Robert Baer on Wikileaks
2 December 2010
Prominent former spook Robert Baer has written a piece for the Financial Times on WikiLeaks — Secrecy makes the world go round — in which he is highly critical of the leaking of the diplomatic cables currently being posted to WikiLeaks. He writes that, “the damage to American credibility and diplomacy is incalculable.” I disagree, and I will try to explain why I disagree.
Make no mistake, Baer is a clever man. I have seen him interviewed on television, and I have read one of his books, See No Evil, about his time in the CIA. He obviously has both an astonishing depth of knowledge and depth of experience, and has seen more of the world — and more of how the world works — than most people will see in a lifetime. But depth of knowledge and depth of experience are not always enough. His article on WikiLeaks for the Financial Times is, I am sorry to say, fundamentally dishonest.
Baer’s opinion piece is dishonest because he frames what he sees as the “eclipsing of American power” and the damage to American diplomatic credibility, as being attended by, “Wikileaks’ admirers’ trumpeting of the virtues of transparency.” And “the populist diplomacy that WikiLeaks demands” is, for this former dealer in secrets, an anathema. This spins the story so that we are to believe that there are a small number of trustworthy people who have access to secrets, that their ability to do their job has been compromised by these secrets being revealed to the public, and that there has been widespread acclaim for this act of revelation that brought the secrets to light. The last of these three claims is manifestly false. Almost every government in the world has condemned the leak in the strongest terms. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a man on the run from the law, on charges he claims were trumped up. Ecuador, who initially seemed to offer sanctuary to Julian Assange has since backtracked on the offer. And, in the meantime, the WikiLeaks site has come under attack — which is to say that it has been attacked in a campaign of electronic warfare. This is not a triumphant organization, but one under attack.
Despite his snide comment on “populist diplomacy,” Baer himself has recently taken a populist line, even suggesting in one interview that the 11 September 2001 attacks may have had “an aspect” of an inside job to it, thus putting himself in the company of “9/11 truthers” (although he did later put himself on the record as denying that 11 September was an inside job). Moreover, Baer has recently reviewed the John Perkins book Hoodwinked on Amazon.com, writing, “I wasn’t twenty pages into Hoodwinked when I realized Perkins nailed it. What got us into the mess we’re in today, the worst recession since the Great Depression, is the same grotesque capitalism cum corruption we shoved down the throat of the Third World since the end of World War II.” These two public statements are enough for me to conclude that Baer has fatally compromised himself, and his judgment is not to be trusted.
The more interesting thing here, and interesting even though very predictable, is the pattern of admiration and condemnation that has emerged. People in positions of privilege and power, people like Hillary Clinton and Robert Baer, have condemned the leak. In other words, people with top secret clearances, the people who would get to read this diplomatic cable traffic anyway, think that it is a terrible thing that others should have access to the information that they take for granted. On the other hand, those who are dealt out of the doings of the security-cleared and the well-connected, those who are not within the charmed circles of diplomacy, those who do not have seats at the Captain’s Table, are generally in favor of the leaks. As I said, this is interesting, but not at all surprising.
If Baer is right in his Amazon.com review of the Perkins book, in which he criticized political, economic, and media insiders for the handling of the financial crisis, why should we continue to trust these insiders — the people with security clearances to read confidential government information — with this sensitive diplomatic information? If the small number of people who have “legitimate” access to these secrets have gotten us into such a mess, why should we continue to favor them with this secrecy? Indeed, we should not.
In any case, Baer predicts what I wrote about a couple of days ago in Honesty as a Strategic Shock: that “secret” diplomatic information will be subject to further controls in the future, and, as I noted, this will have the effect of further marginalizing the insiders who are continually painting themselves into a privileged but progressively smaller corner.
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