There are least four strong indications that WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange and his informants were not on the same page when he disclosed an archive of 91,000 classified US military documents this week. The editor had one agenda, which had been overtaken by events (see the opening article in this issue), whereas his informants were playing a completely different and less conspicuous game.
Defending his submissions Monday, July 26, Assange spoke with conviction about the need to change the nature of military operations in the world ("A military is important to defend the security of a country. But, that said, how can we support a war that isn't about defense?"); and the excessive power of the communications media. ("It is the communication of information that regulates politics and the legislature, the judiciary and the behavior of the police.")
But turning the collection of confidential documents around and looking at them from a different angle bares several strong leads to their sources and submerged motives. Four features give the game away as DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources and experts demonstrate.
All non-American war contingents get off scot-free
1. Only US military documents released. The International Security Assistance Force-ISAF fighting in Afghanistan consists of 55,000 troops and officers from 38 countries – 26 of them members of NATO. Yet only the American war effort is dealt with in the released files, even though the inclusion of communications from other field units would have enhanced their credibility and broadened their resonance in more countries.
After all, the US military also heads the ISAF command in Afghanistan and in this capacity would have received copies of communications and reports from all the field units. WikiLeaks' sources could just as easily have included non-US military documents in the leaked batch. The omission of British, French or German military communiqués shows that the website's informants were single-mindedly targeting the Americans.
2. A very partial picture. Three major Western newspapers – The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain, and the German Der Spiegel – agreed to the date of publication specified by Assange as a condition for receiving the documents. None of the editors asked what secret commitments he had undertaken to his source or sources and why they should be bound by them. All three ran with the story without reading more than 2,000 documents – i.e. a little more than two percent of the bulk – without discovering whether the unread 98 percent contradicted the revelations found in the published fragments of the whole.
Neither did they verify the disclosures' credibility although they admitted that much of the information was raw intelligence gathered from field and mostly uncorroborated.
It therefore stands to reason that the documents released represented only one side of the picture, as Leslie Gelb pointed out in The Daily Beast on Tuesday, July 27.
"US officials can say that the documents represented leaked material that reveal 'only one side of the story,''" he wrote. "It's the story in some cases of rather hysterical soldiers with limited experience and access to wider secrets. We, the government, have other documents that tell another story."
The Guardian as godfather of the leaks
They also chose to surround the project with an air of high drama and secrecy. ("We had a bunker in The Guardian offices where we – The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel reporters were working," Assange told TIME.)
What drove the three prestigious newspapers to accept the July 25 date and the trappings of a conspiracy drama, with Assange cast in the starring role as persecuted victim?
3. A time frame with a message. Another conundrum: Why was the documents' chronological frame clearly restricted to the six-year period from 2004 to December 2009, when President Obama unveiled his new Afghanistan War strategy? Why are no files included from January or February 2010?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources believe the timeframe was the message. It was the WikiLeaks informants' way of telling President Obama: For now, you in person are not our target, but you may be in our sights in the revelations contained in the next batch of 15,000 documents. So watch out.
4. Wheels within wheels. A rule of thumb in evaluating intelligence, whether military, political, financial or criminal, is to look around at the wider arena before making a judgment.
In the wider arena we find The Guardian with its reputedly useful connections in certain sections of the British clandestine MI5 and MI6 communities. This paper was willing to provide WikiLeaks with a respectable link for channeling the documents to the New York Times and Der Spiegel. And at his London press conference, Assange was photographed holding up a copy of The Guardian's front page coverage of the story.
The disaffection marks US-UK battle of interests
When these interconnections and the agreed date of release are put together with the bumps rocking US-British relations in the weeks leading up to it , we come up with an intriguing collage.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's analysts have selected four elements to point up the emerging picture.
When he assumed office in January, 2009, President Obama and his advisers stepped leagues away from the special relationship Bush and other US presidents maintained with the United Kingdom. He made it quite clear that London was not his cup of tea.
In March 2009, the British and American press trumpeted the US President's cancellation of a scheduled podium-to-podium news conference with Gordon Brown, then British Prime Minister. The gifts he gave the Browns were described as "about as exciting as a pair of socks." When the British premier sought the aura of a global leader with solutions during the economic crisis, the White House soon cut him down.
More recently, Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.
This was not just a personal vendetta between Obama and Brown but another turn in the wheel of a complex transatlantic relationship. It has reflected the ups and downs of an endemic schism in the British intelligence community dating from the 1950s between the faction which loves Uncle Sam and the faction which is barely prepared to patronize him.
UK foreign policy has swung between these two undercover trends.
When he was prime minister, Washington perceived Gordon Brown as representing the second faction, having picked his closest circle of advisers from among the opponents of a too-close relationship with Washington. In this, he broke away from the good working relations his predecessor Tony Blair maintained with George W. Bush.
Behind these symptoms of disaffection, the US and Britain are locked in a more profound and far-reaching battle of interests.
Obama's pejorative language for "British BP"
On January 4, 201, Goldman Sachs, one of the world's most profitable financial concerns, announced it was reviewing its London operation, a move that could pave the way for other financial heavyweights to relocate elsewhere. A corporate exodus, if it came to pass, would seriously undercut the City of London's pretentions as one of the world's financial capitals.
The struggle rose to a new climax in late May and early June 2010 as a result of what the British perceived as the US President's overt anti-British hostility and vitriolic language over the devastating BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the oil giant's fruitless efforts to contain it.
Obama consistently referred pejoratively to BP as a British company, even though it is a US-UK partnership, so triggering a plunge in the company's stock prices and downgrading its prestige as one of the City's leading companies.
Brown had meanwhile been defeated in an election and his Labor government replaced by a Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition headed by David Cameron.
The new British prime minister's most urgent missions on his first White House visit of July 20 were to persuade his US host to establish a fresh base for US-British cooperation in BP and urgent damage control in the relationship.
Obama rebuffed him on both and he returned to London empty-handed.
When the British BP CEO went, so too did the Gulf oil spill
Monday, July 26, BP announced unprecedented losses for a company based in the City of London of $16.5 billion in the last quarter of the year. The next day, British Tony Hayward bowed out as Chief Executive Officer of BP complaining he had been unfairly "demonized" and made way for the American, Bob Dudley. An unlikely candidate just a few months ago, Dudley moves in on October 1 as the first American to head the oil giant in its century-long history.
Government and business circles in London decided that Obama had exploited the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to push British executives out of BP's top management and install Americans in their stead. That accomplished, Tuesday, July 27 saw an ecological miracle in the Gulf of Mexico.
The vast oil patches marring the surface of thousands of square miles of the Gulf ever since the April 20 oil rig exploded had almost vanished, leaving only a few tar balls and emulsified oil here and there.
Thursday, July 29, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the world that a significant amount of the oil has been "biodegraded by naturally occurring bacteria".
The Gulf disaster had suddenly melted away just as the Obama administration pulled off a coup ousting a British executive from one of the most influential appointments in the world's oil and financial sectors.
Next US-UK crisis: The Lockerbie bomber and BP's role in his release
Boiling up in the meantime was the row over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, after angry US senators demanded a probe into suspicions that it was BP's quid for the quo of Libyan oil concessions.
Libyan secret agent Abdelbaset Al Megrahi was freed prematurely last year from the life sentence he was serving in Scotland as the only terrorist convicted for the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, in which 259 passengers and crew and 11 villagers lost their lives.
Among the dead were 189 US citizens.
A group of powerful US senators, including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, personal friend and adviser to President Obama, announced a hearing would be held starting on July 29 into allegations that BP used its clout in the corridors of power in London and Edinburgh to obtain Megrahi's release and repatriation to Libya. He was freed on trumped-up compassionate grounds after a medical opinion was obtained giving him only three months to live from a dread disease. He is still alive.
The senators demanded a full inquiry into the allegation that for its services in breaking the terrorist out of jail, BP received drilling rights in Libya's Gulf of Sidra in the Mediterranean Sea.
And that was only for starters.
For instance, the senators wanted to get to the bottom of reports in the US and Britain that some of BP's senior directors came from British intelligence MI5 and MI6. Other reports hold that some of the office-holders closest to Gordon Brown and David Cameron had used their former positions in those agencies to cultivate profitable ties with the Libyans which they maintain to this day.
UK Iraq Inquiry pummels America for its war role
Name-calling across the Atlantic landed on a flock of British politicians, businessmen and intelligence officials allegedly in Libyan pay. They reached as high as ex-prime minister Tony Blair, former foreign secretary and justice minister Jack Straw, Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond and other ministers.
Cited too was a company called Dalia Advisory Limited which was established by Libyan businessmen just a week after Tripoli learned that the Lockerbie bomber was being considered for release.
Last week, Straw, Salmond and other ex-officials declined Senator Kerry's invitation to appear before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington on these suspicions. All three ruling British establishments – political, financial and intelligence – feel they are under concerted attack from the Obama administration.
The war of words continued this week at the hearings of the British Iraq Inquiry Commission broadcast live by the London media, in which one official after another blamed American war leadership for every mishap.
Hans Blix, chief UN nuclear weapons inspector in 2002-2003, the critical years leading up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, made a surprise appearance Tuesday, July 27. The picture he drew was of the United States marching inexorably into Iraq in denial of the absence of evidence proving Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
His testimony was intended to remind the United States of its signal failures in Iraq, backed up by the WikiLeaks trove of classified American military documents which grimly portrayed the same failings in US management of the Afghan war.
Whatever happens in the two wars, battle positions are ready for the next round in the contest between the US and British ruling establishments. The Brits have chosen to fight the Yanks in the digital arena of WikiLeaks; the next American move may take place on another digital platform like, for instance, Twitter.