The US feels enraged by any revelation of what it really knows, by any alternative source of information. Such threats to its control of the news agenda must be suppressed where possible
The Independent Voices
I was in Kabul a decade ago when WikiLeaks released a massive tranche of US government documents about the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. On the day of the release, I was arranging by phone to meet an American official for an unattributable briefing. I told him in the course of our conversation what I had just learned from the news wires.
He was intensely interested and asked me what was known about the degree of classification of the files. When I told him, he said in a relieved tone: “No real secrets, then.”
When we met later in my hotel I asked him why he was so dismissive of the revelations that were causing such uproar in the world.
He explained that the US government was not so naive that it did not realise that making these documents available to such a wide range of civilian and military officials meant that they were likely to leak. Any information really damaging to US security had been weeded out.
In any case, he said: “We are not going to learn the biggest secrets from WikiLeaks because these have already been leaked by the White House, Pentagon or State Department.”
I found his argument persuasive and later wrote a piece saying that the WikiLeaks secrets were not all that secret.
However, it was the friendly US official and I who were being naive, forgetting that the real purpose of state secrecy is to enable governments to establish their own self-interested and often mendacious version of the truth by the careful selection of “facts” to be passed on to the public. They feel enraged by any revelation of what they really know, or by any alternative source of information. Such threats to their control of the news agenda must be suppressed where possible and, where not, those responsible must be pursued and punished.
We have had two good examples of the lengths to which a government – in this case that of the US – will go to protect its own tainted version of events. The first is the charging of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under the Espionage Act for leaking 750,000 confidential military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
The second example has happened in the last few days. The international media may not have always covered itself in glory in the war in Yemen, but there are brave journalists and news organisations who have done just that. One of them is Yemeni reporter Maad al-Zikry who, along with Maggie Michael and Nariman El-Mofty, is part of an Associated Press (AP) team that won the international reporting Pulitzer prize this year for superb on-the-ground coverage of the war in Yemen. Their stories included revelations about the US drone strikes in Yemen and about the prisons maintained there by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).