31 December 2010

The dark side of WikiLeaks

In a very thought-provoking article in the Atlanta Post, former Capitol Hill staffer turned political blogger Yvette Carnell raises the question of why the media and the usual African-American spokespeople are missing in action when it comes to what the Wikileaks cables reveal about the corrupt and despotic regimes og Africa:

She begins: 

Unless you’re plugged into the feeds of international news organizations or you get your news directly from the Wikileaks site, you wouldn’t know that many of the Wikileaks cables delve deeply into issues which impact the continent of Africa and other brown and black countries. You wouldn’t know because the brown and black mouthpieces responsible for connecting the dots have been – by in large, well…silent.

In the last few weeks, we’ve learned that the cables reveal that the Saudi government believes that Hezbollah is setting up bases in Africa and that China is operating on the continent in partnership with ‘unsavory’ regimes. No surprises here. Africa has become a veritable wasteland to an array of world leaders for whom the road to economic dominance meanders through Africa’s limitless pool of slave labor and mineral-rich resources.

It is also no surprise that, as usual, the global community doesn’t give a rat’s behind about the plight of the dark continent or its inhabitants. For the most part, establishment journalists have gone on the hunt for Wikileaks founder Assange in lockstep with the governments that he offended by leaking the official diplomatic cables. Instead of directing their critical voice at the corrupt governments who lie, steal, and break both national and international laws, pseudo-journalists have their crossairs aimed at Assange. Mixed in with the meshing of pretend journalists and administration officials, however, is the deafening silence of African American leadership (if such a thing still exists) on the Wikileaks revelations on Africa.

Read Yvette Carnell’s full article here.

28 December 2010

Hitchens on Kissinger

Christopher Hitchens is no fan of Henry Kissinger (neither am I).

In 2001 he published The Trial of Henry Kissinger, an examination of war crimes he alleges were perpetrated by Kissinger, or in which he alleges Kissinger was complicit, while National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State for Presidents Nixon and Ford.  Acting in the role of prosecutor, Hitchens presents evidence of Kissinger’s complicity in a series of alleged war crimes in Indochina, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus and East Timor.

On 27 November 2002, in response to the announcement by the Bush Administration that Kissinger would chair an “independent” inquiry into the failures of intelligence that preceded the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9 September 2001, he published in Slate an article entitled The Latest Kissinger Outrage in which he documents his basis for asserting that the new "commission" will be chaired by a man with a long, proven record of concealing evidence and of lying to Congress, the press, and the public. He concludes the article by asking:

... can Congress and the media be expected to swallow the appointment of a proven coverup artist, a discredited historian, a busted liar, and a man who is wanted in many jurisdictions for the vilest of offenses? The shame of this, and the open contempt for the families of our victims, ought to be the cause of a storm of protest.

This article is worth reading in full; access it here.

In another post in Slate on Monday 27 December, Hitchens responds to another tasty little morsel from Dr Kissinger’s back pages – the revelation from the latest Nixon tapes to be released that in a conversation with Nixon, following a request from Golda Meir that the United States press the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate and escape persecution there, Kissinger had said to Nixon, moments after Meir left the room:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Read here the account of this conversation, which includes some amazing bigotry on Nixon’s part, as reported in The New York Times on 10 December.

Hitchens’ commentary is entitled Mr Kissinger, Have You No Shame? Ignore the recent excuses, writes Hitchens, Henry Kissinger’s entire career was a series of massacres and outrages. If we examine the career of this “disgusting individual”, he writes:

Here's what we would find: the secret and illegal bombing of Indochina, explicitly timed and prolonged to suit the career prospects of Nixon and Kissinger. The pair's open support for the Pakistani army's 1971 genocide in Bangladesh, of the architect of which, Gen. Yahya Khan, Kissinger was able to say: "Yahya hasn't had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre." Kissinger's long and warm personal relationship with the managers of other human abattoirs in Chile and Argentina, as well as his role in bringing them to power by the covert use of violence. The support and permission for the mass murder in East Timor, again personally guaranteed by Kissinger to his Indonesian clients. His public endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party's sanguinary decision to clear Tiananmen Square in 1989. His advice to President Gerald Ford to refuse Alexander Solzhenitsyn an invitation to the White House (another favor, as with spitting on Soviet Jewry, to his friend Leonid Brezhnev). His decision to allow Saddam Hussein to slaughter the Kurds after promising them American support. His backing for a fascist coup in Cyprus in 1974 and then his defense of the brutal Turkish invasion of the island. His advice to the Israelis, at the beginning of the first intifada, to throw the press out of the West Bank and go for all-out repression. His view that ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia was something about which nothing could be done. Forget the criminal aspect here (or forget it if you can). All those policies were also political and diplomatic disasters.

We possess a remarkably complete record of all this, in and out of office, most of it based solidly on U.S. government documents.

Read the full piece here – it’s a cracker.

27 December 2010

Can Gillard last?

Can Gillard Get it Together? is the question addressed by Geoff Kitney in a major piece in the Perspective section of the Weekend Australian Financial Review, 23-28 Decmber 2010.

He notes the unusual circumstances in which the Gillard Government finds itself:

In the precarious new world of minority government, in which the Gillard administration is not in control of its own destiny, the battle for political advantage is intense and unrelenting. The new order in which power is shared between the Labor Party and a gaggle of independent and minor party MPs and senators has changed politics in ways that are yet to be fully understood.

The more important question to my mind is whether Gillard has what it takes, a question which Kitney addresses at some length. Some, like Trade Minister Craig Emerson, say that she does have what it takes:

As we go through 2011 ... and as she more clearly defines her philosophy and our policies ... the public will come to see her as a leader of integrity, strength and ambition and she’ll begin to look very good compared to Tony Abbott.

Others are not so sure.  Some unnamed “Labor insiders”

... question whether her interests and experience are broad enough to cope with the challenges of the prime ministership.

Another senior Labor figure

... says he finds it odd that Gillard appears to have had so little curiosity about issues beyond those which motivated her to become politically active.

“I don’t think there’s been a Labor leader so little interested in the bigger picture of Australia’s place in the world,” he says. “I find that very odd and I think her lack of an instinctive view about international affairs is a major weakness which is apparent in her handling of Afghanistan and the asylum seeker issue”.

These doubts add weight to a question posed by Kitney – will Gillard grow into the job?

The great test of political leaders is whether they grow in the job. So far, Gillard seems not to have done so.  She hasn’t shrunk in the way that, say, William McMahon did to the point where he became a figure of ridicule. But she shows no sign of following the example of her political mentor, Bob Hawke, who rapidly overcame doubts about his ability to transform himself from partisan trade union boss to leader of the nation.

 Towards the end of the piece Kitney says:

Ministers say that at their final cabinet meetings of 2010, she indicated that in the new year she would move to set out a detailed medium- to long-term policy agenda, with economic reform at its centre. She is planning series of speeches and engagements in coming months in which she will try to set an ambitious policy agenda which one insider said would aim to “recapture the reformist energy and ambition of the Hawke-Keating era”.


(1)    Much as I respect the judgement of Craig Emerson, I think there is a fundamental flaw in the notion that someone can become Prime Minister and then make it a project to define and communicate a policy agenda.  That sounds like someone who wanted to become Prime Minister for no better reason than wanting to be Prime Minister. I would have hoped that anyone who became Prime Minister would have had a head full of ideas, to which he/she was deeply committed, about how Australian society could be changed for the better. Julia Gillard is being presented here, and behaves, as a person who says, in effect, “Now that I am Prime Minister, I am going to try to figure out what the Australian electorate would like me to do and see what I can do about giving that to them”.

(2)    By saying that Gillard will “begin to look very good compared to Tony Abbott” Craig Emerson is in my view setting a very low benchmark, as anyone who has read The real Tony Abbott will discern.

(3)    Gillard’s lack of curiosity, leading inevitably to a lack of requisite general knowledge, is also a worry.  Good strategy making and decision-making requires a combination of formal and informal skills, sufficient relevant knowledge to interpret and evaluate incoming information, and judgement based upon experience of dealing with similar situations in the past and reflecting upon the lessons learned. So far, Gillard shows no sign of being equipped in this way, and there is no way to bridge this gap in a short time – it is acquired as a matter of lifelong learning. People who are deficient in this respect will be fortunate indeed if they even manage to appoint the right advisers, for how can they know what is needed of those advisers, what to expect from them, or how to evaluate their advice?

(4)    Like most Australian politicians Julia Gillard has had a career path which has equipped her very poorly to manage complexity. There is nothing in Gillard’s career path or performance to date that suggests that she is up to the complex agenda which confronts her.

There is a well established body of literature that demonstrates that the capacity to manage complexity is a product both of intrinsic capabilities and maturing through one’s career in the management of rising levels of complexity. No matter how talented a person might be, he/she cannot successfully “jump in the deep end” when it comes to handling complexity, which necessarily involves managing multiple variables over a long period of time.  This is the very good reason that military organisations do not fast track people through the ranks; they spend time at each level not only to demonstrate that they can handle that level of operational complexity, but to have time to absorb the lessons of that experience before moving up to the next level. For the definitive work on this subject see Elliott Jaques, Requisite Organization: A Total System for Effective Managerial Leadership for the 20th Century, Cason Hall & Co., Arlington VA, Revised Second Edition, 1996.

(5)    I commented during the election campaign that Julia Gillard is no strategist. The key, and little understood, difference between strategy and tactics is that tactics is the business of devising the most effective ways of responding to various types of situations – often formulaic responses that have been proven over time to have an acceptably high probability of producing an acceptable outcome. Strategy is the art of reshaping the battlespace to one’s own advantage. Gillard has signally failed to do that in all of the situations that demand a strategic approach.  In order to succeed on issues like Afghanistan, climate change, the Murray Darling Basin and asylum seekers, she needs to be making it easier for her Ministers to get the Government’s agenda up by leading the public debate and persuading the Australian public that the changes she is seeking are achievable and in the public interest. She needs to be shaping the environment of public opinion into which her proposed solutions are to be introduced. As far as the overarching policy debate is concerned she has been missing in action on all of them, and with the exception of the capable and self-starting Greg Combet, so have her Ministers.

(6)    In Reflections on the revolution in Canberra I said that the election outcome had been much as I had hoped and expected – a hung Parliament in which the independents would have the determining say in the House of Representatives and the Greens would control the Senate except when Labor and the Coalition combined to pass legislation (see A plague a’ both their houses).  I still feel that way, and would still like to see the Gillard Government succeed. But hope is fading fast.


My best assessment on the information available to me as of now is that the Gillard Government will continue to disappoint and that her personal trajectory will be more like that of William McMahon than that of her mentor Bob Hawke. I hope I am wrong.

On the basis of that assessment, I doubt that Gillard will last the year. The most likely scenario is that she will go the way she came: in the face of continuing bad polls, she will be displaced by her own party in favour of someone the party machine and Caucus considers able to lead the party to victory in the next election. If that happens at all it will happen this year, because if Gillard is doing poorly in the polls, the party will not be able to afford to wait: one independent losing heart or one backbencher deciding it’s all over and the party faces an election with a leader who has lost the confidence of the electorate.

Which brings me to the alternative scenario.  The independents and Green in the House of Representatives who decided to support Gillard did so because they judged her, of the two leaders on offer, to be the more serious about going a full term and delivering on the agenda that is important to them. It only takes one of them to decide that the Government they are maintaining in office is incapable of delivering anything and it’s all over.

My best guess is that there will be a change of Labor leadership some time this year.

Ha’aretz on Netanyahu and Israel’s standing

On 22 December the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz editorialised that Binyamin Netanyahu can blame himself for the decline in Israel’s world standing. The editorial concludes:

Our political leaders only have themselves to blame for the deterioration in Israel's international standing. WikiLeaks has exposed that Ron Dermer, a political adviser to Netanyahu, told guests from the United States in December 2009 that Netanyahu has lost patience with Abbas and does not consider him a partner for peace.

In December 2010, leaders around the world are losing their patience with Netanyahu and are wondering if the Israeli prime minister is a partner for peace. The way to restore their faith and protect Israel's interests around the world remains the freezing of settlements and a diplomatic process in which the core issues are seriously discussed. The international community must push the sides toward such negotiations.

Read the full editorial here.

Gideon Levy on racism and xenophobia in Israel

In the 2 December 2010 edition of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, under the headline Spreading racism and xenophobia, columnist Gideon Levy wrote that the national intimidation campaign against foreigners must be stopped from the top down.

He begins:

The disease is malignant and metastatic, spreading with alarming speed. From Safed to Eilat, through Tiberias and Bnei Brak, one city after another is declaring: I am racist.

Renting apartments to Arab students is forbidden in Safed and Tiberias, migrant workers are being thrown out of their apartments in Bnei Brak, where their electricity and water is cut off as well. In Eilat, "black market labor" isn't wanted. This is no longer just the bad old hatred of Arabs, in the name of fear and security; it's now become distilled, violent xenophobia as well.

A stormy silence hovers all around. There is no government in Israel, no one to explain who those Arab students are and what rights they are entitled to, or who those Africans are, who we're so eager to hunt down and drive the hell out.

In the state comprised of refugees and survivors, humanity has come to an end. The public discourse on the fate of the aliens focuses only on evil solutions, each one more monstrous than the next. One says let's build a fence, the other says let's construct a massive prison compound, a third says deport them immediately - or at least eventually.

Listen to the leaders, not one of them has a single word of compassion for these people. Nothing. The fact that they are human beings, and ones in distress, has been forgotten. It is not even a consideration.

Read the full op-ed here.

22 December 2010

Paragraph of the Year

This one really tickles my funny bone.

TimesCrime Sean O'Neill
Times' subs Paragraph of the Year: “He was unique. There will never be another Kenneth McKellar,” said the late singer’s son, Kenneth.

Again, ROFLOL.

Tweet of the year

I opened a Twitter account on 1 September so I have been at it for about three months and have seen some informative, some amusing and some insightful tweets over that time, and some which combine amusement and insight.

My nomination for tweet of the year was posted on 22 November by Possum Comitatus. Apart from its wry humour, it seems to me to sum up the state of contemporary Australian politics and the Government’s fundamental incapacity to handle any public policy issue effectively:

Pollytics Possum Comitatus 
We should all be very thankful that the ALP didn't invent the wheel. They would have failed to sell its usefulness #QT


Vale, Ken Atkinson

The following obituary for Ken Atkinson, an old boy of the Armidale School who was in his final year in my first year there, was published in yesterday’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Kenneth Hugh Atkinson, 1939-2010.

Ken Atkinson was a gynaecologist and an unpretentious man of achievement. He was a dedicated oncological surgeon and taught many of Sydney's currently practising gynaecologists.

The secret of his success in work, his marriage and friendships was that he possessed a rare quality: he listened. Not just politely but with genuine interest. He was also a great teacher and had an extraordinary ability to convey the practical skills needed for the management of patients.

Kenneth Hugh Atkinson was born on August 1, 1939, in Moss Vale to Athol (Dod) Atkinson and his wife, Ethel Cameron. The Atkinsons moved to Fiji, where Dod managed a cattle ranch but died of typhoid when Ken was 18 months old. Ethel also contracted typhoid but recovered, returned to Australia and moved to Armidale, where Ken grew up. He went to The Armidale School, where he was dux of his final year.

In 1957, he went to the University of Sydney to study medicine. He spent six years at St Paul's College.

His contemporaries remember that he studied little and on one occasion remarked to a fellow student that he ''could not believe how easy the medical course was''. He passed his examinations with ease, getting credits and distinctions each year, and graduated with honours in 1963. In 1964, he married Susan Vail.

He then went to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and two years later became a registrar at King George V Hospital at RPAH. In his second year at King George, he sat the membership examination for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and got the top mark in Australia.

In 1968 he was appointed clinical superintendent at King George. He single-handedly altered the whole ethos of the hospital - introducing formal resident training and running regular seminars incorporating interaction with other clinical specialities. In his teaching, when manipulative obstetrics (correcting abnormal presentations by hand) was still practised, he taught the resident staff to practise it as an art form.

Before leaving the clinical superintendent position, Atkinson was awarded the Joseph Foreman Fellowship. This took him to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was surgical resident to Howard Ulfelder, one of the greatest gynaecological surgeons of the time.

In 1971, he returned to Sydney where he progressively took up a series of appointments: as visiting medical officer in obstetrics and gynaecology at RPAH then at Ryde Hospital, Poplars Private Hospital in Epping and Sydney Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga.

He demonstrated an almost superhuman capacity to work. His days started at 4.30am with rounds at the Adventist, then Ryde, Poplars and RPAH. He then began his day in his rooms, seeing 20-30 patients a session and being intermittently interrupted by a delivery at any of these geographically disparate hospitals. He was delivering close to 400 babies a year.

After he gave up obstetrics in the mid-1990s, he concentrated on gynaecological cancer surgery. He handled most of the difficult gynaecological cancer surgery on the upper north shore and, of course, at RPAH, where he was on call for surgical disasters. He never complained about being called in at any time of the day or night; he did it all with good humour but no one equalled him ''when the chips were down''.

In 1974, Atkinson was a member of the NSW committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In 1984 he served on the executive committee of the Australian Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and became chairman of the committee in 1994. In the same year he was elected to the council of the NSW Medical Defence Union and in 1995 he served on its executive committee.

In 1996 he became a director of United Medical Protection and later deputy chairman.

He was the spokesman for UMP during the medical insurance crisis that resulted in major reform to tort law and insurance in Australia. This increased his interest in medico legal problems and he took a master's in health law at the University of Sydney.

Ken Atkinson is survived by Susan, children Tracey, Josephine and Bill, son-in-law Adam, daughter-in-law Kim and grandsons Sam and Jack.

Andrew Korda

18 December 2010

Secrecy, national security and the internet

The following article was published in lightly edited form as an op-ed piece in the Monday 13 December edition of The Age, under the title The net will win against deception - see the published piece online here.


Nations need secrets. They are fundamental to the preservation of national security.

Democracy demands openness and governments dealing frankly and honestly with the people to whom they are accountable.

If the point of national security is to preserve our open democratic society, we must start with a presumption of openness and ask what tests a document must meet to warrant the protection of a national security classification.

Obvious subject matter includes sensitive military technologies, the design and performance characteristics of military equipment, technical means of intelligence collection, human intelligence sources, intelligence priorities, defence science programs and priorities, the readiness state of elements of the Australian Defence Force, information about military operations, operational plans and other information about actual or planned deployments. Release of any such material would enable a potential adversary to put counter-measures in place and/or improve the performance of their own forces.

Material falling into these categories would be classified TOP SECRET, SECRET, CONFIDENTIAL or RESTRICTED according to the consequences for national security if it were to be made public, ranging from “exceptionally grave” to not much.

In my younger days one of the attributes that would attract a CONFIDENTIAL classification was that the information, if known, “could cause administrative embarrassment”.  In these days of Freedom of Information legislation, release of a document could not as a matter of law be withheld on the grounds that the information would cause administrative embarrassment – a point to be borne in mind in considering many of the WikiLeaks revelations.

Within this framework a security classification would apply to many diplomatic communications, but they cannot be justified by a desire to protect the exchange of scuttlebutt, or self-aggrandisement like Mr Rudd big-noting himself by referring to the French and German efforts in Afghanistan as “organising folk-dancing festivals”.

Nor should national security classifications be used to conceal from the public the real assessments and motives of the governments we elect.

Some striking examples of this have come to light in the last couple of days.  One relates to the Chinese response to provocative and unnecessary commentary about China in the 2009 Defence White Paper, which I understand was inserted at the behest of then Prime Minister Rudd.  The Australian public was told from the Defence Minister down that China had no particular problems with this content. Now the WikiLeaks reveal that in fact the paper’s principal author was “dressed down” by the deputy director of foreign affairs in the Chinese defence ministry.  No national security purpose was served by misleading the Australian public in this way.

Other leaks show that Mr Rudd as Prime Minister was less than frank about his attitude to US deployment of ballistic missile defences, publicly opposed but privately telling the US he was on board.

Perhaps the most serious case relates to the prospects for the war in Afghanistan. The stock line from Western Governments is that they are optimistic, things are going well, perhaps not quite as well as we would like, but we are making progress.  What we find from WikiLeaks is that the real assessment – no doubt shared by all our NATO allies – is quite different. In October 2008 Mr Rudd told visiting US Congressmen that the national security establishment in Australia was very pessimistic about the long-term prognosis for Afghanistan, a pessimism which was evident in a December 2009 cable reporting the views of Australia’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, former Defence Secretary Ric Smith, who referred to the “train wreck” the Australian Federal Police have to deal with in working with the Afghan National Police.

This deceptiveness is quite unconscionable.  The situation it suggests is that all Western Governments involved know the outlook in Afghanistan is very bleak, but none is prepared to confess this to their public. They all cling on, feeding us their bromides, hoping that when the war is lost it will be on someone else’s watch. Meanwhile they attend the funerals, praise the fallen and comfort the families.

Such deceptiveness is not confined to the Rudd and Gillard Governments. The Howard Government was committed to the US invasion of Iraq by July 2002; we would not have had Australians embedded in the US planning process if it were otherwise. Yet John Howard insisted right up to the eve of the March 2003 invasion that no decision had been taken on our participation.

This particular game is up – Governments will sooner or later be outed when they say one thing to foreign governments and another to their public.  The world is witnessing something like a collision between two galaxies; the hot swirling mass of secret diplomatic correspondence has come into collision with the fast moving, rapidly changing and supremely adaptable mass of the internet. The latter will devour the former, and Governments had just better get used to the idea.  The leaks are technology-driven – they occur because they can.

The consequences of this will not be confined to the foreign policy arena.  In the hubris of power and their desire to stay in office solely for the purpose of being in office, modern governments routinely mislead us in two ways. They feed us an endless stream of misleading drivel manufactured by their spin doctors, and they withhold from us information about their real agenda and other inconvenient truths that the public has a right to know. This is now much more difficult to sustain.

Julian Assange will no doubt pay a heavy price for his role in this inevitable development, but in the long sweep of history he will be seen more as hero than as villain.

Paul Barratt AO is a former intelligence analyst and a former Secretary to the Department of Defence.


15 December 2010

Ha’aretz on the Orthodox tyranny

On 14 December the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz editorialised on the subject of “the Orthodox tyranny” and the actions of two Orthodox political parties in relation to conversions carried out by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), which it described as being contrary to both the interests of the general public and the IDF.

This tyranny, which has of late reached new heights - "rulings" by racist rabbis against renting or selling homes to Arabs, yeshiva heads encouraging insubordination by soldiers, inflated powers given to rabbinical court judges - distances Israeli society from normalcy and brings the state into conflict with Diaspora Jewry.

Read the full editorial here.

07 December 2010

Julia Gillard on WikiLeaks

A short while ago Canberra political journalist Latika Bourke posted two tweets on comments made by the Prime Minister in relation to the WIkiLeaks issue, the first in response to a question from her:

latikambourke Latika Bourke
on #wikileaks, asked JG what Australian laws Assange has broken she said 'The foundation stone of it is an illegal act.' #cablegate

latikambourke Latika Bourke
Then JG said 'People would be aware that there’s also the issue of a warrant relating to an alleged sexual assault in Sweden.' #cablegate

The first comment is a bit of cunning wording because the illegal act to which she makes reference is not, of course, an act by Julian Assange, it is the act of a security cleared United States citizen on the US Government payroll.  So as a response to Bourke’s question, “What Australian laws has Assange broken”, I will take that as a “None”, confirmed by the fact that the Government has had a task force of military personnel, intelligence officers and officials attempting to ascertain whether Assange has broken any Australian laws and if he had I am sure we would have heard about it by now.

The Prime Minister’s second comment is fascinating. Ostensibly there is no connection between the allegations of sexual assault (actually a complaint in relation to consensual sex) in Sweden and the publication of leaked US diplomatic cable traffic. The fact that the two issues are juxtaposed in the Prime Minister’s mind must make one wonder, however.

If you read Guy Rundle’s account here of the legal steps in relation to the alleged sexual assault, published in The Age, Sunday 5 December, they are so bizarre one is forced to wonder whether or not this matter is connected to WikiLeaks’ earlier file dump on Iraq and Afghanistan.

The feeling of unease is reinforced by the article When it comes to the Assange rape case, the Swedes are making it up as they go along, by Melbourne barrister James D. Catlin, who acted for Julian Assange in London in October. The article appeared in Crikey on Thursday 2 December (access it here).

What on earth is going on?

The lawless Wild West attacks WikiLeaks

Under this heading Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York, provides a summary of the various punishments meted out to Julian Assange and his organisation since the last batch of WikiLeaks began to be published.

He begins:

WikiLeaks has never been charged with a crime, let alone indicted for one or convicted of one.  A consensus of legal experts (see here) is that prosecuting the organisation or Julian Assange for any of its leaks would be difficult in the extreme.  Despite those facts, look at just some of the punishment that has been doled out to them and what has been threatened:

He goes on to present case after case: withdrawal of domain name, freezing of PayPal account, consideration by Australia of the withdrawal of Assange’s passport, freezing by a Swiss bank of Assange’s legal defence fund, Amazon shutting off access to its site, and so the list goes on.

Greenwald concludes:

People often have a hard time believing that the terms "authoritarian" and "tyranny" apply to their own government, but that's because those who meekly stay in line and remain unthreatening are never targeted by such forces.  The face of authoritarianism and tyranny reveals itself with how it responds to those who meaningfully dissent from and effectively challenge its authority:  do they act within the law or solely through the use of unconstrained force?

This is a first class piece, required reading for anyone interested in the WikiLeaks issue. Read it in full here.

Guardian columnist on the responses to WikiLeaks

In an opinion piece in The Guardian published on Monday 6 December under the headline Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It’s your choice, columnist John Naughton writes that Western political elites obfuscate, lie and bluster, and when the veil of secrecy is lifted, they try to kill the messenger:

The intolerance of the old order is emerging from the rosy mist in which it has hitherto been obscured. The response has been vicious, co-ordinated and potentially comprehensive, and it contains hard lessons for everyone who cares about democracy and about the future of the net.

There is a delicious irony in the fact that it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamouring to shut WikiLeaks down.

This is an excellent piece which highlights the hypocrisy of governments that extol  the virtues of openness, and the timidity of the internet service providers who have so easily fallen into line with the US Government and suddenly discovered that WikiLeaks and/or Julian Assange are in violation of the terms of their agreement.  These admirable companies seem to have made no such discovery so far in relation to the major newspapers that have published the material to a far larger audience than would ever access the WikiLeaks website, and in a far more accessible form.

Read the piece in full here.

06 December 2010

Do WikiLeaks cables put informants’ lives at risk?

One recurrent theme in the ongoing drama about the WIkiLeaks publication of US cable traffic is the proposition that the revelation of the contents of these cables puts the lives of informants at risk.

Our own Attorney-General fell for this one.  According to James Massola in today’s edition of The Australian (see here):

Attorney-General Robert McClelland today condemned the release of confidential cables by whistleblower website WikiLeaks as “grossly irresponsible”, and which would put the safety and even the lives of people helping western governments at risk.

If lives are indeed put at risk the primary responsibility would lie with the originator of the cable, because it would be an act of lunacy to name someone who was giving information at risk of life and limb in a cable that was destined to be posted on a diplomatic network to which about 3 million people have access.

In my experience knowledge of the precise individual involved in providing human-source intelligence is restricted in any given case to an extraordinarily small number of people – probably no more than the agent receiving the information and perhaps (but not necessarily) that person’s supervisor.

The intelligence reports received by the analysts whose job it is to make sense of the stream of incoming raw intelligence (eg me in a couple of past lives) simply come with a descriptor of the source – for example, “A reliable source with good access”. To me as analyst that descriptor is far more useful  than the source’s name: it tells me that the person is probably in a position to know what we are being told, that we have used him/her before, and that he/she has proved to be reliable.

In the days when all of this material was delivered in hard copy, it would be sent by the originating agency to a specific officer who was cleared to receive it, who was required to sign for it, and was thereafter responsible for its secure handling and storage.  Such material is no doubt distributed electronically these days, but you can be sure that anything really sensitive – the kind of information that if released would put lives at risk – would be handled with an equivalent level of security.  Access would be limited to those with a need to know, and it would not be posted on a general network to which millions of people have access.

05 December 2010

Brazil recognises Palestine on 1967 borders

In a public letter addressed to Palestinian President on Friday, Brazilian President  Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has advised that Brazil recognises Palestine as an independent state within the 1967 borders.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has expressed “sadness and disappointment” at the Brazilian decision, saying that every attempt to bypass the 2003 Roadmap towards Middle East “only harms trust between the sides, and hurts their commitment to the agreed framework of negotiating towards peace."

Given that the Americans have advised the Palestinians that their efforts to secure a new settlement freeze have failed, there is not a lot of trust around, and one would have to laugh at any suggestion that the current Israeli has any interest in any outcome other than full control of Greater Israel.

I have long regarded the insistence by the international community that Palestinian statehood had to be achieved by negotiation with the Israelis as conferring to Israel a veto over that outcome, and in the case of both Israel and the United States I would say that was the whole idea. It is and has always been a recipe for going through the motions for the benefit of sections of the Western public, while ensuring that the destination could never be reached.

I regard this crack in the wall as a momentous event, a view which I am tempted to regard as being confirmed by the deafening silence from the Western media. It is reported by Al Jazeera here and by AFP here, but there is not a lot else at this stage.

Not everyone in Israel will be unhappy.  In Zvi Bar’el on the Palestinian state on 14 November I reported that Zvi Bar’el, Middle Eastern affairs analyst for Ha’aretz Newspaper, had commented that international recognition of a Palestinian state could shake the peace process and extricate it from the stranglehold in which Palestine and Israel are caught.

I think that to put any future negotiations on the footing that they take place between two states of equal status can only be for the good. It probably represents the only, albeit slender, hope of a settlement.

Seven key things we have learned from WikiLeaks

One of the principal reactions to the publication of material from the 250,000 US diplomatic cables handed over to WikiLeaks by an unknown employee of the US Government is that this is all old hat, there is nothing new here.

Do not fall for this line. Of course there is much in this vast volume of raw data that was known already, and much that was assumed by informed observers of the various areas of US foreign policy. But there is a big difference between making an informed judgement and actually knowing because the evidence is there in black and white.  Australian Governments from both sides of politics make many statements that I do not believe, but I rarely have the documentary evidence that makes my scepticism a matter of established fact.

And in all the chaff of routine diplomatic reporting there is material that is new. In a thoughtful piece by columnist Richard Adams published in The Guardian on Friday 3 December, he enumerates seven of them:

-  The British Government remains in thrall to the US:
Over Diego Garcia, over an international cluster munitions ban, over using British bases for rendition and spying flights, the British authorities were either ignored, manipulated or co-opted.

This list is by no means comprehensive. Adams might have added, for example, that American officials warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for CIA officers involved in a bungled operation in which Khalid El-Masri, an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant, was kidnapped, tortured and held for months in Afghanistan – and the German Government complied.

For further detail click on the links above, or read Richard Adams’ article here.