Yesterday, Wikileaks released a selection of more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables dating from the mid-sixties to the present day — widely presumed to have been provided to them by the currently-incarcerated Private Bradley Manning — accessed through the military’s SPIRNET system that was intended to reduce the bureaucratic “siloing” on information deemed partially responsible for the intelligence failures in a pre-9/11 world. Those cables were provided earlier under embargo to five international media outlets: the New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, La Monde and Der Spiegel. For most readers, it made for a dizzying array of information: the cables themselves incorporated both banal gossip and important intelligence, and each media outlet attempted to give as much context to their release (and the reactions to their release) as to the nuggets of information found therein.
But for all the Administration’s condemnations and the muted international response to date, there were five astonishing revelations uncovered by the 120 reporters given early access to the documents.1. Nearly every country in the Middle East wants us to attack Iran.
In 2007, when then-presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested that the best way to deal with the nuclear threat posed by the Iranian regime was to “Bomb, bomb Iran,” most people — including then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) — thought he was altogether too hawkish. According to the cables brought forward by Wikileaks today, McCain’s opinion is shared by many of Iran’s neighbors.
According to Le Monde (in translation), a cable relayed to Washington a conversation between the emir of Qatar and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last February: “Based on over 30 years of experience with the Iranians, the emir concluded the meeting by saying that we shouldn’t believe but one word in a hundred that the Iranians say.”Â The prime minister of Qatar told Kerry later that trip that Ahmadinejad told him: “we beat the Americans in Iraq, the final battle will be in Iran.”
The president of the Upper House of the Jordanian Parliament, Zeid Rifai, was said in a cable (translated) to have told the U.S. that “the dialogue with Iran will go ‘nowhere’, adding: ‘bomb Iran or live with a nuclear Iran: the sanctions, the carrots, the incentives, have no importance.'”
The Omanis were similarly concerned, according to cables relayed by the New York Times, as an Omani military official told officials that he could not decide which was worse: “a strike against Iran’s nuclear capability and the resulting turmoil it would cause in the Gulf, or inaction and having to live with a nuclear-capable Iran.”
The United Arab Emirates’ deputy defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, called Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “Hitler” to U.S. officials, also “stressed ‘that he wasn’t suggesting that the first option was ‘bombing’ Iran,’ but also warned, ‘They have to be dealt with before they do something tragic.'”
The Saudis, the Bahrainis and even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were all similarly inclined, as has been widely reported — El Pais reported that Mubarak’s hatred for Iran was called “visceral” and the New York Times reported the existence of cables referring to the Saudi king’s “frequent exhortations” to engage in military action against Iran. The Bahrainis, too, are said to be keen to see Iran’s nuclear program halted, and King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa is said to have blamed problems in Iraq and Afghanistan on the Iranian government — and both Kuwaiti and Yemeni officials reportedly told U.S. diplomats similar things about Iranian involvement in fomenting dissent in their own countries.
2. State Department officials ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on their foreign and UN counterparts.
While creating a database of information contained on foreign diplomats’ business cards might not seem so shady, the foreign press has been especially focused on a series of directives in 2009 — including one signed off on by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — ordering Foreign Service officers to assemble dossiers on their counterparts that would clearly allow U.S. intelligence to do more than compile their cell phone numbers. Le Monde reported that U.S. diplomats were encouraged to find and report “names, titles and other contained information on their business cards; numbers of landlines, of cellular phones, of pagers and fax; phone books and lists d’ emails; passwords Internet and Intranet; credit card numbers; card numbers of frequent flier programs; work hours…”
Der Spiegel added that the directives included intelligence wish lists, including information on UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s plans for Iran and information on the following topics: “‘Darfur/Sudan,’ ‘Afghanistan/Pakistan,’ Somalia, Iran and North Korea. Similar espionage directives were issued for Paraguay and Palestine, for eight West African states, including Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, as well as for various states of Eastern Europe.”
The Guardian‘s review showed that U.S. diplomats were further instructed to pass along “passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.”
Spying on the UN, its employees or diplomats is not allowed under international law, and the use of diplomats to engage in espionage or intelligence-like activities is strongly frowned upon in the international community. The State Department has already responded strongly to the revelations:
Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, on Sunday disputed that American diplomats had assumed a new role overseas.
“Our diplomats are just that, diplomats,” he said. “They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years.”
Nonetheless, the revelations are the most likely to have a negative effect on U.S. diplomatic efforts — especially at the UN, where cooperation will be key to pressure both North Korea and Iran to cease their respective militaristic actions.
3. North Korea supplied Iran with long-range missiles.
Both Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities and the range of its missiles remain in dispute — and that dispute proved particularly problematic in 2008 and 2009, when the U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe had a deleterious impact on the U.S.-Russian diplomatic relationship. The cables released yesterday reveal that, in fact, the State Department was in possession of intelligence that North Korea had provided Iran with missiles based on a Russian design that could carry nuclear warheads to Berlin — or Moscow.
Though the New York Times noted that there was publicly available information that North Korea had sold Iran components for such a weapon, the U.S. government believes that North Korea in fact sold the full missiles to Iran and that the missiles could easily allow Iran to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of striking not just Israel, Germany or Russia… but of striking at Western Europe or even the United States.
4. Iran used the auspices of the Red Crescent to smuggle spies and weapons into war zones.
The Red Crescent — an equivalent organization to the Red Cross — is supposed to be equally independent and free from government influence, which is why they are allowed to provide medical and other services in war zones. But the cables, as reported by The Guardian, reveal that the U.S. believes Iran used the organization “to smuggle intelligence agents and weapons into other countries, including Lebanon during the 2006 war with Israel.”
During that war, a source told the U.S. that “The only true Iranian Red Crescent officers dispatched to Lebanon were the doctors and drivers. Shipments of medical supplies served also to facilitate weapons shipments.” Sources saw medical shipments full of weapons — including missiles — and that the organization in Iran was “purged” of staff deemed insufficiently committed to using the organization to exporting the Islamic revolution after the election of Ahmadinejad.
Iran also reportedly used the organization to send intelligence officers into Iraq after the most recent U.S. invasion.
If true, it could seriously undermine the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society’s missions throughout the world and in conflict areas.
5. U.S. foreign policy relies heavily on blog-ready gossip items.
To get into the U.S. Foreign Service (and thus write diplomatic cables), applicants are required to pass an hours-long, highly competitive written examination, followed by an even more competitive oral examination and then go through months of intensive training. Then, it appears, they are dispatched to foreign embassies to write gossip about high level officials.
A sample? Libyan President Muammar al-Qadhafi gets Botox and travels constantly with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse named Galyna Kolotnytska. Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Alijewa has had so many facelifts that she resembles her own daughter from a distance — but you can tell the difference close-up because she can’t really move her face. A British Labour minister is quite the player (and is having marital problems) and might be bipolar. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi might have more in common than their reported extramarital shenanigans — they could well be in business together, too. Russian President Dmitri Medved’s wife, Svetlana, reportedly keeps a blacklist of staffers she deems insufficiently committed to her husband. Oh, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is basically considered an idiot who knows little about foreign policy, but only the Germans really care about that.
Your tax dollars at work.
[Ed note: This article was edited after publication]