Today in New Delhi, India
Apr 20, 2019-Saturday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

Wiki amok is still worth a read

WikiLeaks published its entire cache of 251,000 US diplomatic cables without redactions to protect those named within, a move condemned by all five of the whistleblowing website's original media partners.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2011 23:15 IST

WikiLeaks published its entire cache of 251,000 US diplomatic cables without redactions to protect those named within, a move condemned by all five of the whistleblowing website's original media partners.

The documents, mostly of the lowest classification levels or unclassified, still throw up interesting tidbits of information about US diplomacy and foreign policy.

But by printing the names without censorship, including those of rights activists and dissidents in repressive regimes like China and Myanmar, WikiLeaks is being criticised for putting them in danger of arrest or worse.

WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is presently in the UK facing extradition charges by Sweden for sexual offences. Now he could face prosecution in his native Australia after publishing sensitive information about government officials. Australia's attorney general, Robert McClelland, confirmed that the new cable release identified at least one individual within the country's intelligence service. He added it is a criminal offence in the country to publish any information which could lead to the identification of an intelligence officer.

"I am aware of at least one cable in which an ASIO [Australian external intelligence] officer is purported to have been identified," he said. "ASIO and other government agencies officers are working through the material to see the extent of the impact on Australian interests.

Assange already faces legal action in the US, where a grand jury has been convened in Virginia to decide whether to prosecute the founder of the whistleblowing website. Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the document, remains in custody in the US facing 34 separate charges.

The newly published archive contains more than 1,000 cables identifying individual activists; several thousand labelled with a tag used by the US to mark sources it believes could be placed in danger; and more than 150 specifically mentioning whistleblowers. The cables also contain references to people persecuted by their governments, victims of sex offences, and locations of sensitive government installations and infrastructure.

The Guardian, New York Times, El País, Der Spiegel and Le Monde, who worked with WikiLeaks publishing carefully selected and redacted documents in December last year, issued a joint statement condemning the latest release.

"We deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted state department cables, which may put sources at risk," it said. Human rights groups have also expressed concern at WikiLeaks actions.

Desi uranium in Burma?
An October 2009 cable talks of 37.5 kilograms of uranium smuggled in northern Burma, based on a conversation with a UN Office of Drugs and Crime representative.

"According to the source, the price per kilogram of the material is quoted in Indian rupees in the [Burmese] wire diagram, leading the source to speculate that India was the origin country.

The wire diagram attributes transportation of the material to one of the 17 ethnic minority ceasefire groups [in Myanmar], in an alleged attempt to sell the material." The uranium was intercepted in June that year. The smugglers' "asking price for the material was 5.5 lakhs (i.e. 550,000) rupees per kilogram and $450,000 for the total shipment."

Jordan wants to be India
Jordanian government and business circles told the US embassy there that they saw their country as a possible information technology and business process outsourcing hub. They wanted their country to be the "India of the Middle East" one Jordanian told the US embassy.

Nidal Quanadilo, Director of ICT Investment and Promotion at Jordan's Ministry of ICT, said "Jordan has no ambitions to be the 'new Dubai' (the major IT hub in the region)."

Instead, he envisioned "Jordan's role as the 'India of the Arabic-speaking world,' providing customer service support and back-end software development to companies based elsewhere."

Gwadar request
A US cable dated December 12, 2010, quotes Pakistani officials as saying that it was Islamabad that asked China to invest in the Gwadar port. It quotes Pakistan Embassy counselor Shafqat Ali Khan as saying that "the PRC [China] originally offered a fixed amount of foreign assistance and requested that Pakistan propose how the assistance should be used.

Through this process, Pakistan requested PRC support for the development of the Gwadar port, not vice versa. If the PRC's strategic objective was to secure a supply hub for its navy, it could have achieved this aim at much lower cost by requesting access to the existing port in Karachi."

It also says Indian press speculation that China was planning to build a permanent military base in Pakistan were "completely groundless." It said they were triggered by a Chinese academic's article urging Beijing to consider overseas bases - but that did not mention Pakistan. Pakistani officials said it was "not even on the horizon."

Hurricane Anna
One Wednesday, November 15, 2006, at 3.15pm, the US deputy chief of mission to Nassau, Brent Hardt, sent a confidential cable to the State Department with the urgent news that "Hurricane Anna Nicole wreaks havoc in the Bahamas''.

Of all the diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, it is one of the more colourful. It details no natural disaster, but the effect of the late celebrity Anna Nicole Smith's arrival on island political life.

"Not since Wallis Simpson dethroned a king and came to Nassau has an American femme fatale so captivated the Bahamian public and dominated local politics."

Qatar's gas riches
Qatar's Energy Minister (and Deputy Prime Minister) Al-Attiyah told US Deputy Secretary of Energy Poneman on December 10, 2010, that his country had placed a moratorium on developing its massive North Field gasfield because if feared that without "careful study" it risked "losing the whole reserve." Qatar provides over 90% of India's natural gas imports and almost all of this comes from the North Field.

The cable notes that Qatar is "the most flexible supplier of LNG in the world" and thus easily diverts gas from less profitable markets in the West to the more profitable ones in India and China.

Gay Beijing
Gay activists in China explained to US Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson, after Beijing cancelled a planned gay beauty pageant, that "a gradualist approach to social change has a much higher chance of success than holding high-profile events to attract attention." They explained that they were not surprised at the cancellation but, in any case, the best way "to circumvent censorship barriers regarding homosexuality" was to "keep a low profile and ask for 'forgiveness rather than permission.'"

The cable, written in February 2011, gives the names of various gay activists and warns they must be "protected." WikiLeaks decision to release the names, however, may cause them trouble.

China buying Burma
A US State Department cable warns that "China's economic presence in Burma has increased dramatically over the last 10 years" and that it can be "observed at all levels of Burma's economy." So much so that in the northern border areas "renminbi, rather than the Burmese kyat, is the currency of choice." It cites one case, going back to 2008, "executives from Korean-owned Daewoo" said that the Burmese government pressured them to finalise a contract with China National Petroleum Corporation "even though CNPC's gas price was lower than Daewoo wanted and what India offered to pay for the natural gas."

It cites local economist Winston Set Aung as saying "unofficial trade" was probably 10 to 20 times the official figures and Chinese small firms were setting up shop all over the country.

It also mentions that most Burmese think the wealthiest people in their country are the Chinese.

First Published: Sep 03, 2011 23:11 IST