Britain’s Independent newspaper called the year that was the ‘Year of the Leaks’. The Independent pointed out that the role played by the young, low ranking American soldier Bradley Manning has been under-appreciated and the world has been fixated on the publisher of WikiLeaks web site, Julian Assange.
The publication of secret cables of America’s State Department in WikiLeaks caused consternation in foreign chanceries especially those in the West and America, although earlier concern has been much reduced with the publication of more secret cables which have proven to be not as disastrous as feared. However, only a fraction of the 250,000 secret cables have been published and the total chaos it could create cannot be estimated as yet.
End of polite hypocrisy?
Yet the predictions are that world diplomacy may undergo radical changes with the polite hypocrisy practised by diplomats being stripped bare by revelations in the secret cables.
Diplomacy, as has been practised in the past, has been defined as the art of saying ‘go to hell’ in a way to make the listener actually believe that he is being directed to a nice place. Another definition of diplomacy has been the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ to a ferocious dog till one gets to a rock or stick to fend for oneself. What WikiLeaks has done is to make others realise exactly how these seemingly polite diplomats consider others to be.
For example American leaders and diplomats will be squirming when they next visit India after revelations made in some cables. The polite Americans have spared no pains to show their appreciation of Indians and their achievements in order to build a strategic relationship with this emergent South Asian nation, primarily with the objective of using it as a countervailing power against the rising economic and military Asian power, China.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even President Barack Obama lavished praise on India and Indians during their recent visits and made solemn pledges to support India’s claim to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. But a WikiLeaks cable revealed Hillary Clinton referring to India as ‘a self nominated member of the Security Council’.
No politeness to Sri Lankans?
Americans have not been as polite with current Sri Lankan leaders as with Indians, and so American Ambassador Patricia Butenis’s cable holding Sri Lankan leaders like President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka responsible for war crimes came as no surprise. However, another cable saying that Sarath Fonseka could serve American interests in Sri Lanka better than Mahinda Rajapaksa may aggravate relations further. The question is asked whether these candid assessments of foreign diplomats of local leaders could be objectionable, because it is the function of diplomats to make such assessments to their governments.
That is one of the basic functions of diplomats stationed abroad. If leaders expect glowing reports of themselves, they should not expect foreign diplomats to do the job but could send copies of their favourite state controlled papers to foreign chanceries. A vital question would be whether WikiLeaks or any other such leaks on confidential state matters would continue on the current scale.
Bradley Manning, the young soldier in the lower ranks of the army, had signed up at the age of 18 years believing that he would be protecting America and the cause of freedom. He had been sent to Iraq and ordered to round up and hand over Iraqi civilians to Iraqi allies of Americans. He had seen them tortured with electrical drills and other implements. The shocked idealistic young man had in retaliation loaded classified documents onto a CD which ultimately ended up with WikiLeaks. Most probably there could be no such massive leaks of classified information on a regular basis, because such Bradley Mannings would be hard to come by. Besides the security systems of the superpower must have already been tightened up.
No system is foolproof
But time and again foolproof security systems have broken down and state secrets have leaked out. The Pentagon Papers which were leaked out by a political analyst in the 1970s who was disenchanted with Nixon’s policies in Vietnam and ‘Deepthroat’ in Watergate story are examples. Atomic secrets worked out at high security Los Alamos research stations leaked out to the Soviet Union by dedicated communist spies, one of who was said to be Kim Philby of the now well known Cambridge spy ring, who was at that time a top official in the British Embassy.
Rick Ames a senior CIA officer walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington and offered his services for money. He had earned millions of dollars from the Soviet Union and his spying resulted in the deaths of 10 US agents and the stalling of sensitive and confidential military projects. He was jailed for life.
Transparency in diplomacy
From the time of mail bags being transported in stage coaches to transmission by radio and telegraph using highly sophisticated code, confidential diplomatic information has leaked out. The global internet phenomenon would undoubtedly serve as an effective and speedy conduit of leaks. Perhaps this is in keeping with the trend of global transparency in governance.
Transparency in governance is an idealistic objective. Leon Trotsky in those heady days after the October Revolution ordered the publication of Tsarist Russia’s secret treaties with its allies and then announced: ‘The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition of an honourable, popular, really democratic policy’. But this idealistic desire soon gave way and the secret organisation, the Cheka, which was established to meet the challenge of the ‘counter revolution’ was the precursor to the KGB which became the deadliest and most secretive security organisation in the world.