and actors. Weapon system development programmes, firms and facilities. Types, production rates, and factory markings of major weapon systems".

Timothy Garton Ash, distinguished  British academic, writing in The Guardian also writes perhaps one of the most balanced assessments and sees nothing to get unduly worried about in the cables;
“..from what I have seen, the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of. Yes, there are echoes of skulduggery at the margins, especially in relation to the conduct of "the war on terror" in the Bush years. Specific questions must be asked and answered. For the most part, however, what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation's interests and their government's policies.

Ash is responsible for the best intro to any piece I have seen “It is the historian's dream. It is the diplomat's nightmare” Ash picks up on a theme that many have noted the way America is obsessed with the post 9/11 threats to security,
“More broadly, what you see in this diplomatic traffic is how security and counter-terrorism concerns have pervaded every aspect of American foreign policy. But you also see how serious the threats are, and how little the west is in control of them. There is devastating stuff here about the Iranian nuclear programme and the extent not merely of Israeli but Arab fears of it ("cut off the head of the snake", a Saudi ambassador reports his king urging the Americans); the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile to rogue Islamists; anarchy and corruption on a massive scale in Afghanistan; al-Qaida in Yemen; and tales of the power of the Russian mafia gangs, that make John le Carré's latest novel look almost understated.”

Pacifica news Democracy Now has one of the issues that the press has not talked about and is happy to leave unaddressed—the way the cables reveal torture under the Bush administration. Pacifica news has been one of the few voices that suggest that the torture allegations are the most important items to come out of the leaked cables. Their Internet TV and News channel could be broadcasting from another planet for all the number of stories they cover about breaking news events versus the mainstream media. For example they have an interview with Juan Méndez, the new U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment..who "has called on the United States to investigate and prosecute torture committed under former President George W. Bush. He also said he hopes to visit Iraq and Guantánamo Bay to probe widespread torture allegations." They quote Méndez making a point that seems not to have occured to many in the mainstream media as to why we are so focused on Assange and the legal actions that may or may not be called for against him versus   the concern "about the documents that show that thousands of people first imprisoned by U.S. forces [were] transferred to the control of forces in Iraq and perhaps even in Afghanistan, where they knew they were going to be tortured."

Hopefully any media analysis of the WikiLeaks will ask the question why? Why is Pacifica one of the few media organizations willing to probe the story more deeply..?

Ash must have the last word when he notes that one thing will change following the leaks;

“US government must surely be ruing, and urgently reviewing, its weird decision to place a whole library of recent diplomatic correspondence on to a computer system so brilliantly secure that a 22-year-old could download it on to a Lady Gaga CD. Gaga, or what?”

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