Tuesday, 21 December 2010

WikiLeaks and the Radia Tapes – My Take

I have mixed feelings about Julian Assange and his leaks. On one hand, it's a David versus Goliath story and one instinctively tends to be sympathetic to the former. However, most of the information leaked by WikiLeaks is of the kind that was already suspected to be true. For example, are there any surprises when a State Department cable posted by WikiLeaks shows that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states distrust Iran so much that they would be happy to see the US attack Iranian nuclear facilities? Didn't we all know that India's desire to have a seat on the Security Council does not have much Western support? What of the report which says that the Fatah movement cooperated with Israel in its fight against Hamas? Did you know that Richard Branson believes that the British education system does not serve budding businessmen and women well?

I did not have a clue about Branson's views on the British education system and the chances are that you didn't either. Equally, the chances are that Branson did not want to air his views in public. However, I doubt if they will do him much damage.

On the other hand WikiLeaks' claim to the effect that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah Movement get along well with Israel will do a lot of damage to President Abbas and the relatively secular Fatah movement. The Fatah movement is now bound to lose a number of Arab supporters who cannot stomach the idea that Palestinians need to have a dialogue with Israel. Hamas will gain as a result of this exposure. Similarly, how does it help the fight against Islamic terrorism to show that airstikes carried out in Yemen against Islamic militants were actually the work of the US rather than Yemen?

Let's face it – there are so many countries in the world where it is not possible to call a spade a spade (especially when the spade happens to be Islamic fundamentalism). Politicians in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and various other countries need to make various untruthful statements in order to strike a balance between getting on with the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and keep their populace quiet. Diplomats are expected to push their national interests by all means available at their disposal and if anything, WikiLeaks seem to show most diplomats doing just that. There have been very few exposures which show laws being broken. Yes, Hilary Clinton did get egg on her face when it was shown that the US tried to spy on the United Nations. However, with the UN headquarters located in New York, I would be amazed if the Americans did not spy on the UN's staff.

In my opinion, Assange is an anarchist, the sort that wants to breakdown our imperfect systems and hypocritical societies without offering a half-decent substitute. If I let my head rule over my heart, I find that I have very little sympathy for him and his actions. I do think that the US and other governments have gone overboard in forcing Amazon, Mastercard etc to not offer WikiLeaks the services they offer to the public at large, but then, what other option did the governments have? As for the rape charges against Assange, you can read the full details here. All I have to say is that if this report is exhaustive and accurate, then there is very little possibility of Assange going to jail. Oh and by the way, Assange is shocked and disgusted that Swedish police files pertaining to the charges against him have been leaked to the Guardian. I mean, how could anyone leak such sensitive information?

The Radia tapes are a totally different ball game. Unlike the WikiLeaks materials which were obtained illegally, the Radia tapes arose from the Income Tax department's phone tapping (all legal and above board) though it is unclear why they have been leaked. The leaks have been selective, and of course, we do not know what has not been leaked. The transcripts of the conversations have shown a very unholy nexus between the fourth estate and our politicians. The corruption exposed has been of a scale hitherto unimagined by most Indians.

I had great respect for men like Vir Sanghvi, though I didn't always agree with him. We all believed that the Tatas never took or gave bribes, didn't we? Well, most of us anyway.

In short, I like the Radia tapes. I am glad they were created by the IT department and may the Good Lord bless the brave soul who leaked them to the media.


Gayathri said...

Do you remember the Tehelka media frenzy? They created a storm, but vanished without much noise eventually...Assange and Wiki Leaks I feel may suffer the same fate, it's just a matter of time.

Winnowed said...

Gayathri, I think you are absolutely right. Wikileaks will soon be forgotten

Ayyappadas Puthenmarath said...

I could not agree with you more on Wikileaks and Radia Tapes.Radia tapes is a clear indication of opacity of Indian Watchdogs and their sheer inability to publicize their truthful findings. I think the discussion should be about the timely dissemination of findings of bodies like IT dept, CAG and Revenue Dept to public scrutiny. About accountability rather than privacy. Tata making hue and cry about it is laughable as the tapes does not contain any of his personal information.
Excellent and timely post. The Wikileaks and Radia tapes do have subtle differences and it is preposterous to draw comparisons as you rightly pointed out.