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'This is more damaging to Wikileaks'

David Wroe · 30 Nov 2010, 16:46

Published: 30 Nov 2010 16:46 GMT+01:00

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Few would dispute that the descriptions of German politicians revealed in American diplomats' cables to Washington are embarrassing for US Ambassador Philip Murphy.

Among other things, they describe Chancellor Angela Merkel as uncreative and risk averse and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle inept and vain. But who is helped by leaking such information? Certainly not the image of the world's most famous whistle-blower website, says transatlantic expert Riecke.

Is this going to damage German-US relations?

I don’t think so. In the long run it’s other factors that are responsible for German-US relations and the relationship is rather robust. It will cause personal frictions and some uneasiness on both sides and there will be a difficult period with lots of calls and niceties.

Personal relationships must be important, however, to get things done.

Yes, but I would not assume that the politicians that have been portrayed are extremely offended. When you look at the personal judgements of their qualities and the failings of the politicians, they are pretty sober. You could have taken most of these assessments from the daily newspapers.

You can also be sure that the German foreign services will be as open in its assessments of American politicians. The damage is not because of these evaluations. It’s on a different level. The fact that some intricacies and mechanisms of German foreign policy has been laid bare is of course more embarrassing.

Can you give some examples?

For instance, the tactics between the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry before the Afghanistan conference in London this year, or the friction between the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and (Bavaria's) Christian Social Union. These aren’t really secret, but to have it in such detail is of course a little embarrassing.

The challenge now is to make it clear to the media that it is not a case of, ‘The Americans are spying or evesdropping and we on the other hand are morally superior.’ That’s not how it is. The Americans are collecting data just as German diplomats. That’s how it works. This will be more difficult in the future.

So diplomats won’t be able to speak with the same confidence?

For a while. The US diplomats have lost much of the confidence of their partners. But the Americans reach out a lot. They are pretty helpful to many foreign policy actors and it’s more a mutual partnership.

What might foreign governments have learned about Germany’s internal processes that could be to Germany’s disadvantage, say on Afghanistan?

What’s been publicised is that the German Foreign Office was more reluctant to add forces to the Afghanistan ISAF mission. But this hasn’t been a secret. Nor have the tactics behind it: the FDP, one source said, tried to stop (Defence Minister Karl-Theodor) zu Guttenberg from travelling abroad saying the Germans should provide more troops – that’s not his core decision.

Will that cause difficulties within the German government, say between Guttenberg and Westerwelle?

I don’t think so. They know where they stand and who can expect what from whom.

Even Guttenberg telling US Ambassador Philip Murphy that Westerwelle, not the opposition Social Democrats, was the main obstacle to a troop rise?

I would assume that in their internal talks, the ambassador was aware of the differences. That was not really a secret and it wasn’t revealed only by Guttenberg in his talks with the ambassador.

But would it matter to Westerwelle that he now knows Guttenberg said that?

I don’t know how much of a problem that is. There are other things that are more important. If there is any controversy between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence, they know where they stand.

What did you think of the actual assessments made of German politicians? Were they consistent with what people in your line of work hear?

Yes more or less. But it’s obvious some quotes (in the media) have been taken a bit out of context. Westerwelle’s initial speech to the German Council on Foreign Relations was not very impressive but if you read through (the leaked cables), you see that the Americans point out that he learned a lot and that he became savvier in foreign policy which is the normal for politicians everywhere.

Merkel could describe herself the same way as the Americans did: tough, persistent, avoids difficult or heated debates and perhaps is not really creative. These are not secrets.

So what is the value of the documents?

The question is, why did Wikileaks do this? Compared with the Iraq logs where they actually brought to light the brutalisation of human conduct in this war, actual war crimes that need to be punished in a state that obeys the rule of law, these (latest leaks) are kind of gossipy internal documents.

The most important signal that Wikileaks wanted to send is, ‘Hey, the superpower is vulnerable on the digital side.’

It’s a selfish way of going into combat with your enemy, the United States. This is damaging Wikileaks more than anything else.

Story continues below…

So you saw value in the previous Wikileaks documents that you don’t see in this batch?

The question is, is there something a government has done wrong? If so, I have sympathy for the whistle-blower. If a government that is supposed to obey the law, and demands it of others, is committing war crimes, and does not pursue them rigorously, then this kind of whistle-blowing might be in order.

But if you have a complex war scenario such as in Afghanistan and you throw out hundreds of thousands of documents you’ve got from one actor such as the Department of State or Department of Defense, this does not at all mean you’re providing the context or balanced overview.

I’m not crazy about hundreds of thousands of documents thrown out. It’s too much for the regular consumer of the internet. If Der Spiegel hires 50 journalists to go through the material in four weeks, you can be sure those 50 journalists are not foreign policy experts. They look for the juicy stuff. That’s how it is.

Whistle-blowing is in order if there is a crime and it's exposed, or if there is a harsh misrepresentation of what foreign policy looks like on the ground. But one shouldn’t simply throw out information just to show that a government is vulnerable.

How do you think governments are likely to react to this revelation that their conversations might no longer be guaranteed as private? Will there be a change in the way communications are made?

This has happened to the United States but everyone knows that this can happen to them as well. The damage is not so big that people will change completely the way of communicating.

But I would think the more secret stuff will be delivered in more traditional ways: verbally or in hard copy. It may be that more will be done in the back of a car in which you can trust the driver.

The Local/dw

David Wroe (david.wroe@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:20 November 30, 2010 by AusHessen
The Wiki-Leak looks more as a setup from the inside the US government. In January more 'leak' regarding wall street and banking fraud will be made public. I wonder what kind of new laws will be implemented because of this incident.
20:56 November 30, 2010 by Gretl
Wiki-leaks is a product of an narcissistic personality who wants the spotlight for discovering mom and dad have s3x. The only one surprised is him.
23:08 November 30, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, Liberlism is actually a deceptive concept. It causes a person to believe that what they are doing is moral and positive, when in reality they are doing just the oppposite. To leak sensitive documents won't benefit humanity.

The more emotional you are, the more Liberal you will be.

And the more Liberalism there is in this world, the more likely it will come to an end.
23:30 November 30, 2010 by ngwanem
c'mon fellows... why shoot the messenger? if the governments are doing the right thing - why are they scared? the recent leaks is not only about the US and germany, it is also about showing the hypocrisy of the arabs... who in public "criticize" the west but in private urge them to fight their common enemy iran... plus the conduct of china and its relationship vis-a-vis north korea. admit it or not wikileaks is proving the politicians in the world are actors and spend most of their time spinning dramas or acting for the ignorance of the masses...

now they have showed the inner workings, the politicians are scared because they know the math: they form the minority, yet wielding the most power and the awareness of the minority is a threat. they are now engaging is damage control ... lies... these releases are not going to damage wikileaks and it is a challenge to guys who state it is going to affect humanity negatively? how can revelations of lies affect us badly, when our elected leaders swore to be truthful and loyal to their electorates.

Long Live Wikileaks!!!!
01:48 December 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
@ Logic Guy

You amaze me with your "logic." Have you ever had a coherent thought in your life?
02:14 December 1, 2010 by Gretl
Logic Guy - do you even know what liberalism is? Here is the definition, "Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom") is the belief in the importance of individual liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, capitalism, fair trade, and the separation of church and state." Most liberal states have no problem realizing the realpolitik of international relations. It is the sheep that need to be sold the song and dance of superior morality.
03:21 December 1, 2010 by AusHessen
I am surprised how bloggers are missing the point.
09:52 December 1, 2010 by catjones
This is no where near the Pentagon papers scale, yet all government communications (world-wide) should take notice and apply the appropriate level of security. The original leaker will spend the rest of his life in jail and assange will forever be on the run. If an informant is murdered because of the leaks or if the military is jeopardized, you have to judge whether the revelations are worth it.
10:18 December 1, 2010 by PawD
Tax payers of all democratic countries have a right to know what is really being done with their money... on a moral ground I think every single individual has a right to know the truth no matter how harmful or bitter it is... really surprised why the govt. of the world's richest democracy is so pissed off with Wikileaks!
10:29 December 1, 2010 by JohnnesKönig
This is more about a prelude to internet control. Aushessen has it right!

@logicguy My experience with "liberals" would agree with your assessment. and of course Gretl tries in vain to inject their version of logic. Although the given definition is close to accurate, the problem is the modern exploitation of the term.

The so called "Liberals" speak about being so open to a wide range of ideas, but really have one objective. Their agenda...

This puke Assange is just a tool not any different than the MSM and public broadcasting. Funded by George Soros and he is just an Agent of the real culprits that want to control us all...
12:35 December 1, 2010 by catjones
PawD....that's why D-Day plans were in the Local back then. It was your forefathers who insisted on knowing what was being done with their money. Amazing. Likewise, the Germans insisted the Normandy beaches be blurred.
13:20 December 1, 2010 by freechoice
Wikileaks! Now available on iphone and ipads!!
14:52 December 1, 2010 by raandy
JohnnesKönig,, I agree this guy is a puke,,but doubt he is the tool of George Soros or Rupert Murdoch,just a guy who wants to be noticed, and perhaps as the Swedish have alleged a child molester ,. Yes this could bring about the beginning of a free an open internet.,now that the jack is out of the box some one else will continue his crusade.
15:34 December 1, 2010 by ngwanem
@randy, you are just making things up. where has it been stated julian assange is a child molester? btw wikileaks != julian assange... lock him and there would be others..

note: he is not the origin of the intel and info... just dissatisfied employees who leak the material to wikileaks...

@the anti-wikileaks fellows:

and why are you guys so uncomfortable when the truth is leaked and governments are trembling? are you one of the victims of the wikileaks releases? if so would please tell us how wikileaks affected you negatively?

i'm really amazed the self-policing attitudes of the sheeple is astounding!!!!
15:02 December 2, 2010 by XFYRCHIEF
As an American, I must say I find Herr Riecke's comments most refreshing. Instead of feeding on the hype, he calmly and intelligently discusses the issues. I also agree - the news does not care about the contents, save to the extent they found some "juicy bits." I am quite certain that had the same communications been from German sources, much of the content would have been the same. I think the media is most upset bexause there was nothing about someone having an afair with someone else's wife or husband.
07:47 December 3, 2010 by Nobby_T.
It's funny how they try to shut down WikiLeaks ... and call for the assassination of it's founder and who is screaming the loudest, The Americans ... of course, seems like the Americans and all the other Gouvernments have something to hide and don't want the people to know what's really going on ...

Now listen to me ... it's our damn right as the people of each country to know the truth ... remember, you represent us the people of each country ... if you screwed up or do anything wrong, than you should be fired.

Oh btw ... thank you America, for talking behind our backs, nice Allie you are !

The US, thinks they are some sort of world Police or maybe even God and everyone else has to bow or bend ... I don't think so
11:26 December 3, 2010 by JAMessersmith

If the govt. is representative of the people, then an attack against it can be considered an attack against the people they supposedly represent. However, I agree with you to a certain extent. The corporate oligarchy that's running things behind the scenes hardly constitutes a representative democracy.

Also, America thinks they are god because they have enough nuclear bombs to blow up the world 5x over. Plus, their military industrial complex is massive and highly advanced, making their war machine the most dominant in the world. They also happen to have double the population of Russia, twice as much territory as the EU, and a surplus of agriculture and livestock, which is clearly evident in the relative obesity of the average American. They're separated from any formidable enemies by two major oceans, and are loaded with countless natural resources they hardly ever use anymore, preferring to import what they need from developing countries with the money of lender nations, like Germany and Japan. Likewise, they're responsible for a large portion of the technological innovations, and scientific progress that defines the modern world, and they are also the cultural epicenter of the world in terms of art and entertainment. In addition, they control world finance, fuel global consumerism, and provide the world's reserve currency via the dollar. They usually clean up at the medal table at the Olympics, too. But excluding all that, you've really got to wonder who the hell they think they are.
11:32 December 3, 2010 by raandy
@ ngwaneum,,no way..here is a cut and paste from the news

The International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol, has added WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to its wanted list.

The notice, issued earlier today, targets Julian Paul Assange, listed as a 39-year-old male from Townsville, Australia (Australia), for sex crimes.
12:03 December 3, 2010 by tallady
Nobby,I am an American and I agree ,,I think the USA should only provide support for themselves and leave the security of others up to them,,Then maybe we could have a real health care system as they do in Germany.I am sure that europe would have been much better off under the USSR,where everyone had a job and health care ,clean environment ,honest police and no bad words about anyone,,yes that would have suited me much better that spending our resources and man power so that wanabes could achieve their goals with out the meddling of the USA, I am in hopes that the Peoples Republic of China takes on this role,,maybe we should do this the democratic

way and have a world vote, you are not so naive as to believe that no country would assume this role are you? Ya I wish the USA would only look after the USA ,in that we agree
20:41 December 4, 2010 by Quatsch
One day the real reasons for WikiLeaks will be released and it will point to the intellegence agency of a very small country in the Middle East. That little country has very little about itself in the releases, but of the little that is there nothing derogatry is implied.
04:01 December 11, 2010 by Prufrock2010
catjones --

You are correct. This is nowhere near the Pentagon Papers scale. It is much greater in scale. It's interesting, though, that Daniel Elsberg has stated that they are doing to Assange exactly the same things they did to him. WikiLeaks has committed no crime and hasn't been accused of committing a crime -- it is merely a whistleblower conduit in the Brave New World of cyber journalism. The efforts to shut down WikiLeaks by going after Assange are efforts to shut down the free flow of information. Those efforts will inevitably fail. "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves." Cyberwars are on.
10:48 December 13, 2010 by Viva Melita
He is on the payroll of Israel and will soon be exposed for the charlatan that he is.
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