WikiLeaks - Ominous Conspiracy or Freedom of Speech

Editorial |Author: Maria Guineva | December 3, 2010, Friday // 12:56|  views

This week, the whistleblower WikiLeaks site began publishing in tranches a cache of a large number of classified cables revealing the "dark" secrets of US diplomacy

The cables provide a first-time insider look at clandestine "transactions" of US embassies across the globe, assessment of nuclear and terrorist threats, and maybe the most embarrassing - harsh and blunt opinions on foreign leaders along with a plot to spy on the UN, and even on the Organization's Secretary General.

WikiLeaks refuse to reveal their sources, but sent the documents to the US newspaper "New York Times," the UK "Guardian," the French "Le Monde," the Spanish "El Pais," and the German magazine "Spiegel."

The world is on the brink of a colossal diplomatic scandal... Or is it?

Let's start with Bulgaria. Compared to other cables, released by WikiLeaks, the directives sent to Sofia are not that scandalous. They revolve around issues known to any Bulgarian with interest in politics and society; issues widely discussed by local experts, politicians and media – corruption and organized crime, energy security, ties between Bulgarian leaders, Russia and Russian business.

Organized crime is the most serious problem facing Bulgaria, former United States Ambassador to Sofia, James Pardew, wrote in a cable, sent to the State Department in the summer of 2005 – near the end of the term of the centrist government of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg. (Full text read HERE.)

The cable further talks about connections to Russian organized crime, mentions "Russian mobster" Michael Chorny, and explains money laundering, drug trafficking and counterfeiting are hampering the economic development of the country. The names of Bulgarian businessmen, companies and political parties are deleted and replaced by Xs.

Does the cable content shed any new light beyond what we already know? It might be way more intriguing to find the names behind the Xs, even though we can make some pretty close and educated guesses... The sad conclusion is that Sofia saw several other US Ambassadors since Pardew, but Bulgaria's most serious problems are still the same. And, maybe, it is appropriate to jog our memory and think who was Chief Secretary of the Interior during Saxe-Coburg's term?

Another revealed secret is that Bulgaria wanted strong sanctions against Moscow over the Georgia War in the summer of 2008, and supported a Swedish initiative to expel Russia from the Council of Europe. No bombshell here either, even though it is a surprise and somewhat mindboggling – this was the time when the Socialist-led Three-Way Coalition ruled the country, amidst frequent and strong criticism it carried out largely pro-Russian policies, turning Bulgaria in the EU's Trojan Horse. Oh, the backstabbing of diplomacy!

The third secret exposed cannot even come close to a scandal – Bulgaria's Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, had expressed the country's readiness to accept two prisoners from Guantanamo in exchange of Washington lifting the visa regime for Bulgarians and asked the US to pay modest amounts for all relocation expenses for the inmates. Normal diplomatic bargaining and exchange of favors.

What about WikiLeaks effect on international diplomacy? Was it a surprise to anyone that Washington keeps a close eye on its allies and enemies?

I will offer here comments coming from someone way more experienced in diplomatic affairs. I do agree with them.

Here is part of what Stefan Tafrov, a Bulgarian career diplomat, former Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN, former Ambassador to France, and former Permanent Delegate of Bulgaria to UNESCO told the Bulgarian National Radio:

"WikiLeaks is an unpleasant event not only for American, but for world diplomacy. It will turn into an obstacle for diplomats when trying to do their job calmly and efficiently. My assessment as a diplomat is negative, but the lesson we will learn is what is most important here.

I have no doubt the American side will, in the very near future, entirely reexamine the way its diplomatic missions exchange information with the State Department and other agencies, after it became evident their system for protecting classified information is very flawed.

Every diplomatic mission, not just the American ones, collects and analyzes information; this is its main function. No one should see diplomats only as well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, attending receptions and living the high-life, smiling and giving polite interviews in the country where they have accreditation.

The WikiLeaks information is not published on their site. It is edited by journalists from the five media outlets it was sent to... These journalists delete all data that can endanger the lives of particular individuals and safety in general.

Since the volume of information is huge, it is published by topics – this is what is most interesting now. It is a slow process and it will take time. We will be learning new things in the next days, even months.

But one thing is already clear – these assessments of leaders of countries which are partners of the US, even though at times quite unflattering, will not change relations between America and its allies; such relations do not depend on personal ties with this or that leader, but on long-term, fundamental, strategic interests," Tafrov says.

Of course there is another side of the story - the WikiLeak scandal turned into a real delight for those hating America – from entire governments, enthusiastically distributing carefully selected excerpts from the cables to people writing in Bulgarian internet forums "We saw the real face of the US," "Assange will destroy America," "America must be wiped-off from the face or earth so that we can have global peace..."

Reading such postings, I often wonder – what is the alternative for these forumers– Cuba, North Korea, China, Venezuela or Putin's Russia – all places where Bulgarians never think of moving to in search of a better life.

Sure, classified leaks don't happen in the above countries. But is there anyone who believes their diplomacies don't have any dark secrets? And, if by chance, there is any such leak, how long would the "perpetrator" survive and would we ever learn his or her name? By the way, this week China blocked access to WikiLeaks on its entire territory...

Regardless of everyone's opinion on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and on WikiLeaks activities, one thing is certain – the guy and his site are products of democracy. Only in true democracies the flaws of the system are revealed, assessed and, hopefully, corrected.

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried," Winston Churchill told us a long time ago.

I, personally, don't see Assange as a hero, and tend to side with those who think he is a hacker, an anarchist, an opportunist enjoying being in the spotlight, aiming at his moment of glory and some personal gains.

Regardless of all that, the Interpol warrant over sexual assault charges against him seems farcical, while calls for his assassination on live TV, coming from Tom Flanagan, a senior advisor and strategist to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, truly scare me.

The damage is done. The US better watches-out nothing "really bad" happens to Assange, because the "presumed innocent until proven guilty" postulate won't work here. His fate might just turn into a very important test for American democracy.

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Tags: Julian Assange, inmates, Gunatanamo prisoners, Gunatanamo, Daniel Fried, US visa, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Bulgaria, Georgia, classified document, Russian-Georgian War, Council of Europe, Russia, Sweden, organized crime, James Pardew, Bulgaria, Wikileaks, Gunatanamo Bay detention camp


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