Is WikiLeaks the product of a global conspiracy instigated by the CIA?
Posted on 01 December 2010
Yep, I know the title is really catchy – sorry!- but many believe that WikiLeaks is indeed the product of a global conspiracy instigated by the CIA. I personally don’t share that view. Having said that, I nevertheless believe that studying the arguments of such proponents is rather interesting (as do a number of sociologists and psychologists), so let’s together make sense of them.
Let me first put the post into its wider context. As you know, the online whistleblower facilitating website WikiLeaks has released a number of documents – apparently only 200 out of 251 287 – that originate from the US State Department. I’m sure you’ve gone through (some of) these and are aware that they tackle a range of subjects including US diplomats’ views on Iran, North Korea, Russia, France, but also about the United Nations, the Hezbollah, the personality of several world leaders, etc. They offer nothing new for anyone following international affairs closely, but are nevertheless worth the read if one is interested in understanding the arcane mysteries of US diplomacy; or in studying insiders’ viewpoints on several international topics. Arguably, the most surprising news so far relates to the depth of information collection that US diplomats are expected to do. It’s not a suprise that they are asked to provide as much information as possible about their interlocutors – after all, they are culturally considered as parts of the wider US intelligence community. But one wonders if asking them to collect biometric data such as fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans, doesn’t seriously cross the line between the functions of a diplomat and those of a spy, therefore undermining diplomats’ capacity to get their interlocutors’ confidence.
While experts from around the world are assessing the potential impacts that this unprecedented leak will have, I offer here to study the arguments of those who claim that this whole dump is in fact a global show orchestrated by the US intelligence.
The most prominent of these ‘conspiracy theorists’ is doubtlessly the Iranian government. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad sees this ‘WikiLeaksgate’ as part of “a psychological warfare” against Iran, which “has been prepared and released by the US Government according to a [well-prepared] plan and specific objective”, that of destabilising Iran. According to the Guardian, the Iranian President has further argued that “We don’t think this information was leaked. We think it was organised to be released on a regular basis and they are pursuing political goals.” Said otherwise, Mr Ahmadinejad argues that WikiLeaks is the product of the US government/intelligence community, that the leaked documents are fakes and that such apparent outpouring is only propaganda. The Iranian leader may have substantiated his claims, but unfortunately I haven’t found any of such evidence. Despite these, let’s nevertheless try to understand his motivations. Given that the mainstream opinion about the documents leaked is that they are real cables, what interests Mr Ahmadinejad has in claiming the contrary?
If one looks at the different leaked US cables, one notices that a) Iran occupies a preponderant place among them; b) that many Western and Middle-Eastern interlocutors quoted in the cables feel threatened by Iran. Such findings reinforce the impression that Iran is a major regional power, which ambition cannot easily be countered by its international and internal opponents. Because of it, one may conclude that the WikiLeaks documents consist indeed only of a tactical move from the US Government to further portray Iran as a threat. However, another striking impression is left when reading these cables, that of President Ahmadinejad appearing as relatively isolated. Several country representatives are expressing their concerns in particular about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including its traditional supports Russia and China, or neighbours, including Azerbaijan, Bahrein, or Kuwait. Furthermore, some of the documents underscore that the Iranian security forces “may be losing control over growing areas in the countryside”, or that Iran has “abused the strict neutrality of the Iranian Red Crescent (IRC) society [by] smuggl[ing] intelligence agents and weapons into other countries.”
In my views, Mr Ahmadinejad’s claims are not so much directed to an international audience but to the Iranian population, in particular to those who could use the WikiLeaks documents against him – notably by asserting that he has further isolated Iran on the global chessboard. In a way, by dismissing the cables, he’s warning his countrymen that these should not be used as a leverage against him. Said otherwise, given that the cables are potentially threatening to him, Mr Ahmadinejad has a direct interest in discrediting them – whether or not he actually believes they are scam. Altogether, I don’t think the documents reveal anything new, but when, as a leader, your position is disputed both internally and externally, you don’t want to leave it to chance.
Having briefly studied Iran’s positioning, let’s now look at more trivial conspiracy theorists, namely people like you and me. Readers have commented newspapers’ articles about WikiLeaks, and it’s striking that a number of them adopt a similar stance that of President Ahmadinejad. Some question the whole WikiLeaks dump (“What bothers me is that we don’t have leaks from other nations… In this case the whistleblowing seems like a manipulation. By whom and for whose interests?” (see here); “are the cables genuine?” (see here); “is it to be used as an excuse to restrict the freedom of speech?” (see here)). As a reader purported, “who is benefiting from these ‘revelations’? It’s surprising to notice that […] nobody wonders why has this happened. […] Nobody questions the meaning of the whole leakage. Without falling into conspirationist theories, should we be satistied by the ‘objective of transparency and democracy’ claimed by WikiLeaks leaders?” (see here)
Others go a step further and contend that “WikiLeaks is run from the United States” (see here); that “too bad WikiLeaks is a CIA operation… and nothing really damning will come out” (see here); “this is the largest disinformation campaign ever done by the US secret services, magnified by the CIA. We’ll never know but “Bilderberg” is pulling the strings. The question is: who rules the world?” (here).
What then, are the reasons for the leakage? Different enthusiastic commentators ask “is the purpose of these leaks to shape people’s opinions against Iran or Chavez”? (here); “these leaks come as a surprise. What if WikiKeaks was manipulated by the US secret services? Why? Maybe to prepare the international community to a military intervention in Iran!” (see here). Similarly, another argues that “Iran is at the heart of the leaks, we are indeed in a massive brainwashing operation which goal is to prepare citizens to an attack against Iran” (here). While a number concur with Mr Ahmadenijedad that Iran is the main reason for this dump, some however believe that the crux of the matter is the Israelo-Palestinian conflict: “what seems strange is that nowhere these documents refer to the diplomatic efforts to bring peace in Israel-Palestine. […] Everybody agrees that Israel can continue its colonisation policy and that Palestinians will continue suffering from it” (here); these documents “can only make anti-Palestinians warmongers happy” (here). Yet another comments that the target is control of the Internet: “The [cables] fall right into the the US propaganda narrative which is to take over the net and now with these repeated claims that China and wikiLeaks are attacking us on the internet are a clear set up for running the hegelian dialectic on a free internet. I can picture the Fox [channel news] talking heads attacking the Obama puppet for being weak on “Cyber security”. […] I view these data dumps as American intelligence trying to hijack the internet & the narrative on it by getting wikiLeaks street cred among many other things.” (here)
A blogger even produces a list of “10 main arguments” that claim to proving that WikiLeaks “was conceived by US power or intelligence organisations”. Among these, it argues that “the timing is alarming”; “it just provides arguments for starting wars against Iran and now Pakistan in particular. Julian Assange [the WikiLeaks founder] itself has at no time been an opponent as [it’s evidenced] by the absence of damaging information about Israel”; “Julian Assange believes that there was no 9-11 conspiracy and thus supports more or less the official reading. This is an untenable position. […] These positions are directly in line with those of the U.S.. He also makes no mention about Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission and Council on Foreign Relations, the really interesting and important fora in which global politics is shaped”. Probably short of arguments, the blogger continues, by claiming that “The personal history of Assange is very poorly documented and includes many disturbing details. So he would have wandered through the world with his parents at 37 schools, things like that. This makes it virtually impossible to check things from his past. This points to a sort of secret agent” [such an evident conclusion!] ; “The [WikiLeaks] site is a mess, you can not even type in keywords” [yeah right, it certainly is a proof that WikiLeaks is a fake…]; “What is the business model of WikiLeaks? We see no ads. How to earn money for all those women to rape and to travel around the world?” [WikiLeaks lives on private donors’ contributions]; “Google and Facebook are also intelligence operations from the CIA. That makes it logical and believable that WikiLeaks a CIA invention.” [that’s called a ‘logical fallacy’…] You are not convinced? Me either.
So, what can be concluded from this (small) sample? Well, several points can be underscored. First, and as any good analyst will say, every view is worth hearing including those of conspiracy theorists – if provided with reasonable arguments. As some have argued, “conspiracy theories may sometimes serve to highlight ‘blind spots’ in the common or official interpretations of events.” The trick however often lies in the difficulty to deconstruct conspiracy theories even when they are unsubstantiated. Psychologists believe that the search for meaning is common in the development of conspiracy theories, and may be powerful enough alone to lead to the first formulating of the idea. Once cognized, confirmation bias (tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions regardless of whether the information is true) and avoidance of cognitive dissonance (people have a drive to reduce different views in and around them) may reinforce their beliefs. In a context where a conspiracy theory has become popular within a social group, communal reinforcement helps closing the feedback loop. As authors have argued, “a distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy.”
In the present case, it is interesting from a geopolitical point of view to question whether the WikiLeaks outpouring is motivated by a will to shape populations’ (and voters’) perceptions so that they accept waging a war against Iran / or to divert their opinion from the current failures in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet, one cannot fail to notice that the reasons proponents of conspiracy theories use for justifying their viewpoints are rather diverse (and sometimes contradictory), and, most importantly, are not substantiated by any evidence. Indeed, if many question the mainstream opinions about WikiLeaks, few provide actual evidence to substantiate their alternative views. However it must be acknowledged that the evidence may be yet to come depending on governments’ future moves, so let’s see how things unfold.
In conclusion, and despite the potential of alternative thinking, arguments debunking the mainstream view of a free-spirited WikiLeaks are simply not convincing as of today. It is then more likely that a number of citizens throughout the world do not understand that WikiLeaks is simply motivated by revealing previously undisclosed stories/facts. In other words, the benefits of whistleblowing for and by themselves are not acknowledged.
Last, and I’ll finish this long post with this, it seems that adding a picture of the “voluptuous Ukrainian nurse” upon which the Libyan leader Qadhafi is said to rely heavily, significantly increases the chance that readers will find your article. If true, I wonder what it reveals about the human psyche?! Anyway, let’s play with the idea. So here you are – and please let us know whether you found this post by googling ‘Galyna Kolotnytska’ – the name of the blonde nurse! 🙂
[Update: it worked, a significant number of people found this post by googling ‘Galyna Kolotnytska’ :-)]