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PJ Crowley: No US Policy Changed Because of the WikiLeaks Revelations

Former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley has written an op-ed on the recent release of more than 130,000 US State Embassy cables. Likening the cable publication to “pestilence,” Crowley provides his perspective on what he thinks will happen now that the cables have been published.

Crowley was forced to resign in March after he made some comments that called attention to how accused whistleblower to WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning, was being treated at Quantico Brig. When WikiLeaks published the war logs in July, he knew he had to do an assessment and figure out what might be put at risk if US State Embassy cables were released. What he says on WikiLeaks carries a lot of credibility. In fact, he has spoken about his work during the WikiLeaks release and why he made the comments he made about Manning on multiple panels.

He suggests the release of cables that have been drawing attention is harmful because it could undo progress made after 9/11. Information was pushed “out of agency silos” and shared widely in government. That is why someone like Manning had access to the documents. That is why a “Net-Centric database”—SIPRnet—was put together with the support of the Pentagon.

Crowley adds, “Does this mean that we will fail to connect a crucial dot in the future? The honest answer is, we don’t know, but none of this helps.” It appears he is underhandedly suggesting officials in US government could point the finger at Julian Assange if another 9/11 happens.

He contends US policymaking is less informed today than it was before WikiLeaks and that US diplomats, prime ministers, other government officials, activists and business leaders around the world are now “less candid.” That may be true given the shock the WikiLeaks organization has been able to have on the diplomatic community, but it is tough to believe the chill will be anything more than temporary.

The following have either lost their jobs or faced political pressure because of WikiLeaks: Helmut Metzner, the German foreign minister’s chief of staff; Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe opposition leader; Gene Cretz, US ambassador to Libya; Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, former Tunisia leader; Pieter de Gooijer, Netherlands would-be ambassador to the EU; Berry Smutny, former CEO of OHB-System; Peru presidential hopefuls; Howard Davies, former London School of Economics Director; Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister; Carlos Pascual, former US ambassador to Mexico and Heather Hodges, US ambassador to Ecuador.

Did each of these people deserve the kind of “suffering” they’ve experienced in the past months? Perhaps, not all of them. Ambassadors may have lost their jobs for what they said, but, like Catholic priests that sexually abused children and were simply moved to other churches, these ambassadors can be shuffled around to other countries and begin anew. An inevitable effect of transparency is that people pay for the actions or conduct they tried to conceal. Diplomats should not be closed government advocates but instead should rethink taking action that could get them expelled (if they weren’t expelled for simply saying something that drew attention to injustice in a country).

Crowley defends the cables, maintaining “broadly speaking they showed diplomats serving US interests around the world, painting a candid, realistic and accurate picture of leaders and policies of other countries.” He cites a cable on Muammar Gaddafi’ “pretentiousness, quirks and unpredictability” as an example. The problem with this argument is this suggests diplomats were engaged in righteous activity. Releasing the documents shouldn’t be a problem if diplomats were just doing their job.

If they weren’t engaged in shady backroom dealings with charlatans or engaged in operations that provided cover to thugs, why worry about the cables receiving publicity? It’s like people say when defending Bush warrantless wiretapping—if you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

Crowley understands that what has made WikiLeaks so potent is its ability to use the Internet to spread the contents of the cables. He writes, “Unlike pre-Internet leaks that involved one country and a few documents, these massive leaks undermine the relationships we have with almost every country with which we have relations.”

He states, “Whether someone died—the Julian Assange standard—is not the right metric. Lives have been fundamentally changed—people forced to move to new countries, jailed, fired, or threatened. All of these things have happened.” At an Index on Censorship panel in New York City in May, he claimed hundreds of people were known to have suffered from the release of material. Now with allegations of informants’ names not being redacted in the new batch being spread by the media, Crowley is making the claim again.

It seems odd that if there are “hundreds” of individuals who have suffered not one of them has come forward to become a media darling. No “civil society” activist has had their story told by any news organization about how they left their home country and relocated for fear of repercussions or retribution. No “informant” has come forward to talk about having his or her cover blown. As someone who covers this very closely, I am unaware of anyone coming forward to talk about being a “victim” of WikiLeaks.

In the past twenty-four hours, the world has learned decryption passwords for a file with the entire Cablegate cache was made public by The Guardian in their book on WikiLeaks. The file contains unpublished unredacted cables. Der Spiegel reports it was put on the file-sharing protocol BitTorrent by well-meaning WikiLeaks supporters in December, when they feared denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks and companies like MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon could culminate in WikiLeaks being disappeared completely from the Internet.

Der Spiegel further reports WikiLeaks contacted the US Embassy in London and the US State Department of possible publication of the full unpublished unredacted cache of cables. Also, they contacted Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International senior staff. The level of concern about “informants” and dissidents or human rights activists now does not appear to be abnormal. All along WikiLeaks has taken steps to ensure the safety of these vulnerable individuals. Media spin has propagated myths that have suggested WikiLeaks’ had nothing but callous indifference for these vulnerable people. Part of that spin was fueled by David Leigh of The Guardian, who is now at the center of Passwordgate.

Twistedly, Crowley argues, “Even though the cables involve lots of truth telling, no population wants to see its laundry hung on the front page of the world’s leading newspapers. And people thought America was arrogant before any of this happened.” This statement is quite petulant. It likely stems from his experience in the State Department. He knows a number of officials and citizens from around the world hold what he would consider an “anti-American” view that America is arrogant. He is trying to say that most of the world doesn’t want to read about America and it is “arrogant” for Assange to think they want to be inundated with headlines about US diplomatic activities in countries around the world. Crowley clearly misunderstands the situation.

People want to know the truth of how the US has engaged in blackmail, coercion and manipulated people to create feuds that would eventually lead to the US getting what the US wants. They want to read about how the US has turned their governments into countries that kowtow to US interests. They want the details because this diplomacy has a real human impact—it affects those who are tortured, those who are in countries that were pressured into sending troops to Afghanistan & Iraq, those who are in poverty and those who are victims of crimes and violence, which the US government helps their country’s governments cope with and sometimes even cover up.

Finally, Crowley concludes, “No US policy changed because of the WikiLeaks revelations. If that was Assange’s goal, he has failed.” This is, unfortunately, true. And, Crowley shows his contempt for government transparency or open government with this comment. Just because information doesn’t lead to officials fulfilling some obligation to reform doesn’t mean that information should have stayed secret.

One hundred days after Cablegate began, I tweeted one hundred revelations in one hundred tweets for WikiLeaks Central. What we learned in the first hundred days included revelations on: Monsanto getting the US to help the corporation fight Argentina environmentalists/farmers; US pushing foreign governments to buy Boeing aircrafts instead of Boeing’s European rival, Airbus; US training and funding Costa Rican security forces to suppress anti-free trade agreement protests; having Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh cover up US drone strikes; US and China conspiring to block reform on climate change at the Copenhagen talks, US interfering in Spain’s judicial process to prevent US military servicemen from being prosecuted for killing Spanish journalist Jose Couso and US diplomats being ordered to spy on UN officials.

If all of that seems to be commendable and exemplary diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy the US would allow other countries to engage in without protest, then Crowley is right to cheapen what WikiLeaks has revealed.

It is very sad that the US has not changed as a result of WikiLeaks revelations in the past year. WikiLeaks is not responsible for US government’s failure to address crimes or misconduct though. The citizenry of the United States shares some of the responsibility for setting low expectations for government, especially President Barack Obama. And then, the wider Obama administration, which has decriminalized torture, allowed the military to continue to coverup and not investigate war crimes and waged a war on whistleblowing bears responsibility.

And, this is the power of WikiLeaks: Not only are they able to reveal the crimes of governments but they are able to elicit such reactions that further demonstrate the corrupt, inhumane and immoral character of those in power, who choose to respond with authoritarianism instead of reform.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."