Sunday, 19 December 2010

Julian Assange & Wikileaks: Why the Fuss?

Like many others I had never heard either Wikileaks or Julian Assange until a few months ago.

Wikileaks, apparently, has been operative for three years. Anyone can anonymously submit documents to Wikileaks; however that does not mean it will be published. The site, according to one BBC report, accepts classified, restricted, and censored material of political, diplomatic or ethical significance, but does not accept rumours or any other material that is already publically available.

In other words, Wikileaks, to use a jargon term, has created a niche in the cyber world. If you feel that the tapestry of your life is missing several threads because you are in the dark about what goes on in the corridors of power, then don’t fear: Wikileaks is here.

You have got to admit that whoever thought of this (Assange perhaps, as he, depending on who is writing the article, is either credited as or accused of being the founder of Wikileaks) was entrepreneurial.  The cyber space is teeming with ultra niche websites giving information on busty Mocha drinking scientists who fellate pandas, or websites which specialize in selling highly stylized images of women’s shoes on wonky coffee-tables, photographed from different angles. So, what is wrong with Website unilaterally drip-feeding confidential and sensitive diplomatic information? If you are the type who gets your kicks by reading titbits of information about, say, Karzai, the Afghan President, who, according to leaked cables, is thought by the USA foreign officials  to be a ‘paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building’, or by the antics of the Duke of York who railed against the British anti-corruption investigators in a formal function, Wikileaks is a godsend. And there are obviously people out there who want to read this kind of information. Otherwise why would Wikileaks be so popular? If the Website did not satisfy the market needs, it would be like this bloody blog which no one reads. Assange has obviously done his market research well.

You would have thought that America, the mother of innovations, the country that gave the world Facebook and Google, would be appreciative of Julian Assange’s daring enterprise. I do not know what the great American public is making of Wikileaks; however, judging from their responses, at least some politicians are going bat-shit mental. Sarah Palin, that towering presence in the American politics, has described Assange as an anti-American individual with blood on his hands. She wants Assange hunted down like al-Qaeda. (This from a woman who said on a live programme that North Korea was America’s ally.) Don’t you think that is a tad over the top? Also, given the fact that Americans have not been able to locate even an hair of Bin-Laden’s beard in the past ten years despite (or perhaps because of) the assistance of their trusted ally, Pakistan, you’d have to be brave to put your money on  ‘Operation Assange’ being successful. Another Republican senator has apparently gone on television saying any punishment short of a death penalty would be too kind for Assange. I doubt whether Americans, despite the proclamations of Sarah Palin who governs over several thousand square feet of ice and has, at best, a shaky grasp of international affairs, consider Julian Assange to be quite the same level of threat as Bin-Laden, but it would be fair to assume that he has managed to piss off the American administration effectively. I think President Obama has refrained from making any statement, and very wise of him—Assange, all said and done, is small beer, and it does not behoove the leader of the largest democracy in the world to get embroiled in a controversy that, at the end of the day, probably does not pose real threat to the American Empire. (I know, Sir Malcolm Rifkind is worried that the revelations of diplomatic cables can cause real harm, but he probably thinks putting curry in your mouth is dangerous.) You can well imagine how Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush would have reacted. (Oh, yes! He would have reacted: swiftly and reflexively, butchering the English language in the process).

The reason why some American politicians are frothing at the mouth (and what an entertaining spectacle it is) is of course that all the diplomatic cables to which Wikileaks have had access are American diplomatic cables.

Maybe I am missing something, but almost all the leaked cables reveal absolutely nothing that most people of above average intelligence and a modicum of interest in the world affairs did not already suspect.

Take the Duke of York’s ill-tempered (and ill-advised) outburst against the anticorruption investigators. That is what Prince Andrew does; that is what you’d expect him to do: to act and behave like a t**t. I guess when you come from a family of inbreds you end up with the intellect of an ox. So, no one is really surprised that Prince Andrew spoke like a t**t. Because, like his elder brother, Prince Charles a.k.a. the Jughead—who does not let trifles such as lack of knowledge and understanding come in the way of shooting his mouth off and advising intellectuals and highly trained professionals, who, even if nine tenths of their brains were removed, would still be cleverer than him—Prince Andrew is a moron of the first water; and it is in a moron’s nature to say stupid things. The only surprise is that Prince Andrew does not do it more often.

Or consider the description of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in the American diplomatic cables. Gaddafi is described as ‘mercurial and eccentric’. Well, that is one way of describing old Muammar. I can think of some other adjectives. Indeed, the Americans, you can’t help feeling, were a bit charitable in their description of the thuggish (that is one adjective for you) Libyan dictator.

Here are two more ‘surprises’. Russia is described as being a ‘corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’. President Medvedev is described as ‘Robin’ to ‘Batman’ Putin. My only thought when I read about this cable in the Guardian was that the Americans have got their metaphors mixed. Batman is supposed to be a do-gooder, right? And Robin is his side-kick. There is no doubt that the figurehead Russian President Medvedev is Putin’s yes-man; however, I don’t think that Americans meant to praise either of the pair—both of whom, if you believe the other part of the cable, are autocracts or kleptocracts or both—when they were described as Batman and Robin.

Talking of corrupt politicians, here is a cable about the Italian prime-minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The Americans think that Berlusconi is ‘feckless and vain’. Does anybody doubt that? What the cables fail to mention is that he is also an old lecher, forever on lookout for young women with chests worth pressing.

The former Australian prime-minister, Kevin Rudd, is described as a ‘mistake-prone control freak’ who made ‘snap announcements without consulting other countries and others within the government’. Well, he is Australian, so what do you expect? They are not renowned exactly for being thoughtful and considerate, are they? Kevin Rudd’s father was probably like him; and his father before him; all the way back to the first convict ship.

Continuing with the theme of weird and bizarre, how about the ‘Secret Bible’ of Scientology, which, depending on your views is either a religion or a collection of individuals who ought to have their heads examined? The Bible, as per the instructions of Scientology’s founder, Ron Hubbard himself, gives its followers tasks, which, the cables comment, are ‘difficult to understand’. Here is one instruction: ‘Find a tight packed crowd of people. Write it as a crowd and then as individuals until you have a cognition. Note it down.’ All that this revealed cable suggests is that the American Psychiatry failed Ron Hubbard. With early detection and aggressive treatment his psychosis might have responded. (I am also sure that if the man Muhammad referred to as Isa were to appear on earth today preaching his gospel, he too would get a hefty dose of Thorazine.)

Enough of buffoons.  Let’s see what the Americans have to say about the nasties of the world. The US secretary of State Hilary Clinton is reported in one of the cables as warning that the Saudis are the biggest sponsors of Sunni Islamic terrorism. Now I do not have access to the thousands of confidential documents available to Secretary Clinton, but I could have told you that over a pint in my local pub. Like Secretary Clinton I am concerned that the Saudis remain the financial base for al-Qaeda. And if I in Kidderminster can figure this out, then I shall put it to you respectfully that it is not a secret.

Here is another Wikileaks revelation. China is apparently frustrated with North Korea and has come to view its Communist dictator Kim jong-Il about as appetizing as a cockroach in chicken schezuan. By the way he is also a very nasty man. Well, slap my fanny and call me Amanda, but does this surprise anyone? North Korea’s economy is bankrupt, the population is starving, and the mad dictator, when he is not writing his treatise on Hollywood films, is going around selling cheap ballistic missiles, cobbled up from obsolete Soviet era technology, to fellow nutters like that guy from Iran. No one in his right mind would have this guy as a friend. So it is not surprising that the Chinese, renowned for their wisdom, are unhappy with the lunatic. That however does not mean that they will ditch North Korea straightaway, and the leaked cables do not suggest that either. So why the hoo-ha?

A number of Arab leaders in the Middle East, according to one leaked cable, called upon the US to attack Iran in order to halt its nuclear programme. The UAE Defence minister apparently described Mahmoud  Ahmedinejad as Hitler. Which, come to think of it, is very appropriate, not least because Mahmoud thinks the Holocaust is a Jewish conspiracy.

According to one leaked cable, the UK has ‘deep concerns’ about the nuclear arms in Pakistan falling into the hands of Islamic terrorists. Now, let me clarify one thing. The British get ‘deeply concerned’ about many things. Not a day goes by when the British newspapers and the media are not ‘deeply concerned’ or 'scandalized' about something or the other. Anything will do. If it is not Pakistan’s nuclear arms, then it will be the dreadful sewage system in Cumbria causing the flooding following brief summer showers, or old grannies being left in pools of vomit and piss for two hours while the nurses were filling forms, or the British children becoming lard-buckets (especially those who have thick parents who can’t or won’t cook), or dreadful state of some or the other Northern town’s pavements causing dogs to lose balance, or whatever. What I am saying is that the British are in a permanent state of concern, and their concern is not necessarily indicative of how things necessarily are. However, in this instance the British concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear arms may be justified. At least once a month I read articles in the newspapers about how Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. Also, given the fact that the average life expectancy of a Pakistani politician is less than fifty years, in turn linked to the higher than average risk of being bumped off by the Allah-brigade, it is not beyond the limits of credulity that there is a risk that these weapons will fall into the wrong hands. Pakistan’s giant neighbour and arch-enemy India has been bleating about it for years (neglecting to mention that it was India that started the nuclear arm race in the region).

The President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajpaksa, according to a cable sent by the US ambassador to his country, is responsible for the war crimes. There is little doubt that this indeed was the case. What Sri Lankan army did, while sorting out LTTE, amounted to genocide. There were several articles in the Guardian about Mahinda Rajpaksa’s war crimes soon after he declared victory against LTTE.

What really brought a smile to my face was the leaked cable about the failing health of Fidel Castro of Cuba. The cable mentions: ‘He won’t die immediately, but he will progressively lose his faculties and become even more debilitated until he dies.’ You can almost taste the relish with which this cable was composed.

What do the American think of European countries? Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is described as ‘risk averse and rarely creative’. Well, they could simply have said she is German. Indeed you do not want the Germans to be too creative. Their creativity can get out of hand and become a spot of bother for the surrounding European nations.

Finally we come to the US diplomat’s assessment of the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown who, they thought, in 2008, was finished. They are totally off the mark in this instance, I am afraid.  Brown was toast long before that.

While the leaked cables are indubitably genuine they are nothing more than conjectures and views of the diplomats who sent them, and, as such just about rise above the level of the gossip in the breadline. In many instances, such as the Arab leaders’ plea to the US to attack Iran, they had little to no influence on the ultimate decision taken by that country. So what the Wikileaks has revealed is not sensational by a long chalk. It might come as a surprise to Americans who are generally incapable of noticing anything that is beyond the perimeters of their arses, which, while admittedly humongous in about 60% of the population, are still not wide enough to form an informed view about the world we live in. But for those of us who can read and have a smidgen of curiosity about what is going on in the world, none of the leaked cables has revealed anything that is really new. That said, what is leaked is amusing and entertaining, if only because the politicians lie all the time. The leaked cables have thrown into sharp relief the difference between what they preach and what they actually think (especially true of the British, who are hypocrites of a very high order). They are all poseurs, every last jack of them. But then we knew that anyway.

So I am far from persuaded that Julian Assange is some sort of torch-bearer for freedom of information.  He is probably a geek, a computer nerd, and a hackster who (judging from the newspaper reports of the sex scandal he is embroiled in) does not like to wear a condom while having sex. Assange and his team of lawyers are seeing political conspiracies behind the sexual allegations levelled at him. His solicitor, Mark Stephens, theatrically declared that ‘dark forces’ were at work, honey-trap was set etcetera. That’s codswallop. If you read the account of what happened in Sweden in August 2010, admittedly from the point of view of the two women, in the Guardian, a newspaper that is by and large supportive of Assange, you cannot escape the conclusion that the US had nothing to do with the allegations. The accusations of rape, molestations etc. are linked not to the leaked US diplomatic cables on Wikileaks (which has probably annoyed the American administration) but to what Assange and the two women got up to in bedrooms. I shall resist the temptation, difficult though it is, to go into the salacious details (including the identities, complete with photographs, of the women) which are all over the net.) Maybe there is some truth in the women's allegations; maybe there isn’t, and Assange, as he is protesting, is innocent of any wrongdoing. Maybe the women have some hidden agenda. All these are conjectures and, at this stage remain unproven. (Isn’t it curious how public revelations of these types turn everyone into an amateur detective?). What also remains unproven, despite the less than subtle hints of Assange’s solicitor, is that the women are American agent provocateurs, and that the sexual allegations are part of some sort of big political conspiracy. If there ever was a honey-trap, it was not set by the Americans. Reading the Guardian article, you can’t help thinking that if only Assange had worn a condom when he had sex with the two Swedish women, or, afterwards, had agreed for a clap test instead of going into a paranoid mode, he would have saved himself a lot of bother.

Assange has announced that he is worried that he would be extradited to America (therein lies another irony; Assange is worried, with good reasons, that in America, the supposed leader of the free world, he would not get justice). And worry he might. If you stick your head inside a beehive and irritate the bees, be prepared to be stung.