Professor Aleksey Pushkov assesses the latest publications by WikiLeaks as a serious blow to the United States’ reputation, which has been severely undermined over the last decade.
For the past few days, the whole world has been discussing the scandal involving WikiLeaks publications of US diplomatic cables. Officials and experts offer various theories as to who may be behind the leak or benefit from it. US supporters claim that America’s reputation has suffered no damage. Those irritated by US domination are lashing out at American diplomats for their ignorance and incompetence.
Professor Aleksey Pushkov, director of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies, author and anchor of the political TV show Post Scriptum, evaluates how secret the documents really were and whether or not they could hurt the United States.
RT: What do you make of the very fact that this trove of State Department documents was published? How authentic does all of this look?
Documents published by WikiLeaks look like authentic correspondence between American diplomats and government officials. As far as I understand, no one in the world doubts the authenticity of this mass of documents.
Interestingly, the US administration made no attempt to refute their contents. It said that the documents were obtained illegally, that this information might supposedly damage US forces and security services operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that it might jeopardize US agents and informers in those countries. But the US authorities have never declared the information to be false, with the exception of the report which says that Hillary Clinton gave orders to spy on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and people from his inner circle. This is the only case where the US attempted to refute a WikiLeaks document. But the denial appears unconvincing in the light of the fact that it covers only this memo out of a huge amount of published documents.
RT: Why did the US need to refute precisely this document that deals with spying on the UN Secretary-General?
AP:It seems that the United States is seeking to protect at least the reputation of its Secretary of State. But, to my mind, hardly anyone is going to believe the official denial.
RT: How secret are those documents?
AP:Judging by their contents, they are not in the cosmic+ category, which means they are intended only for top US officials. What the US classifies as “confidential,” “classified,” “secret,” and even “top secret” are documents that can be accessed by a fairly large number of people. The WikiLeaks publications are in the classified and secret categories. In Russia, “secret” means a high level of secrecy. In the American system, “secret” refers to information that has rather wide circulation in government structures and agencies. It can be accessed by a huge number of officials. True secrecy sets in at the Cosmic and Cosmic+ levels. As I understand, there were no documents of this kind in the publication.
RT: The letter speaking about President Obama’s telephone call to the Thai authorities, requesting a speedier extradition of the Russian citizen Viktor Bout for trial in the US isn’t secret either, is it?
AP:This letter is a piece of political information. This information can get leaked through different channels. For example, at the level of the foreign minister of the country that Barack Obama called, or through the office of the foreign minister’s aides, or that of PM aides. This kind of information does no harm to US security. Since the US urged Thailand to extradite Bout a few years ago, why shouldn’t the US President make a call and put some more pressure on Thailand personally? This is lowest-level secret information that can in no way affect national security. Strictly speaking, it can be obtained from diplomatic sources, or from talks with diplomats – Asian, Western, or American. This isn’t even particularly concealed. That’s why this information is in no way related to truly secret information. Furthermore, allegations by the US military that the WikiLeaks publications can jeopardize their agents and informers in Iraq and Afghanistan have no confirmation. At any rate, they haven’t given a single example of a person who has suffered on account of the publications. Should there be a case of this kind, I think that the United States would have made use of it in order to charge that Mr. Assange, the mastermind behind the publications and WikiLeaks chief, is to blame for the deaths of people who worked for the US government. There is nothing like that so far. Mr. Assange himself says that, as far as he knows, no one has suffered because of those publications. But the information, although of a low level of secrecy, is damaging to the United States’ image, not its security.
RT: What damage exactly did WikiLeaks documents do to the image of the US?
AP: Barack Obama came to power with an objective of improving America's image, which had suffered a lot after the occupation of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandal and debates around Guantanamo. Obama was supposed to fix that, and now the disclosure of those documents puts a stain on America again. They show that American officials and diplomats treat even their closest allies with arrogance and skepticism, not hesitating to make scathing remarks about them, like "emperors with no clothes" or even worse. America's allies have taken note of that. Even though everybody is trying to act like nothing happened, this incident is hardly going to improve the image of America and the attitude towards America in the world. It is going to make Europeans and people of other countries more cautious and wary when dealing with American diplomats. If information is discussed in such tone and on such a level, this may damage those who share that information with US officials. I think this disclosure will hurt both America's image and the work of intelligence gathering by US officials and diplomats. Many people are going to be far more cautious now; otherwise, they risk appearing online either in an awkward context or with a very unflattering label attached by those very Americans they used to trust.
RT: In his interview with Larry King, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said some forces were inflating the website’s reputation to use it later for their purposes. Could you elaborate on this analysis?
Being a career intelligence officer, Vladimir Putin tends to look for ulterior motives in such situations. It’s quite possible that Putin’s theory is true. The fact that a website which was largely unknown some six months ago publishes such a trove of documents may indicate that this is an information campaign, and it is quite possible that the United States is behind it. This is exactly what one of the Russian newspapers wrote, that the goal of this publication was to make this source appear credible in the eyes of the international community so that later it can spread confidential information about China and Russia, whether real or fabricated by US intelligence services. If this theory is true, if WikiLeaks is being inflated for the purpose of winning trust, so that later they could post negative information about Moscow, Beijing and other countries which the US still sees as potential enemies, then we can say this is a subtle operation, a fine example of modern information warfare. So far, however, it is only the United States that suffers damage to its reputation, not China, or Russia, or any other country. At present, the US is the only one who looks bad.
Actually, I’m not sure if smearing yourself is an effective way of winning trust. But I repeat, you can’t rule out this theory. We’ll have to see how the situation pans out.
RT: Can you remember instances of classified documents being made public unless they were released by intelligence services on purpose as part of their operations?
In international affairs, sometimes you see situations that don’t involve ulterior motives, even if it happens very rarely. For example, during the Vietnam War, the Washington Post and the New York Times published classified Pentagon documents exposing US activities in Vietnam. This happened when American people were extremely unhappy about the Vietnam War. This dissatisfaction spread not only through campuses but even through a significant part of the US elite. The ruling class was divided. Those who didn’t want the war to continue helped publish those documents, which seriously undermined the reputation of the US military and intelligence services in the eyes of Americans. The publication of those materials was the beginning of a process which eventually resulted in the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1973.
Those publications did not involve any ulterior motives. That wasn’t an operation to bring down personally President Nixon or the US Secretary of State. That was certainly an operation, as they really had to obtain those documents and get them published. But the main thing is that operation was against the war. People who were against the war arranged for those documents to be published.
Today, America’s reputation is still rather bad around the world. Barack Obama took a few steps to improve it but he didn’t achieve much because generally his words weren’t followed by actions. For example, the US administration can’t get the Senate to ratify the New START Treaty. Considering this context, I think it is quite probable that the publication of those documents is just a continuation of the current crisis of trust. People around the world don’t trust the US, and now Americans themselves don’t trust it. Many Americans are not happy with their government, not to mention that they are not happy with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So it is quite possible that there may be no ulterior motive involved. Yet we cannot rule out that this is all part of the Big Information War. This theory requires confirmation but so far it can’t be confirmed.
RT: Are you ruling out the possibility that the publication is part of political infighting between the Republicans and Obama?
Anything is possible in world politics. It may just be a clean publication, which doesn’t involve any ulterior motives, or it may be part of a very intricate plan of some very secret services.
But I know the United States pretty well, and I know Americans are very patriotic, and the Republicans consider themselves to be more patriotic than the Democrats. So knowing all that, I would be very surprised to learn that the Republicans were behind the WikiLeaks. The most important thing for the Republicans at the moment is to bring down Barack Obama. They are not against Hillary Clinton, or the State Department, or the American system of government. They are quite happy with the system of government; they just think that the man at the helm is wrong. However, the WikiLeaks scandal did nothing to Obama’s image. The cables don’t contain anything that might be used against Obama. Had those documents revealed anything that could discredit Barack Obama, then we could have wondered, as in the case with Monica Lewinsky, if this was the Republicans looking for a way to impeach the president. It is unlikely that the Republicans, who are so proud of their loyalty to the ideals and interests of the United States, are involved in a plot which is showing the US government in a most unflattering light. I don’t think the Republicans can benefit from that in any way.Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT