More to the WikiLeaks than a leaky Army clerk?

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Australian founder of whistleblowing website 'WikiLeaks', Julian Assange, holds a copy of the Guardian newspaper during a press conference in London in July. / AFP/Leon Neal

By John J. Metzler 

UNITED NATIONS — Spying at the UN?  I’m shocked!  Well, what really surprises me is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton authorized and tasked American diplomats to snoop and spy around the big glass house just over a year ago!  We are not talking about the Cold War here when the Russians and American faced off at Turtle Bay, but 2009!

Now under the rubric freedom to know, the Wiki Leaks operations has dumped a treasure trove of State Department documents on current American diplomacy; some of the diplomatic cables confirm the obvious. The USA is deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is corrupt, and the Chinese communists have a well coordinated campaign of internet espionage on Western targets.

Equally, assessments of foreign leaders; Libya’s mercurial leader Colonel Ghadaffi likes Ukrainian “nurses,” Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “vain” and France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy is oft described as “authoritarian.” Russia’s President Medvedev “plays Robin to Premier Putin as Batman.”  Well, Duh.  It’s not exactly flattering, but nor is it top secret.

Diplomacy is about advancing national interests through relationships. Those ties and trust are nurtured, cultivated and coddled through discreet discussions, incentives, and shared national goals and objectives.  Diplomacy is an art, often misused, but nonetheless remains the way of achieving mutual interests.   

While the White House has slammed Wiki Leaks as “reckless” in releasing classified material, press spokesman Robert Gibbs going so far as to say “the cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders.”

Profoundly embarrassed, the Obama Administration has shifted into major damage control mode.

Recall that many people gleefully supported the release of the Pentagon Papers.  Back in 1971, the illegal release of the intelligence trove during the height of combat operations in Vietnam cost American lives and seriously setback American objectives in South Vietnam.  We know what happened.  In another case, a CIA renegade agent published all sorts of secrets dealing with U.S. covert operations overseas.   Agents died.

This leads to a few observations. First, most of the leaks are not a surprise but an embarrassment.  If I were to say the same thing, I would be called an oracle of the obvious, using a bit foresight and perception to predict political challenges and the players on the world stage.   The point is my opinion (correct as it usually is, LOL), ends there.  It is the informed commentary of an individual, not a government, nor something which will seriously affect any political situation. 

Here’s the difference.  While again many of the State Department cables reflect the obvious which a well-informed layman could also deduce, the fact remains this is going to have a political knock on effect in American relationships globally.  Who will wish to speak with U.S. diplomats in confidence?  Who will work covertly with the USA in necessary anti-terrorist operations?

I’m impressed that the Saudi King urged the U.S. to topple Iran’s regime.  And while Hillary calls for American diplomats at the UN to gain the political pulse of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his senior staff (standard practice by the way) WHY are they instructed by the Secretary of State’s personal Memo to go after frequent Flyer Programs, credit card info, and other individual “biometrics” ? 

Given that Ban Ki-moon seems perpetually away from the UN, one could assume he’s the global Frequent Flyer king. But is it the State-sanctioned task of the U.S. Foreign Service to check up on who are Frequent Flyers among the UN staff? Just imagine if George W. Bush did that.

Which brings me to the second point.  WIKI leaks are really not about freedom to know or really need to know information. Fully 99.99 percent of people (including news junkies like me) do not need to know specific names, routing procedures and operational plans of contemporary American diplomacy.  The damage is done when sensitive data becomes public information so that everybody, especially America’s enemies, know the methodology, procedure, and contingencies among U.S. embassies in crucial places. 

We are not talking about history here and revisiting the spying in Berlin or Budapest in the 1950’s, nor are we assessing the brand of cigar smoked by Iraq’s Tariq Aziz, or for that matter why European Socialists did not like Ronald Reagan. 

This is mostly about now and I feel mostly driven by the same smirky, snarky left-wing spook-bloggers who enjoy a techno-joke at the expense of individuals and national security. Equally the WIKI Leaks operation could be a false flag, masking a wider net.  

After all, is it believable that a low-level Army cipher clerk, outranked by a Corporal, could have access to a trove of such internal cables, and intelligence documents?     

One recalls the Roman Proverb—Who Profits?  Think about it.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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