– FPA STAFF/NEWS SERVICE REPORT
A secret diplomatic cable causing shockwaves around the world, sent to American diplomatic missions in the name of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton apparently sought personal details about Liberia, according to a document, described by the controversial whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. The revelations by the controversial investigative online journal, has unraveled what some are describing as a new window on U.S. diplomacy in Africa. The documents were first released on November 28, when Wikileaks published previously secret diplomatic cables.
According to the revelation, Liberia is among several countries in the West African sub-region, named as “the West Africa Littoral directive” covered the coastal countries of West Africa: Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin. This directive on Liberia does not yet appear to have been published by WikiLeaks, thus not much details have been revealed about the nature of the information the U.S. has been seeking. However, the directive from Secretary of State Clinton instructs reporting officers to look for information relating to persons linked to the West Africa Sahel region: office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cell phones, pagers and faxes; compendia of contact information, such as telephone directories (in compact disc or electronic format if available) and e-mail listings; internet and intranet “handles”, internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.
WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth. We are a young organisation that has grown very quickly, relying on a network of dedicated volunteers around the globe. Since 2007, when the organisation was officially launched, WikiLeaks has worked to report on and publish important information. We also develop and adapt technologies to support these activities.
WikiLeaks has sustained and triumphed against legal and political attacks designed to silence the publishing organization, journalists and our anonymous sources. According to the group’s website, the broader principles on which its work is based are the defense of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history. “We derive these principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 19 inspires the work of our journalists and other volunteers. It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We agree, and we seek to uphold this and the other Articles of the Declaration.”
Shocks around the world
The leaks already have the U.S. on edge, Great Britain in ire and several African leaders steaming.
On Tuesday, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper published a 2008 cable from U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, in which she revealed how Prince Andrew, Duke of York, fourth in line to the British throne and special U.K. representative for international trade, apparently does not have a very high opinion of some foreigners – not to mention certain journalists. The Prince reportedly expressed his views on corruption investigators, the French, Americans and – hence the irony – Guardian journalists during a brunch with U.K. and Canadian businessmen. “Rude language a la British… [Andrew] turned to the general issue of promoting British economic interests abroad,” Gfoeller wrote. “He railed at British anticorruption investigators, who had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia.”
In Kenya, the Associated Press reported Tuesday that the East African nation government expressed “surprised and shocked” by media reports US diplomats in the East African nation were scathing of the ruling parties in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks website. Germany’s Der Spiegel – one of five newspapers that received cables leaked from US embassies around the globe – said classified messages from Nairobi referred to a “swamp of flourishing corruption” across Kenya and spoke with disdain of the coalition government. “We do not know the details of the leaked cables, but if what is reported is true then it is totally malicious and a total misrepresentation of our country and our leaders,” government spokesman Alfred Mutua was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “We are surprised and shocked by these revelations.” Mutua said the US’s Africa envoy Johnny Carson had called Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday to apologize for the expected leaks.
“The US Government indicated they are sorry for the content in the leaked documents,” he said. “They however have not told us what the documents say and what exactly they are sorry for.”
The Wikileaks document reports that apart from seeking biometric details for “key and emerging political, military, intelligence, opposition, ethnic, religious, and business leaders”, the cable – and a separate directive sent to missions in the Sahel region – directed diplomats to collect local leaders’ telephone, cell phone, pager and fax numbers, internet and intranet “handles”, internet e-mail addresses, web site identification URLs, credit card account numbers, frequent flyer account numbers and work schedules. According to the Associated Press journalists who have examined all the documents published on Sunday report that biometric data were also sought by Washington for key United Nations officials.
Democracy or spying?
The Australian newspaper, owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, characterized the State Department directives as “a secret order signed by Hilary Clinton” which “directed American diplomats to act as spies around the world against friends and enemies alike.” In London, The Guardian suggested that the directive “appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying.”
WikiLeaks itself is under pressure with China demanding action, the website facing cyber attack and a defector announcing a rival site. The Chinese threat came two days after the whistle-blower website began releasing a trove of files, signs emerged that more damaging disclosures were on the way with officials saying WikiLeaks had thousands of cables on the sensitive US role in Taiwan.
China warned against “any disturbance to China-US relations” after leaked cables indicated that Beijing was frustrated with longtime ally North Korea and may accept its collapse and absorption by the US-backed South. “We hope the US side will properly handle relevant issues,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the documents, which were released amid high tensions on the Korean peninsula.
WikiLeaks, led by shadowy Australian hacker Julian Assange, said it obtained 250,000 US cables — in which US diplomats relay conversations and observations that are usually withheld from public view for decades. Allegations from the 250,000 cables include that Iran’s supreme leader has cancer and will die “within months” and that Saudi King Abdullah urged the US to attack Iran and “cut off the head of the snake” over its nuclear program. NATO, the trans-Atlantic alliance, joined the United States on Tuesday, with spokeswoman Oana Lungescu saying “we strongly condemn the leaking of confidential documents.” “It is illegal, irresponsible and dangerous, regardless of whether the leaked material is diplomatic or military,” she said.
Assange has also faced criticism within the ragtag WikiLeaks ranks for what some associates call a top-down style. Assange is under an international arrest warrant for questioning about rape allegations in Sweden.
In Iceland, former WikiLeaks member 25-year-old student Herbert Snorrason said that he and others planned to create an alternative whistle-blower site. “We broke from WikiLeaks because a few ex-WikiLeaks members had been very unhappy with the way Assange was conducting things,” Snorrason told AFP in Reykjavik.
As the rest of the world deciphers the contents of the Wikileaks controversial revelations, political analysts are keen to see what, if any the unreleased files on Liberia could obtain and what political damages the revelations, already drawing ire in nations around the globe, have in store for Liberia’s immediate political future.