WikiLeaks expos - a damp squib

The long-awaited expos by WikiLeaks, the whistle blower website, has turned out to be a damp squib. Of the 251,287 cables acquired by WikiLeaks and released to selected media, about 11,000 are classified secret, 9,000 are labelled noforn (shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government), and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn; however, many are unclassified and none are marked top secret. Many more cables name diplomats confidential sources, from foreign legislators and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a caution for sensitive handling to Washington. While the expos may be embarrassing for the US State Department and may touch raw nerves about the comments pertaining to some of its allies, including Arabs, Turks, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, none of them bring the promised shock and awe effect. However, the cables comprise some spicy stuff when they describe the Libyan leader as rarely without the companionship of his senior Ukrainian nurse referred to as a voluptuous blonde. They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. Dispatches from early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, as speaking scathingly about the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan. The Saudi ruler referred to Iraqis PM Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as being close to his heart, but regarding President Asif Ali Zardari as the greatest obstacle to Pakistans progress. Then the revelations from the US diplomatic cables may not be cloak and dagger stuff, but the drama often emanates from diplomats narratives of meetings with foreign figures, playing mind games, and thus trying to outwit each other. Among the most intriguing examples was of the American officials meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan President. They describe Karzai, dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez, appearing nervous, though eager to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar, and trying to win over the Americans with nostalgic tales about running a Chicago restaurant near Wrigley Field. The narrative is bookmarked with a caution that while dealing with the junior Karzai, the US must be cognisant of his being corrupt and a narcotics trafficker. Reportedly, the US has tried to block the WikiLeaks expos, but the die had been cast since the classified material had already reached the media. However, Julian Assange said: The US authorities were afraid of being held to account. Coming on the heels of the July and October disclosures, the current leaks are neither sensational, nor explosive, as it was anticipated. But on matters of diplomatic decorum, the tasking of US diplomats to collect intelligence overseas and at the UN, ordering State Department personnel to gather the credit card and frequent-flier numbers, work schedules and other personal information of foreign dignitaries, is being seriously questioned. Revealed in the classified State Department cables, the directives appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies. Unlike the thousands of cables, originally obtained by WikiLeaks, the half-dozen cables from 2008 and 2009 detailing the more aggressive intelligence collection were sent from Washington and signed by Secretaries of State Rice and Clinton. The State Department thus has its work cut out to cloak the skeletons in its cupboard and attempt damage control. The writer is a political and defence analyst.

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