Wikileaks on Libya, Tunis and Egypt | 


The Telegraph published a worrisome article today about Libya, based on its interpretation of a Wikileaks diplomatic cable. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the cable says, Libya’s popular revolt may be fueled by extremist Islamic elements.

Former jihadi fighters who underwent “religious and ideological training” in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the 1980s have returned to eastern towns in Libya such as Benghazi and Derna to propagate their Islamist beliefs, the cables warn

Of course, this was much the same rumor that accompanied the revolution in Egypt — with the media focused on the Muslim Brotherhood — which so far appears to have been not the case.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the Arab revolt’s launch in Tunisia may have been prompted in part by Wikileaks making public the excesses and corruption of the former regime of President Ben Ali.

Here’s a somewhat amusing 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli about Gaddafi’s children getting in trouble overseas and fighting among themselves for power.

Here’s a less amusing, perhaps revealing, 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Cairo that describes the Egyptian military as having great economic and social influence but also in decline.

Diplomat Matthew Tueller writes of the military’s “decline” in terms of its influence within the Mubarak power structure. What Tueller could not have predicted, of course, is that the military’s declining influence among the power elite may have been what contributed to the military’s identification with the popular revolt:

Recently, academics and civilian analysts painted a portrait of an Egyptian military in intellectual and social decline, whose officers have largely fallen out of society’s elite ranks….

Contacts agree that presidential son Gamal Mubarak’s power base is centered in the business community, not with the military. XXXXXXXXXXXX said officers told him recently that the military does not support Gamal and if Mubarak died in office, the military would seize power rather than allow Gamal to succeed his father.

America’s foreign policy skills crumbling, says leading diplomat | 

“Diplomats without language skills are like soldiers without bullets.”

Ronald E. Neumann

So says Ronald E. Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a man with a long career in foreign service, describing just one symptom of the sorry state of affairs that has resulted from the U.S. government’s long neglect of the country’s diplomatic corps and foreign policy apparatus.

Neumann speaks tonight in Seattle at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall, an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council. His main message, he told me, will be that the U.S. has let its diplomatic talent base and clout crumble for many years and that further cuts will only endanger us — and probably cost us much more in the long run.

In a study done a few years ago by his organization, Neumann and his colleagues found that nearly a third of all diplomats the U.S. had posted overseas lacked the language skills needed to converse in that country.

Imagine a diplomat in Egypt who doesn’t speak Arabic. Hmmm … maybe that explains why the Arab revolt in Egypt and throughout the Middle East blindsided even our political top brass? Continue reading

Wikileaks describes drug maker “dirty tricks” during Nigerian meningitis outbreak | 

One of the events that prompted PATH and WHO to launch the Meningitis Vaccine Project 10 years ago, and which just started in earnest this week, was a massive African outbreak of this terrifying disease in 1996.

In the middle of Africa’s meningitis belt during that huge outbreak, drug maker Pfizer decided to test a new medication for its ability to protect against this bacterial infection. This was in the northern Nigerian city Kano.

This episode became a scandal, one that many have forgotten but now has been resurfaced by Wikileaks and reported by The Guardian:

The world’s biggest pharmaceutical company hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial drug trial involving children with meningitis, according to a leaked US embassy cable.

The clinical study, which Pfizer said did appear to reduce the death rate in the treated children (all children were treated, with the new drug and others with standard therapies), had been criticized by others such as Doctors Without Borders as “opportunistic” and unethical.

Nigerian officials investigated and eventually charged Pfizer with causing harm to the treated children, charges that have since been dropped.

The BBC today reported that Pfizer denies engaging in any “dirty tricks” regarding this case. Here is Pfizer’s statement in response to the Guardian’s report on the Wikileaks documents.

How Wikileaks may alter U.S. development strategy | 

Flickr, by Roger H. Goun

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

As you may have heard, Wikileaks has made life uncomfortable for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Part of this is due to leaked diplomatic documents in which it appears Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on their colleagues and United Nations officials.

Clinton has denied the charges, but Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange has specifically focused on these documents saying if they are borne out Clinton should resign. A number of media outlets have gone to great pains to examine the allegations, sometimes doing hair-splitting semantic defenses of Clinton and others noting the diplomats ignored Clinton anyway.

But what’s more important here is the question Madeleine Bunting of the Guardian asks: “Will Wikileaks mean Hillary Clinton turns her back on development?” The Obama Administration has been engaged in serious efforts aimed at improving and beefing up U.S. efforts in foreign development — an initiative largely welcomed by many humanitarian and development organizations. Bunting says:

“Not only is (Clinton’s) political career on the line, but the State Department faces an uncertain future in the turf battles over budget and influence in Washington. The collateral damage is the grand centrepiece of Clinton’s recasting of how the US asserts its influence in the world…. Clinton’s bold new strategy for what she called “civilian power, in which diplomacy and development were closely co-ordinated to achieve US interests and global security.

Continue reading

Hillary Clinton denies Wikileaks claim she ordered diplomats to spy on UN | 

Flickr, by Roger H. Goun

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

One of the most controversial revelations of the Wikileaks’ document dump this week were diplomatic cables that appeared to be instructions given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordering State Dept. and U.S. embassy personnel to spy on their colleagues at the United Nations.

Clinton has denied the claims and Administration officials say the cable was not an order but merely a routine request: Continue reading

Wikileaks: Hillary Clinton told US diplomats to spy on UN | 

Flickr, by R_SH

Wikileaks' Julian Assange

By now, I assume you’ve heard that Wikileaks has released another batch of documents, this time regarding American diplomacy and foreign policy.

My two cents: Much of what I’ve read that’s been reported out of these leaked documents so far isn’t really too surprising: We learned someone in the U.S. government thinks Iran’s president is like “Hitler” and might be crazy, Pakistan’s intelligence service isn’t really on our side (duh!), that Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi have a “special relationship” (huh?) and China’s government did hack Google.

Some in the aid community are among those arguing, along with the embarrassed politicians, in defense of secrecy.

I’m sure the language revealed here is a bit embarrassing and may make for awkward moments at embassy socials, but most of this so far just seems like a raw dose of reality — peeling back the layers — rather than an expose of any great scandal.

One thing did catch my eye, however:

The leaked documents revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to act as spies — work with the intelligence services to spy on their diplomatic colleagues, including our British allies and the United Nations leadership.

The Guardian has this story on the spying campaign and also printed out (online) an entire U.S. diplomatic document, which was written in 2009 as the “new National HUMINT (human intelligence) Collection Directive (NHCD) on the United Nations.”

Apparently, even global health, food and women’s issues were targets of this spy game:

G. Other Substantive Issues 1) Food Security (FOOD-3) 2) Climate Change, Energy, and Environment (ENVR-4) 3) Transnational Economic Issues (ECFS-4H) 4) Arms Control and Treaty Monitoring (ACTM-4) 5) Health Issues (HLTH-4) 6) Terrorism (TERR-5H) 7) Trafficking, Social, and Women’s Issues (DEPS-5H)

I’m sure many people will be outraged to learn that the Obama Administration is acting just like the Bush Administration.

But perhaps the UN brass should be happy to learn we think they are worth spying on. Most of the time, we (Americans) just hear about how useless and bureaucratic the UN has become. Looks like the government thought the UN was important enough to spy on, not to mention compromising our diplomatic integrity.

As for those like Scott Gilmore of Peace Dividend Trust who defend secrecy as a necessary tool to achieving noble ends, sure it can be at times. But that’s a slippery slope.