- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
WikiLeaks has struck again. The self-professed whistleblower site announced this morning that it would release a whopping 2.4 million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries, and the companies with which they interacted. Founder Julian Assange promised that the document dump would prove “embarrassing to Syria, but… also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents.”
WikiLeaks is working with a few select newspapers to get the news out, and will release the entire trove gradually on its website. At the time of this writing, only 25 emails have been released — but here’s a look at who may be affected by the release.
Syrians on the fence: This is the most important category. Syria, by President Bashar al-Assad’s own admission, is in a “state of war” — and any instances of Syrian officials opening channels with rebels, or vice versa, could get someone killed.
WikiLeaks’ record of protecting sources is already checkered: It was unable to prevent the release of unredacted versions of the 250,000 State Department cables it released as part of “Cablegate,” potentially endangering those named in the memos. The stakes are even higher in Syria — here’s hoping WikiLeaks does the right thing and protects those mentioned in these emails.
Engagement-happy Western officials: It may seem like an eternity ago, but it was only a few short years back that U.S. officials such as then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. John Kerry were making the journey to Damascus in an ill-fated attempt to restart Israeli-Syrian peace talks and split the Assad regime from Iran. Kerry, in particular, took the lead in the attempt at diplomatic engagement — famously having a cozy dinner with Assad at the Old Damascus restaurant Naranj.
Many in Washington had misgivings about “engagement” with Syria at the time, but the effort looks even worse in light of the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown. Did a U.S. diplomat, in an attempt to butter up Assad and his team, send a note to a Syrian official offering fulsome praise for their hospitality and open-mindedness? If so, it could haunt their reputation for years to come.
Western companies looking to make a buck: This seems the most likely — in fact, the initial batch of emails suggest that the Italian company Selex has provided the Assad regime with technological assistance, even during the crackdown. As sanctions drove most businesses from Syria, it only stands to reason that a few enterprises would seek to bend the rules and capitalize on the Syrian government’s need for foreign expertise.
The Assad regime itself, however, may not belong on the list of those that should be particularly worried by this release. Sure, there could be the odd email that paints Syrian officials as out of touch or deepens existing fault lines within the elite. But generally speaking, the Syrian government is an open book: Its leaders believe they are in the midst of an existential battle, and will use whatever means necessary to perpetuate their hold on power. You don’t need millions of leaked emails to tell you that — you just need to read the news.