Monday, December 06, 2010

Diplomatic candor will survive Cablegate--Interview with William O. Beeman (Global Times)

Diplomatic candor will survive Cablegate

Interview with William O. Beeman
Global Times [08:26 December 03 2010]

GT: So the biggest role of WikiLeaks is that it provides an alternative to censored media?


Beeman: That's true. When the Internet started, there were questions about whether it should be regulated.

However, it moved so fast, and turned out unregulated. The technology is available to everyone. These organizations have a very important function as the alternative to the censored media.

GT: Will similar websites appear in the future and engage in competition with WikiLeaks?

Beeman: Absolutely. There is no question that it's going to happen. I'm sure people are right now working on this. This phenomenon is going to spread.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. People will be more careful, and also may become more responsible for their words and actions.

GT: Is it possible that the US government is using Cablegate for diplomatic leverage?


Beeman: I don't think that's the case. In the US, they were pretty angry about Julian Assange. Maybe there is something going on that we don't know about even now. Many scholars and politicians in the US are making wild statements about Assange.

It's very funny that one lawmaker, Michelle Barkman, said Assange should be tried for treason. This is very strange, because Assange is not a US citizen, so nothing he does could be declared treason.

There are so many documents, and they say so many things that anybody who wants to make political points can take one or more of these documents in isolation, and try to make a case for their own ideological positions. They can certainly use it for propaganda.

GT: So do you think Cablegate will initiate a new era of global diplomacy?

Beeman: I think these diplomats always make such statements. There is nothing new about these statements themselves. In diplomatic channels, these sort of private, candid statements were always made.

But now they realize that this is a different world where anything you say is likely to be reported. Anything you do or say at all might get on a camera or a microphone.

What I'm surprised actually is that the people who were quoted in the WikiLeaks documents didn't take more care in trying to protect themselves by printing those things in coded messages or other ways that would keep them from being identified.

I'm sure that people now knowing this could happen are going to be much more careful about how they send their material. But I don't think they will be more careful about what they say, because all human beings like gossip and want to express their personal opinions.

GT: Hundreds of thousands of documents were leaked, but the CIA could only blame a 23-year-old intelligence agent. Is that convincing?

Beeman: They are blaming one agent for having downloaded all these documents and compromised security. We don't know whether he was the only source.

The tendency, unfortunately, is always to find somebody to blame and to find a scapegoat. When a similar scandal happens, it's important for officials to identify somebody right away, so that they can show that they are able to control the situation.

GT: Some former FBI agents say that if WikiLeaks had existed before 2001, perhaps 9/11 would have been prevented.


Beeman: That might be true. That's a very interesting statement, because we knew about the people who carried out the 9/11 and about their organization, in all the way backed in 1998 before the Bush administration came into power. The Bush administration was warned about Al Qaeda.

But they ignored the warnings. And these warnings were turned into secret documents.

If these documents were made public before 2000, then it was very likely that people who carried out the attack would have been discovered.

GT: Do you think WikiLeaks is given too much credit?

Beeman: Eventually these dispatches will be released anyway, likely in 25 years. But many people living today, including politicians, wouldn't be around in 25 years from now.

The reason that the delay is there is exactly that people whose actions are revealed won't be embarrassed, and those government actions that they want to keep secret won't be compromised. But in the US, we have many secret documents, and it's crazy and ridiculous to keep them all secret. There is no strategic interest involved at all.

GT: Are developing countries, with less social stability, more vulnerable to the effects of leaked information? What if false information was included?

Beeman: It could happen. The question we all have to answer is the consequences of information of such value that you are willing to risk: Some degrees of social unrest in order to have that critical information.

When printing the WikiLeaks documents, the newspapers didn't eliminate the names of the individuals who were named in the documents. This could put these people in some danger.

The next question is what is the limits of such information freedom. The public certainly would like to have information that reveals the wrongdoing, like crime, misappropriation of funds, or politicians lying to their own people. Such information should be known by the public.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was recently arrested in Thailand. He provided illicit weapons for illicit government operations. I think people in those countries need to know that. But there are people working as undercover operative with their organizations. If their names were revealed, they might be killed.

 GT: So the biggest role of WikiLeaks is that it provides an alternative to censored media?


Beeman: That's true. When the Internet started, there were questions about whether it should be regulated.

However, it moved so fast, and turned out unregulated. The technology is available to everyone. These organizations have a very important function as the alternative to the censored media.

GT: Will similar websites appear in the future and engage in competition with WikiLeaks?

Beeman: Absolutely. There is no question that it's going to happen. I'm sure people are right now working on this. This phenomenon is going to spread.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. People will be more careful, and also may become more responsible for their words and actions.

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