WikiLeaks’ Legacy of Exposing US-UK Complicity
WikiLeaks is vilified by governments (and increasingly by journalists) for its exposures, including of the U.S.-UK “special relationship” in running a joint foreign policy of deception and violence that serves London and Washington’s elite interests, says Mark Curtis.
By Mark Curtis
Middle East Eye
Twelve years ago this month, WikiLeaks began publishing government secrets that the world public might otherwise never have known. What it has revealed about state duplicity, human rights abuses and corruption goes beyond anything published in the world’s “mainstream” media.
After over six months of being cut off from the outside world, on Oct. 14 Ecuador has partly restored Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy where the founder has been living for over six years. (Assange, however, later rejected Ecuador’s restrictions imposed on him.)
The treatment – real and threatened – meted out to Assange by the U.S. and UK governments contrasts sharply with the service Wikileaks has done their publics in revealing the nature of elite power, as shown in the following snapshot of Wikileaks’ revelations about British foreign policy in the Middle East.
Conniving with the Saudis
Whitehall’s special relationship with Riyadh is exposed in an extraordinary cable from 2013 highlighting how Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council. Britain initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support.
The Wikileaks releases also shed details on Whitehall’s fawning relationship with Washington. A 2008 cable, for example, shows then shadow foreign secretary William Hague telling the U.S. embassy that the British “want a pro-American regime. We need it. The world needs it.”
A cable the following year shows the lengths to which Whitehall goes to defend the special relationship from public scrutiny. Just as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War was beginning in 2009, Whitehall promised Washington that it had “put measures in place to protect your interests”.
It is not known what this protection amounted to, but no U.S. officials were called to give evidence to Chilcot in public. The inquiry was also refused permission to publish letters between former U.S. President George W. Bush and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair written in the run-up to the war.
Also in 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised the prospect of reducing the number of British nuclear-armed Trident submarines from four to three, a policy opposed in Washington. However, Julian Miller, an official in the UK’s Cabinet Office, privately assured U.S. officials that his government “would consult with the U.S. regarding future developments concerning the Trident deterrent to assure there would be ‘no daylight’ between the U.S. and UK.” The idea that British decision-making on Trident is truly independent of the U.S. is undermined by this cable.
The Wikileaks cables are rife with examples of British government duplicity of the kind I’ve extensively come across in my own research on UK declassified files. In advance of the British-NATO bombing campaign in Libya in March 2011, for example, the British government pretended that its aim was to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attacks on civilians and not to overthrow him.
A week before the “marine reserve” proposal was made to the U.S. in May 2009, then UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband was also conniving with the U.S., apparently to deceive the public. A cable reveals Miliband helping the U.S. to sidestep a ban on cluster bombs and keep the weapons at U.S. bases on UK soil, despite Britain signing the international treaty banning the weapons the previous year.
Spying on the UK
In addition, Wikileaks cables reveal that journalists and the public are considered legitimate targets of UK intelligence operations. In October 2009, Joint Services Publication 440, a 2,400-page restricted document written in 2001 by the Ministry of Defence, was leaked. Somewhat ironically, it contained instructions for the security services on to avid leaks of information by hackers, journalists and foreign spies.
Smear campaigns have portrayed Assange as a sexual predator or a Russian agent, often in the same media that have benefitted from covering Wikileaks’ releases.
This article originally appeared on Middle East Eye.
Mark Curtis is an historian and analyst of UK foreign policy and international development and the author of six books, the latest being an updated edition of Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam.