Snowden’s Moment of Truth

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Get ready!

LEcho_Snowden

That’s “Edward Snowden ready to leave for Iceland?”, from Belgium’s leading French-language business newspaper, L’Echo. And then the first paragraph:

A private jet paid by contributions collected by Wikileaks stands ready to take Edward Snowden to Iceland. However, the authorities of that country have not given the green light for the arrival on their territory of the ex-CIA agent [note: this is an incorrect characterization], responsible for unprecedented US intelligence leaks. As he waits, Snowden still is in hiding in Hong Kong.

“The plane can take off tomorrow,” is the further claim of one Olafur Sigurvinsson quoted here, an executive with an Icelandic company responsible for collecting funds for Wikileaks. As to the important question of “From where?”, the answer is apparently “already from China” (i.e. it does not have to fly there first from Iceland, or anywhere else), since it has been rented from a Chinese company.

Please note again: “a Chinese company.” For the key question here concerns the 10,000+ km journey that would take Snowden to Iceland: whichever way they take, there would be plenty of opportunities for interception by the US Air Force, should President Obama so order. And that fact of a Chinese plane adds a delicious dash of potential Sino-American confrontation to the mix; you might not recall, but those two countries already had a serious air-interception incident between them (that time the Chinese forcing down a US military spy-plane) more than ten years ago.

So, will Obama give that order? You’d have to expect so, meaning that Snowden will swiftly be diverted to the usual regime of pre-trial torture at a US military prison somewhere, à la Bradley Manning. Thankfully for him – for Obama, that is – his grand speech before that hand-picked audience at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate will already be in the past. The German public seemed remarkably content to ignore the latest NSA spying revelations during his visit there, but they could not ignore a slap-in-your-face gesture like that. Nor will the world at large, when it happens, sometime soon now.

By the way, there is also some uncertainty as to whether Iceland might not just reward Snowden for his long flight – even if they allow his arrivel – by promptly turning him over to American authorities themselves. As this L’Echo piece points out, in 2010 the Icelandic Parliament (a.k.a. the Althing) did adopt a resolution declaring the country a refuge for defenders of freedom of expression and transparency. Then again, in the words of Interior Minister Hanna Kristjansdottir (i.e. the official who would be directly in charge of the matter), “[That] resolution has nothing to do with the laws that apply to asylum-seekers.” Oh – well OK, then.

UPDATE: Nevermind. Snowden turns out to be too clever for that, at least when it comes to the means he intends to take to get to Iceland, if that is even where he is heading.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Wikileaks Doomed?

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Julian Assange and his Wikileaks organization were certainly last year’s hottest sensation, at least when it came to the media realm, with Assange figuring closely in many “Man of the Year” calculations. Fine, but what of 2011? A certain Florian Rötzer, writing for the German website Telepolis (Wikileaks is still only dripping) offers an unconventional prognosis.

The starting-point to Rötzer’s thinking lies in his headline’s verb, tröpfeln: to drip. After all, it’s a veritable flood of a quarter-of-a-million classified cables that were supposed to be on offer – where are they? Granted, there have been a number of headline-making revelations, but you really would expect there to have been even more by now! Specifically, Rötzer’s cites “on average” (?) only 20 cables having been published, with the latest disclosure consisting of only two more coming public on 28 December.

Frankly, his figures seem a little funny to me, but that is only my personal hunch because it’s actually a bit difficult to meter in any dependable way the flow of Wikileaks revelations. The “source” Wikileaks website has been rather difficult to access, as it has been pursued from one top-level domain and URL to another by DDOS attacks. But that has never been the main publication means in any event; rather, the point from the beginning was to pass the documents to various high-profile media outlets (the New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, etc.) and let them publish them, of course after the editors at those publications had had the chance to look the materials over and edit them. And yes, this process was always envisioned to involve no sort of huge document-dump, but rather piece-by-piece transmission – I just wasn’t aware (and still halfway doubt) that it was happening at any sort of “dripping” pace.

In any case, that’s this Herr Rötzer’s assessment. It’s also the assessment of one John Young, who has run for some years now Cryptome, which looks to be an avant-la-lettre Wikileaks competitor site. That’s just so you’re aware of Young’s position and the attitudes that could flow from that . . . he points out that, at this rate, it’s going to take about 35 years to bring out all of Wikileaks’ classified State Department cables into public view, and basically dismisses the whole organization as nothing more than an “advertisement- and spending-vehicle for Assange.”

That’s more-or-less the conclusion Rötzer draws as well. If the revelations are just trickling out this way, that could very well reflect the parlous state of Wikileaks’ finances (since most worldwide credit cards and payment systems have stopped processing Wikileaks payments) as well as disintegrating internal morale (e.g. too little staff left to edit/process documents). What’s more, Assange is now apparently engaged in a get-a-book-written race with his estranged former colleague (and Openleaks founder -“coming soon!”) Daniel Domscheit-Berg; he who gets his book published first will presumably earn more from it, in addition to being able to set the terms of any debate.

Wikileaks: Ready to crumble, even without any outside help? Sorry, here I can only resort to the words of the great Doonesbury philosopher Roland Hedley III: “Time will tell.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Qaddafi Intimidates London

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Verily, the massive Wikileaks document-dump of thousands of US State Department confidential cable-traffic dispatches has turned out to be the sort of pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving. Its sheer size militates against any “instant analysis” of what the materials mean, requiring instead ongoing examination to digest them properly and gradually (and with unpredictable timing) uncover the really interesting stuff. On the other hand, so far their effect has mainly been analogous to the classic case of a politician “misspeaking” – i.e. unwisely letting his guard down in public and actually speaking the truth that everyone knows or assumes, but which never was to be formulated publicly.

Take the “mystery” of Abelbasset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted for planting a bomb on the Pan Am flight that crashed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie back during Christmastime, 1988. He was released from prison by order of the Scottish authorities in August, 2009, free to go back home, because he had only about three months more to live before he would die from cancer anyway. Yet somehow as of this date he is still alive and living in a villa somewhere in the outskirts of Tripoli.

As reported now in the Neue Züricher Zeitung, American diplomatic dispatches unearthed by Wikileaks show that this was but a cover-story. First of all, it was top officials of the UK government in London, not Scottish officials in Edinburgh, who were actually in the driver’s seat in this matter (although al-Megrahi had indeed been convicted in a Scottish court and was incarcerated in a Scottish jail). Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was aware of that from the start, for it was clearly a high-intensity campaign of threats and intimidation from him against these officials which is what sprung al-Megrahi. Whatever levers Qaddafi knew he had available to himself, he used – namely threatening (in case al-Megrahi should ever die in UK custody) not only to cut off all British economic activities in his country, but also to violate the safety and well-being of British nationals there, including diplomatic personnel.

Why would we be finding all of this out necessarily by means of American diplomatic documents? Well, clearly there was an American interest here, in that the vast majority of those killed on that ill-fated Pan Am flight heading to JFK airport in New York City were American nationals. In essence, American authorities were reliant on British/Scottish justice for the conviction and punishment of those people’s murderers. Naturally, then, there was outrage from the American side in August of last year when al-Megrahi was released, including rumors of Congressional hearings on the matter (which faced a substantial obstacle in the fact that the British officials US representatives most wanted to question were under no obligation, as foreign nationals, to appear before them). “He’s about to die anyway” was the main operative fig-leaf trotted out to try to tamp down the outrage – even while, as the released documents further show, no less than the then-UK Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, had secretly admitted the year before to US diplomats that al-Megrahi probably had at least five more years to live.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Fast and Loose Polish Patriots

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Wikileaks has now come to Poland: revelations from the massive dump of US State Department confidential cables have now come to the surface which – as has also mostly been the case in other contexts – do much to undermine the rosy picture of US-Poland solidarity usually presented for public consumption. Poles are now in a position to read all about them in summary articles coming out in both of that country’s prestige nationwide dailies, namely Rzeczpospolita (coverage by Wojciech Lorenz) and Gazeta Wyborcza (by Marcin Górka).

Poland had already shown up as a bit player in another Wikileaks dispatch from earlier this week, revealing new NATO contingency plans to make extensive use of that country’s transportation infrastructure to shift troops to the Baltic States should they be invaded by Russian forces. (Polish soldiers would also be heavily involved, in the form of at least one of the nine divisions slated to be included in any such maneuver.) But the only really new element disclosed in that connection by the Wikileaks dump was a certain dissatisfaction among Polish political and military authorities over the plan, since in such a situation Russia would by definition be at war not only with the Baltic States but also with Poland and with NATO in general, and such a commitment of resources would necessarily thin out Poland’s own defences somewhat.

No, the new and notable revelations that have emerged over the past few days have to do with the physical commitment to Poland’s defence made by US authorities in the form of US Army Patriot anti-rocket and -aircraft missiles sent to be stationed there. (Those who want to read an English account can turn to the UK’s official Wikileaks publisher, namely the Guardian, which spreads the story out over two articles here and here.) Recall first of all that those Patriots were stationed in Poland in the first place as an accompaniment to the anti-missile rockets that were also to have been there as part of a “missile shield” system to protect the US from Iran-launched ICBMs that the Bush Administration had worked so hard to establish, but which was then canceled by Barack Obama in September of last year. The Poles were glad to have at least that one sort of partial American military presence in their country even as the other was canceled – for the old, crude reason that having American soldiers in your country heightens the chance that they will also be killed if anyone attacks you, thus making American intervention to do something about that attack much more likely – but they had always been more concerned about threats from Russia rather than from Iran. “Don’t worry,” was the American reaction, “the Patriot can defend your territory against airborne threats from any direction, not just from the Middle East.”

There was one catch, however, as we are only know finding out thanks to the Wikileaks dispatches: those Patriots can defend Poland against airborne threats coming from Iran, Russia, or anyone else only if they are equipped with bona fide live missiles, which for the majority of their presence on Polish soil they have not been. Indeed, these communications make clear that the concept for the Americans the whole time was for the Patriot contingent in Poland (stationed in some patch of wilderness up in the Northeast, near the border with the Russian Kaliningrad enclave) to be only a training post – fly Patriot crewmen in there on occasion just to get some practice in wartime deployment to a more-exotic location to the East, work a little with what amounted to only mock-up equipment, and then get out of there again back to their home unit. Naturally, the level of permanent personnel stationed there reflected this role, usually numbering only around 20 or 30 whereas Polish authorities had expected something more like 110, reflecting staffing for a ready-to-go combat unit.

It’s something, then, but it’s not much – and it certainly is nothing that would stop Russian aircraft or missiles should the need arise. But it was all that Polish authorities found themselves able to get out of the American government, and they did their complaining quietly (e.g. about getting nothing better than “potted plants”) while never letting up on efforts to try to get even more of an American deployment of forces to Poland, and maybe with some actual combat-teeth for a change. Ideas that have arisen along this line are stationing some F-16s on a Polish airbase and/or maybe some C-130 transport aircraft and/or maybe even moving a detachment of Naval Special Warfare troops from Stuttgart to Gdansk. As it happens, Polish President Komorowski will have the opportunity today to discuss such things as he visits President Obama at the White House. But the shine is already considerably off the encounter after these latest revelations of the fast-and-loose behavior American military and diplomatic authorities display towards even the country’s closest allies (e.g. still with its own troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces in Afghanistan).

UPDATE: As a great philosopher once observed, “two out of three ain’t bad”! The Gazeta (Wyborcza) Twitter-feed carries the news coming out of the Polish-American presidential summit:

Amerykańskie F-16 i Herkulesy w Polsce. Od połowy 2013 roku http://bit.ly/hZyovB

So that will be 16 F-16’s (how symmetric!) and 4 C-130’s (all American-manned and -operated; this isn’t an equipment sale) stationed on a Polish airbase starting in mid-2013. And if you click through Gazeta’s link to the article you even can see, amid all that Polish, a nice photo of Komorowski chatting with Obama in the Oval Office.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)