Julian Assange said WikiLeaks would change the world. At the very least, it changed these people's lives forever.
Over the weekend, Carlos Pascual (above) stepped down from his post as U.S. ambassador to Mexico over an unsparing January 2010 cable about Mexico’s flailing drug war, and Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s handling of it, that WikiLeaks published in December. The disclosure had poisoned Pascual’s relationship with Calderón, and by the end his departure was all but inevitable — even if Pascual wasn’t telling Foggy Bottom anything that everyone (the Mexican president probably included) didn’t know already.
Nearly four months after WikiLeaks dropped its first State Department cables, no one can say that Julian Assange’s radical transparency project hasn’t left a sizable mark on global politics. But whom exactly has he brought down? It’s not necessarily the people we might have expected: The Singaporean ambassador at large who called the second-biggest economic power in the neighborhood a “big fat loser” has emerged from the controversy more or less unscathed. The Lebanese defense minister who gave Israel advice on how to invade his country is still around. The U.S. diplomat who signed — though may not have written — the epic Dagestani wedding cable still has his high-ranking State Department job, and the one who signed off on a series of withering Silvio Berlusconi portraits in the U.S. Embassy in Rome doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere, either.
So who are the losers? Foreign Policy takes a chronological look at WikiLeaks’ casualties and near casualties so far, an eclectic group of unfortunates that includes political leaders, diplomats, corporate executives, and the organization’s own sources.
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
The first loser, and the biggest by far. Manning, a U.S. Army private who allegedly gave WikiLeaks its cache of U.S. government documents after purloining them from the U.S. government’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) during his 2009 deployment to Iraq, was arrested in May and has been sitting in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, since July. The Army has filed 34 charges against Manning, including one capital offense: aiding the enemy. (The Army has said it won’t seek the death penalty, but Manning could still end up in prison for life.) WikiLeaks was slow to come to Manning’s aid, promising in July to cover half the expense of his defense — which Manning’s lawyer pegs at $115,000 — only to pony up just $15,000 six months later. (To be fair, Assange’s group has run up against its own financial problems since last summer.)
Manning’s harsh treatment by the Pentagon — according to his lawyer, he has been routinely humiliated and forced to sleep naked in his cell — also accounted for the largest second-order WikiLeaks casualty to date: State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who quit his post on March 20 after calling the alleged leaker’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
The first diplomatic official to get the ax over a WikiLeaks cable was Metzner, who was fired from his post as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s chief of staff in early December after WikiLeaks published a particularly damaging set of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. The dispatches were generally unflattering in their portrayal of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet, but more worrying for Berlin was the wealth of detail about internal negotiations within the German government. An October 2009 cable identified the source as “a young, up-and-coming party loyalist” in the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the liberal partner in Merkel’s governing coalition, “who has offered [embassy officials] internal party documents in the past.
“Excited with his role as FDP negotiations notetaker,” the cable continued, “he seemed happy to share his observations and insights and read to us directly from his notes. He also provided copies of documents from his ‘negotiations’ binder.” Metzner was a rising star in the Free Democratic Party, but once he admitted to being the source in question, his downfall was all but assured.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, as FP noted in January, has made more enterprising use of the WikiLeaks cables than just about anyone else. After a cable was leaked in December detailing meetings between U.S. Embassy officials in Harare and Tsvangirai, the opposition leader with whom Mugabe was coaxed into a power-sharing agreement in 2008, Mugabe dispatched his attorney general, Johannes Tomana, to investigate possible charges of treason — a crime that potentially carries the death penalty. (Mugabe’s wife, meanwhile, announced plans to sue an independent Harare newspaper for reporting on another cable that implicated her in a diamond-smuggling scheme.)
Tomana was also reported in January to be mulling treason charges against other former opposition leaders. Since then, however, we haven’t heard much about WikiLeaks from the Zimbabwean strongman or his top lawyer. Tomana came under fire for alleged corruption in February, and the future of the Mugabe-Tsvangirai power-sharing agreement — a delicate thing in the best of times — is looking less than bright. But Tsvangirai is still in his job, and there hasn’t been any news on the investigation front for months.
The original WikiLeaks State Department casualty, Cretz had been the U.S. ambassador to Libya — the first in nearly four decades — since 2008. He was called back to Washington in January after WikiLeaks published cables he had signed offering unflattering accounts of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s eccentricities, including the infamous Ukrainian nurse dispatch. Like Pascual, Cretz wasn’t telling Washington much it didn’t already know about Qaddafi, but relations with Tripoli were delicate enough at the time that Cretz had to go.
Of course, the situation in Libya has changed just a little bit since January, and Cretz — who, unlike Pascual, didn’t actually resign — resurfaced in early March in Cairo as a State Department go-between with the Libyan rebels trying to unseat Qaddafi. On March 10, Libyan state television aired an (unconfirmed) audio recording of a phone conversation between Cretz and rebel leader Omar al-Hariri, in which Cretz asked Hariri what “equipment and assistance” he needed. Cretz reportedly briefed members of Congress on March 23 on the dire state of the Libyan opposition, which he told lawmakers was badly outnumbered and hurting for supplies.
In January, the State Department told Reuters that it had notified several hundred civil society activists, journalists, and government officials whose names appeared in the cables that they could be imperiled by WikiLeaks disclosures. “In a small number of cases,” Crowley said, we have assisted people moving from where they are to safer locations.” So far, though, State has been predictably mum on the specifics.
Although redaction efforts were uneven, WikiLeaks did take more care with the State Department cables than it did with previously released caches of military documents from Iraq and Afghanistan, which exposed dozens of local informants. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Britain’s Channel 4 News in July that the Taliban was “studying” the WikiLeaked reports. “We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the U.S.,” he said. “If they are U.S. spies, then we know how to punish them.”
Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali
Even though Julian Assange and Muammar al-Qaddafi — and FP authors — have suggested as much, you can’t chalk up the downfall of the Tunisian strongman entirely to WikiLeaks. But neither can you discount the importance of what the cables did. The State Department documents put an outside authority’s imprimatur on the stories of corruption and official decadence that Tunisians had heard for years, particularly the degree to which the family of Ben Ali’s wife had benefited from his years of rule. As one young Tunisian activist described the sequence of events in the Guardian: “WikiLeaks reveals what everyone was whispering. And then, a young man immolates himself. And then, 20 Tunisians are killed in one day. And for the first time, we see the opportunity to rebel, to take revenge on the ‘royal’ family who has taken everything, to overturn the established order that has accompanied our youth.”
The Swiss ex-chief operating officer of the Julius Bär bank’s Cayman Islands branch went rogue in 2007, handing over reams of offshore banking records to WikiLeaks and enabling the organization’s first big public splash. The law eventually caught up with Elmer — who had been fired from the bank in 2002 — in Zurich, and the ex-banker was found guilty of violating Swiss secrecy laws and threatening former employees of his bank. But Elmer escaped a prison sentence in mid-January — at which point he handed over a new set of account records to Assange and was arrested again. He’s currently in jail.
Pieter de Gooijer
The Netherlands’ would-be ambassador to the European Union had his appointment blocked in January after a WikiLeaked cable reported that he had advised U.S. officials on how best to keep his country’s boots on the ground in Afghanistan. Gooijer had suggested to Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner remind Dutch officials that their place in G-20 discussions was contingent on their continued involvement in the war. That went over predictably badly in the Netherlands, where the Afghan war is deeply unpopular; the country pulled its troops out in August, though the Dutch parliament did approve deploying a 545-soldier police training force in January.
The CEO of OHB-System, a German space technology company, Smutny was WikiLeaks’ first private-sector casualty to make headlines: He lost his job in January after he turned up in a U.S. Embassy cable calling the European Union’s multibillion-euro Galileo satellite navigation system — on which his company was a contractor — “a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests” and “a waste of EU taxpayers’ money.” Smutny swore under oath that he never said such things, but it wasn’t enough to keep his job.
Like WikiLeaks’ American diplomatic victims, however, Smutny was candid but not wrong. Galileo is six years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and, at this point, lagging behind the rest of the aerospace industry technologically.
Peru’s presidential hopefuls
On Feb. 19, the Spanish newspaper El País published a WikiLeaks-obtained 2005 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Lima, detailing a meeting between former Peruvian Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi and U.S. officials. In the meeting, Rospigliosi voiced concerns over the rise of Ollanta Humala, a nationalist leftist politician who nearly won an upset presidential campaign in 2006 and whom the Americans worried would become another Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales if elected. Rospigliosi recommended that the U.S. officials keep an eye on Humala and suggested sponsoring anti-Humala media campaigns in the rural regions where he was most popular — pretty mild stuff, but not the kind of thing you want to be caught talking about with U.S. diplomats in a region with a well-remembered history of gringo intervention.
The cable has proved particularly incendiary because former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo (at left), in whose administration Rospigliosi was serving at the time, is the front-runner in the presidential election scheduled for early next month, against none other than Ollanta Humala. Fortunately for Toledo, basically everyone else in Peru’s crowded presidential field has their own cables to answer for. Prime minister turned candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appears in a 2005 cable in which U.S. diplomats suggest he was a useful partner for international mining companies hoping to quell unrest in Peru’s mining regions. Another cable showed Humala working closely with Chávez, whose support may have cost him the 2006 election.
The London School of Economics director had a lot of reasons to resign his post early this month, and most of them were named Qaddafi. But the last straw, according to the Guardian, was the report, first surfacing in WikiLeaks cables, that the school had been involved in a multimillion-dollar deal to provide training to Libyan civil servants and professionals in London.
Davies — who is still in his job pending the naming of a replacement — took the blame for the deal. “I advised the [LSE] council that it was reasonable to accept the money and that has turned out to be a mistake,” he told the Guardian. “There were risks involved in taking funding from sources associated with Libya, and they should have been weighed more heavily in the balance.”
India’s prime minister has been in hot water since March 17, when the Hindu, a national newspaper, published a July 2008 cable from the New Delhi embassy alleging that Singh’s ruling Congress Party had paid lawmakers in India’s Parliament eye-popping sums to support a nuclear deal with the United States. The cable offers a vivid and unflattering picture of the world’s largest democracy in action, in which 20 swing-vote MPs are offered heaps of cash, cabinet positions, and, in one case, the opportunity to rename a major airport. An aide to a Congress Party MP told a U.S. Embassy staffer that four lawmakers had been offered $2.5 million apiece for their votes, and then opened up chests full of cash to prove it.
Singh has denied all of this, but the revelations come in the wake of a series of corruption charges that have battered his government — most recently a $2.7 billion telecom license scandal that has implicated members of his administration and kept Parliament tied up for two months. Nevertheless, Singh duly appeared in front of lawmakers on March 23 to take his lumps over the WikiLeaks allegations. “It’s a case of parliamentary piracy because some members were hijacked,” Communist Party leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, according to the Associated Press. “The suspicion is that an organized group of political gangsters were at work.”
Before WikiLeaks released its first bombshell — a video of a U.S. Army helicopter firing on civilians in Baghdad — in July, Assange would’ve had trouble getting arrested. (Well, not literally.) Now he’s the most famous rogue declassifier since Daniel Ellsberg — and as Ellsberg could have told him, it’s not an easy road.
Although the most complete public report to date on WikiLeaks’ finances suggests the group is still in the black, the organization’s expenses have increased dramatically even as its fundraising activities have been hamstrung by PayPal and MasterCard. Donations to the group now appear to be mostly covering Assange’s legal woes, which by Assange’s own account had cost $310,000 as of late December and are all but guaranteed to climb far higher. Vanity Fair reported in January that as of late December, WikiLeaks hadn’t collected any new documents for months. “[Assange] is short of money and short of secrets,” a source close to the group’s leader told the magazine. “The whole thing has collapsed.”
As of last summer, WikiLeaks was considered legit enough by the media establishment that the hyper-mainstream Knight Foundation was considering funding it; Assange’s complicated personality and agenda have since alienated early media partners and left American journalists generally wary of publicly supporting him. Key early WikiLeaks members have fallen out with Assange, and the organization lost control over the rollout of its cable cache months ago. Wiki-fatigue has also set in — outlets like the Guardian that once breathlessly covered every new cable have mostly moved on, and the papers that actively want to partner with the organization are now in places like Turkey and Peru.
The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, is still gunning for Assange, and it won a ruling in federal court this month in its efforts to force Twitter to hand over account records for WikiLeaks members. His ongoing sexual-assault case has not only landed him in a costly extradition fight, but has also undoubtedly kept plenty of would-be supporters at arm’s length — not to mention guaranteed the kind of titillating coverage usually reserved for the likes of Charlie Sheen. As one movie-parodying T-shirt in the WikiLeaks online gift shop puts it, “You don’t leak 250,000 cables without making a few enemies.”
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