Ten More WikiLeaks You Missed
From the Indian April Fools cable to Hanoi's sexy discos to China's dangerous nuclear plants, Julian Assange's hits just keep on coming.
The planets are out of alignment in India
The U.S. ambassador to New Delhi informed Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon “that he will go on a hunger strike until the UPA government submits the IAEA safeguards agreement to the Board of Governor,” according to a 2008 cable. In a separate meeting, the U.S. envoy noted “that the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in April would prevail on the Board to look more favorably on the [nuclear] agreement.”
The cable continues in that vein for almost 1,000 words, discussing planetary alignments’ effects on Indian politics and requesting $250 million to rotate the U.S. chancery 90 degrees, in order to provide more sunlight and eliminate shade, “which darkens the U.S. perspective towards India.”
Had the U.S. ambassador drunk a spiked mango lassi before sending the cable? Not quite — the explanation for this new age mumbo-jumbo lies in the cable’s date: April 1. “Happy April Fool’s Day from Incredible India!” it concludes.
Vietnam: Karaoke makes a man lonely
Seems like the U.S. embassy staff in Hanoi decided to get down and dirty researching this racy cable. Intended as a missive to Washington on how the government of Vietnam is combating the social ills of the sex industry, the excerpts from this partial cable meander into an exegesis on the varied opportunities that Hanoi’s nightlife provides the single man.
It starts off reasonably seriously enough: “Apart from lamenting the problem, officials appear to do little to remedy this social evil — partly due to corruption but perhaps more importantly because they cannot be sure whether the public would rather continue to enjoy such newfound freedoms or welcome a clampdown and return to ‘socialist morality.’ Unfortunately, the health implications of the growing sex industry are no joke, with HIV/AIDs infections rising steadily….”
Of course, more digging was required. The November 2002 cable goes onto note three of Hanoi’s finest discos — New Century, Magic Moo, and Park — and the “large numbers of unaccompanied young ladies who are remarkably friendly to strange men.” Huh, wonder why….
But you can’t call it a night without a bit of singing, right? And so, it seems, the nocturnal data collectors head off to sample Hanoi’s profusion of karaoke bars which turn out to “employ a stable of usually very good-looking ‘hostesses,’ whose singing abilities vary considerably. Vietnamese call this kind of karaoke bars ‘karaoke om’ — cuddle karaoke. The hostesses are generous with their enthusiasm for otherwise untalented renditions of popular tunes, but also willing — nay, eager — to keep the male singers warm against the chill of air conditioned rooms in the Hanoi heat.”
It gets better (or worse). Late into the evening, we presume, our intrepid Foreign Service officers, exhausted from the night’s exertions, head for a relaxing massage where, lo and behold, “an astonishingly high percentage of these masseuses appear to be attractive young ladies, many of whom claim to be from out of town…. One new multi-story ‘entertainment center,’ whose elaborate statuary and other decoration have been described by some observers as ‘classic brothel style,’ is just a couple of doors down the street from the U.S. embassy….”
At least they didn’t have to go far.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
Their man in Havana
Cuba’s intransigent government has represented one of the most enduring U.S. foreign policy dilemmas over the past half-century. Relations between Washington and Havana, to the extent that there have been any for 50 years, have been fraught. But now, with the Castro regime showing tentative signs of loosening its grip on power, a U.S. Coast Guard officer has emerged as perhaps Havana’s most trusted interlocutor with the U.S. government.
A series of cables, which WikiLeaks shared with McClatchy, described how Cuban officials had approached the narcotics officer on a range of issues outside of his official job description. In one 2009 cable, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official told the officer that upcoming migration talks should focus on how the United States and Cuba would respond to a “potential mass migration scenario” from the island. On another occasion, a Cuban diplomat told the Coast Guard officer that the Castro may reverse its long-standing rejection of U.S. aid for assistance rebuilding after a hurricane. “Check, Please!” read the subject line of the cable.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Crouching Tiger, Hidden American Diplomat
A WikiLeaked diplomatic cable from 2007 described how an unnamed economics officer from the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou posed as a South Korean tourist to gain access to two “tiger reserves” in southern China, which cast doubt on the country’s conservation efforts. While visiting the reserves, he witnessed tigers and bears, all of which are either endangered or nearly extinct, whipped and forced to perform in a mock “marriage procession.”
The gift store staff, convinced that the U.S. diplomat was a Korean tourist, was reportedly eager to sell him products from the animals themselves. “‘The Koreans were among the most enthusiastic purchasers of both the black bear bile and the tiger wine,’ they explained.”
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Russia’s Frat House Foreign Ministry
According to an October 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow, reported this week by the Moscow Times, Russia’s Foreign Ministry “remains a bastion of Slavic males who went to Moscow’s top schools.” The ministry’s director of personnel, Vladimir Morozov, is quoting as saying that diplomacy is traditionally the “domain of the stronger sex” and argues that “men were better equipped to handle long-term absences from home, harsh climates, and the ‘complex political and military situations’ in which Russian diplomats often found themselves.” According to the cable, while the number of women in the institution is increased, they are traditionally limited to public affairs, or secretarial work rather than diplomatic assignments.
Overall, the author reports that the culture of sexism, micromanagement, limited technology and rigid top-down management style, limited use of modern communications technology, “a Soviet-like effort to maintain control of information” all contribute to a “challenging environment” for conducting diplomacy.
Another gripe at the ministry is the low pay. Sources within the Foreign Ministry told the cable’s author that diplomats’ wives who work in the private sector frequently earn more than their husbands do. Seems there are a lot of good reasons smart women would rather work elsewhere.
Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images
Huntsman: watch out for China’s single males
Jon Huntsman, the Obama administration’s former envoy in Beijing and now a GOP presidential hopeful, warned in a 2010 cable that China’s one-child policy was leading to social instability and a dangerous gender imbalance in the country. The glut of males, caused both by sex-selective abortions and the higher mortality rates of female babies, has led to 30 million “unmarriageable” Chinese men, who could “cause unrest in the most economically marginalized areas, and could lead to increased gender violence through demand for prostitution and trafficking in girls and women.”
But while most U.S. officials have blanched upon seeing their name in WikiLeaks, Huntsman’s campaign advisors have used the cable as evidence that their candidate will take a tough line on China’s human rights record. Particularly following Vice President Joe Biden’s remark in Beijing that he was “not second-guessing” China’s one-child policy, Huntsman has seized on the issue to distinguish himself from his former employers.
“One-child runs counter to the fundamental value of human life and has myriad other negative consequences including an increase in sex trafficking and prostitution, as well as a destabilization of the family unit,” Huntsman’s campaign spokesman told The Cable.
Bibi for Mideast peace?
With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations moribund and the Palestinian leadership planning to take their statehood bid to the U.N. General Assembly in September — a move bitterly opposed by Israel — even the most die-hard optimist would be hard-pressed to find a bright spot regarding the peace process. And while there is plenty of blame to go around, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — which has expanded settlements in the West Bank and insisted on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — is no doubt partially responsible for this lack of progress.
But in April 2009, the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv was singing a different tune: Netanyahu “is keeping all options open regarding a two-state solution, and may be willing to advance the process significantly as long as he is not forced to publicly acknowledge the extent of such progress,” read one cable. Maybe, but we’ll believe it when we see it.
On other issues, however, the judgment of the U.S. embassy proved more accurate. Another cable, sent on the same day in April 2009, judged that Israel’s coalition government, while unwieldy, “may provide Netanyahu with his best hope for long-term stability.” With Netanyahu’s government still looking strong over two years later, the embassy officials may feel vindicated by its prediction — even as they regret its accuracy.
Child Smuggling in Sweden
You wouldn’t immediately peg the Swedish capital as home to a sophisticated international human smuggling ring, but according to this newly released 2006 cable from the U.S. embassy in Stockholm, 120 Chinese children who arrived there over the course of 18 months just up and disappeared.
Most of the children, the cable reports, arrived directly from Beijing or via Moscow, with little but a cell phone and “small amounts of cash” — all requesting asylum. Hans Ihrman, the senior state prosecutor in Stockholm, briefed the U.S. embassy on the fishy business, which he believed was managed by organized traffickers: “The children’s asylum requests are all identical. When pressed, they make vague references to having relatives persecuted for links to the Phalun Gong religious movement; beyond that they say nothing. Ihrman said the children appear to have been ‘very professionally coached’ in responding to interview questions.”
The children were then sent to immigration reception centers, but not detained due to their status as minors. All then disappeared shortly thereafter. In one instance in summer 2005, the children, according to Ihrman, received instructions on their cell phones and subsequently purchased bus tickets to Copenhagen. As Swedish law prohibits wiretapping and restricting the children’s movements, authorities could only follow the bus to the Denmark border, where Danish police picked up the trail. From Denmark, the Chinese children boarded another bus to Germany, but restrictions on surveillance prevented German officials from following the trail. “Danish police literally had to watch the bus drive away at the border, said Ihrman. The children have not been seen since.”
Swedish officials reportedly raised the matter with counterparts in Beijing, who “assured the Swedes that it would be impossible for a child to leave China on an international flight unaccompanied by an adult.”
The cable concludes with both a finger pointed at European security services and a plea for help: “While we admit we have only a superficial grasp of this situation, we are nonetheless incredulous about the narrow interpretation of laws and implementation of strict rights of privacy that paradoxically result in a basic loss of human rights of these minors. We report this to our neighboring posts in the hope they may have some complimentary information.
Syria’s leadership is nasty, untrustworthy — and effective
President Barack Obama came into office determined to attempt a difficult diplomatic reengagement of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, designed to pry it away from the Iranian orbit. But behind the diplomatic niceties, the U.S. embassy in Damascus had a vicious appraisal of their host government.
Assad “would prefer to see himself as a sort of philosopher-king,” read one June 2009 cable, which suggested that U.S. diplomats may be able to play on the president’s “intellectual pretentions” to gain his trust. The cable was not any kinder to Assad’s subordinates, describing the Syrian diplomatic practices as “at best abrasive and, at its worst, brutal.”
Even worse than being obnoxious, the embassy described Syrian diplomats as unreliable. “SARG [Syrian Arab Republic Government] officials at every level lie,” the cable stated bluntly. “They persist in a lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary. They are not embarrassed to be caught in a lie.”
And despite it all, the cable concludes, the U.S. effort to engage with the Syrians may be the only way for the United States to resolve its problems in the Middle East. “At the end of the day, there are few who really like to deal with the Syrians,” the cable read. “The SARG, well aware of its reputation, however, spends much of its energy ensuring that we have to.”
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images
China’s dangerous nuclear power industry
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster and with the world more attuned to the dangers of nuclear power than ever before, a series of State Department cables reported in the Guardian warned that China’s new power plants will be old before they’re even switched on. But there might be more than just environmental worries at play here — there’s money to be made.
“China is currently in the process of building as many as 50 to 60 new nuclear plants by 2020; the vast majority will be the CPR-1000, a copy of 60’s era Westinghouse technology that can be built cheaply and quickly and with the majority of parts sourced from Chinese manufacturers.”
That’s a concern for U.S. nuclear suppliers like Westinghouse and General Electric. With China’s vast energy demands and a tightening global market for nuclear power, the country is exceedingly important.
Perhaps that’s why one cable seems to be trying the old scare-tactic sales pitch: “China is assuring that rather than building a fleet of state-of-the-art reactors, they will be burdened with technology that by the end of its lifetime will be 100 years old. Finally, by bypassing the passive safety technology of the AP1000, which, according to Westinghouse, is 100 times safer than the CPR-1000, China is vastly increasing the aggregate risk of its nuclear power fleet.”
China’s not listening, though: the cable notes that the vast majority of the technology purchases for the planned nuclear plants are “political decisions.”
LAURENT FIEVET/AFP/Getty Images