WikiLeaks Coverage, Day Three

A roundup of major outlets' continued coverage of the State Department cables story

The New York Times

Day three of the Times cables coverage focuses on Pakistan—firstly with a long report by Jane Perlez, David E. Sanger, and Eric Schmitt detailing America’s delicate “dance” with the controversial south east Asian “frenemy” over an expired promise to allow the U.S. to remove enriched uranium from the country; and secondly, with a smaller piece detailing the diplomatically sensitive release from a Pakistani prison of an infamous nuclear dealer. The latter is a short snapshot of secret diplomacy in progress; the former, an insight into “nuclear gamesmanship” that reveals a fascinating diplomat at work.

What’s most interesting about “Nuclear Memos Expose Wary Dance With Pakistan,” the Times’s main story for the day, is not so much the central narrative—Pakistan’s reneging on a 2007 agreement for America to remove uranium being held at an ageing research nuclear reactor—but the blunt assessments issued by then U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson. While many of the cables we have been reading this week show diplomats aren’t shy of the odd colorful jibe or scandalous piece of gossip—voluptuous blondes, etc—there has been some timidity when it comes to frankly assessing meatier situations and relationships between countries. Not so with Patterson who goes so far as to step away from the D.C. consensus.

In one cable, Ms. Patterson, a veteran diplomat who left Islamabad in October after a three-year stint as ambassador, said more money and military assistance would not be persuasive. “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India.”

In a rare tone of dissent with Washington, she said Pakistan would only dig in deeper if America continued to improve ties with India, which she said “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups.”

And she provides some zingers likely to rile Islamabad’s man in charge.

“Pakistan’s civilian government remains weak, ineffectual and corrupt,” she wrote on Feb. 22, 2010, the eve of a visit by the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III. “Domestic politics is dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari.”

While the report is frontloaded with the uranium story and this kind of cabled intrigue, an equally interesting revelation comes at the backend. A year before the Obama administration acknowledged as much, the embassy was receiving credible reports of that the Pakistani Army was abusing and killing prisoners it collected while fighting Al-Qaeda in the Swat Valley. (The Times also links to a video released this year showing one such case of abuse). Cables show it was a calculated decision to remain quiet on the matter. It feels deserving of a bigger story.

“The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extrajudicial killing of some detainees,” the cable said. “The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan army units.” The Frontier Corps is a paramilitary force partly financed by the United States to fight the insurgents.

“Post advises that we avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy,” the ambassador wrote. This September, however, the issue exploded into public view when a video emerged showing Pakistani soldiers executing six unarmed young men in civilian clothes. In October, the Obama administration suspended financing to half a dozen Pakistani Army units believed to have killed civilians or unarmed prisoners.
Also in the Times today, a short but fascinating play-by-play of the diplomatic moves around out-of-favor Blackwater’s move into pirate hunting in the Gulf of Aden—“…would appreciate Department’s guidance on the appropriate level of engagement with Blackwater,” the Djibouti ambassador cables back to D.C.—and a colorful, gossipy look at the pro-American French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his entourage of “loyal but intimidated underlings.” - Joel Meares

The Guardian

The Guardian’s top story as of Wednesday afternoon is about Vladimir Putin’s response to the leaked cables. Well, one of them, anyway. As would be expected, Putin is not pleased with the much-publicized characterization of him and Dmitry Medvedev as “Batman and Robin.” Putin’s remarks are taken from a “candid but frosty” interview with Larry King, which will air on CNN tonight.

Other stories focus on economist David Blanchflower’s call for Mervyn King to step down as governor of the Bank of England. Blanchflower’s Guardian column, published several hours earlier, uses several WikiLeak-ed cables about King as proof that “thirst for power and influence … has clouded his judgment one too many times.” (Background on that story here.) Prime Minister David Cameron has thus far refused to join in the condemnation.

Max Frankel, the former longtime New York Times reporter and editor, has a column up at The Guardian entitled “WikiLeaks: Secrets shared with millions are not secret.” Frankel revisits the late Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion of the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 in order to make these points:

A wise government would therefore decide - for moral, political and practical reasons - to insist on avoiding secrecy for its own sake….Lead us secretly into one war too many, and see how we wallow in one or another disclosure too many.

- Lauren Kirchner

Der Spiegel

Der Spiegel’s third day cable coverage features a three-pronged, highly detailed synthesis of dispatches outlining Arab fears about a nuclear Iran and preparations for guarding against a retaliatory attack from Iran should Israel go after its nuclear facilities. Written by the “Spiegel staff,” it includes sections titled, “Cables Show Arab Leaders Fear a Nuclear Iran,” “The Fears of the Arabs,” and “The End of Patience,” and touches on many of the revelations the Times focused on in its day one coverage of the leaked cables.

The Spiegel report is much more thorough than the Times’s, as magazine and web length will allow, and the staff writers guide readers through the development of tensions, fears, dealings, demands, and coercions in prose heavy with reported detail from the leaked cables. Thus we are privy to developments such as the growing concern of Arab leaders on Iran—not just the much-focused upon Saudi requests to “cut the head off the snake”—which are laid out in almost catalogue style.

The United Arab Emirates were adamant about improving their joint military plans with the United States. They asked Washington to speed up the delivery of American weapons systems, “to respond to a worst-case scenario in Iran.”

Mohammed bin Zayed, the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, said the “preparations must begin now well before commencement of hostilities.” Bin Zayed, whom the Americans often referred to only as “MbZ,” feared an Israeli attack and an Iranian retaliation before the end of the year, while the Americans assumed that a “military confrontation with Iran” could not happen before 2010.

The Spiegel writers also pluck fascinating snippets from the cables that show America’s reaction to the forming Arab bloc against Iran.

A year later, General David Petraeus said, during a visit to Beirut, that there was a “phenomenon in the Gulf states where leaders were worried someone would strike Iran’s nuclear weapons program, while also worrying that someone would not.” Iran, he continued, “had become Centcom’s best recruiting tool, and the number of partnership and US military assistance agreements with Arab partners in the Gulf had increased significantly.”

There is also reported musing, based on the cables, about just how close Iran has come to obtaining “the bomb”; speculation illustrated in a nifty, if un-dynamic, graphic outlining what we currently know of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The high school textbook-like diagram can be found here.

On the local front, Spiegel is also carrying an appropriately outraged report on Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s Presidential Airways breaking German export law. Presidential bought German military helicopters to export to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and, frustrated by a slow-coming export permit, moved the helicopters to Britain and then to Turkey so that they could be transported to Afghanistan without the wait. It’s a brief report, but shows again the fine work that one of the smaller “WikiLeaks five” outlets is managing to do with the latest dump. - Joel Meares


The BBC website, which we neglected to mention for the past few days, has a great collection of resources and reports on the developing WikiLeaks story. They’ve got the dirt on Interpol’s “red notice” out for Assange (and what a red notice means), a multimedia piece on Pakistan’s reactions to U.S. nuclear fears, and several helpful explainers on the overall key findings of the cables, and how to read them. Here’s an excerpt of that last explainer:

1. Classification of cable: These range from Confidential to Unclassified. This one is labelled as Secret, others also include the label NOFORN which means not for access to non-US citizens.

2. Indicates cable has been sent via Siprnet, short for Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, the computer system used by the US Department of State and US Department of Defense.

3. Who the cable is to in a bit more detail, which here includes the OVP - Office of Vice President and the Department for Near Eastern Affairs/ Arabian Peninsula Affairs.

4. A more specific subject line in plainer English.

5. Reasons for classification of cable. Here, 1.4 (b,d) means it relates to foreign government information or foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.

- Lauren Kirchner


Wednesday morning’s episode of The Takeaway featured a segment with Daily Beast reporter Denver Nicks and Patrick Crowley, the director of computer engineering programs at Washington University in St. Louis. Crowley gave his take on what Manning’s leak says about the vulnerability of the State Department’s computer system (answer: not much). Here’s Crowley:

I don’t see a takeaway point consisting of a technology or a process failure. This seems to me to be a relatively straightforward case of someone who had privileged access to information, who decided to walk out the door with that information…. The DOD has an important job of keeping information from getting into the wrong hands, but they also have an important job of sharing information. You certainly want the right and left hands within the DOD to know what’s going on, and that requires them to share information, and that requires low-level classified information like these cables to be accessible by a comparatively large number of junior and senior people.

Nicks—who, disclosure, is a friend and former classmate of mine—wrote a lengthy and nuanced profile of Manning for This Land Press in September, which he reported by visiting Manning’s hometown of Crescent, Oklahoma. He summed up Manning’s personality on The Takeaway:

Everybody there universally said that he was too smart for his own good. Brad Manning is intelligent, and I think he felt he was underappreciated. He’s always been precocious and prickly, I think. People found him irritating. But there’s also been a sort of caricature spread in the media that Brad Manning is some kind of antisocial, friendless geek lashing out at the world, and I don’t think that’s the case.

- Lauren Kirchner

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