In a major development that has been largely ignored or misrepresented in the American media, the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten has obtained access to the full stash of over 250,000 classified American diplomatic cables previously obtained by WikiLeaks. The paper has been posting a steady stream of cables to its own website independently of the self-styled “whistleblower organization.”
Aftenposten first announced that it had obtained access to the cables in late December. In a commentary published in early January, editor-in-chief Hilde Haugsgjerd made clear that Aftenposten was not cooperating with WikiLeaks and had obtained the documents through unauthorized channels. There had been a “leak of the leak,” as she put it.
Moreover, Haugsgjerd sharply criticized WikiLeaks for establishing what she called a “news monopoly.” (See the report on Views and News from Norway here.) Prior to Aftenposten’s obtaining the cables, access had been limited to five international news publications: Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, Spain’s El País, the British newspaper The Guardian, and The New York Times. Despite frequent references in the media to the cables being “published” or “released” by WikiLeaks, in fact only a tiny fraction of the reportedly 251,287 diplomatic cables have thus far been posted on the WikiLeaks website. The current number is 3,872 or around 1.5 percent of the reported total.
Recent reporting in the American media – some of it encouraged by reputed WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange – creates the mistaken impression that Aftenposten may be an “authorized” WikiLeaks media partner, after all. (See, for instance, this recent AP report, here.) It is not only Haugsgjerd’s unambiguous remarks that make clear that this is not the case: so too does a comparison of the respective selections of cables published on the WikiLeaks and Aftenposten websites.
The Aftenposten selection displays a far greater thematic coherence than the WikiLeaks selection, and it does not appear to partake of the generally dismal view of American power and American foreign policy shared by the five official WikiLeaks media partners. (On the latter, see my article, “Selective WikiLeaks: The Untold Story of Abu Omar.”) Topics covered by the Aftenposten cables include, for instance, the relationship of Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban prior to 9/11, the European Union’s troubled “Galileo” satellite project, and Iranian efforts to import nuclear weapons-related technology. On the latter subject, see the Aftenposten article (in English) and related documents here.
It is also notable that the Aftenposten site includes a search engine permitting visitors to search the full database of published documents. (The search engine is located directly under the title “Ambassade-dokumentene.”) The remarkably primitive and poorly designed WikiLeaks cable site provides no such search function.
In mid-January, the German daily Die Welt announced that courtesy of Aftenposten, it too had obtained unlimited access to the diplomatic cables. The German paper has been publishing a series of exclusive articles based upon them. Like Aftenposten, Die Welt criticized WikiLeaks and its authorized “media partners” for having created a “cartel.” Moreover, it explicitly took its distance from the anti-American spin being given to the cables by the cartel members.
Die Welt correspondent Michael Borgstede noted that Julian Assange’s stated intention was “to expose the United States and to show that the words of the super power did not match its deeds.” But after reading what he describes as thousands of pages of the cables, Borgstede concluded, “the truth is completely different: there is virtually never any contradiction between the official rhetoric of the United States and its now revealed diplomatic efforts.”
The scoops thus far published by Die Welt include an article on a 2009 shipment of some 311 computers destined for the Kalaye Electric Company: an Iranian firm that is explicitly targeted by U.N. Security Council sanctions on account of its ties to the Iranian nuclear program. The manufacturer of the computers is the German engineering giant Siemens. Following the intervention of British and American authorities, the shipment was apparently blocked in the port of Dubai.
It would appear, however, that the cartel-breakers are now beginning to act like cartel-makers. When the present author requested access to cables linked to the Iranian computer shipment story, he was informed by Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen of Aftenposten that the paper had “decided not to share any cables with the exception of newspapers belonging to the Schibsted Media Group.” The Schibsted Media Group is the parent company of Aftenposten.
Unfortunately, the response was a rather brazen falsehood. Die Welt is part of the Axel Springer group, one of Germany’s largest media companies. It has no connection to Schibsted. “I should have added ‘and other chosen media partners,’” Tone Tveøy Strøm-Gundersen replied when this was pointed out. In fact, Aftenposten has shared access to the cables with several other media. These include Denmark’s Politiken, Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet, the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, and the Flemish paper De Standaard.
It remains to be seen whether Aftenposten will deign to allow any American journalists to view the American cables. Maybe what one needs now, to paraphrase editor-in-chief Hilde Haugsgjerd, is “a leak of the leak of the leak.”