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Gareth Porter: Media selecting cables that support Iran war narrative

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And on Sunday, WikiLeaks released more leaks–apparently about 251,000 cables that came from US embassies around the world back home to the State Department, and it all shows up on a network called SIPRNet. This is–in 2004, apparently, Condoleezza Rice decided it would be easier to coordinate activities of all the different branches of the military and the State Department if people could see these cables. So, apparently, if you take these secrecy ratings, Der Spiegel reports that from confidential down, 2.3 million people had access to the SIPR Network. If you add secret, you get 850,000 people can see secret on down. Only 6 percent, according to Der Spiegel, 6 percent of these WikiLeaks are actually secret, so the vast majority more than 2 million people had access to. So, according to Der Spiegel, “[t]he leak of the diplomatic cables is an accident that was bound to happen sooner or later.” Well, it happened, and apparently some people are embarrassed. But according to The Jerusalem Post, this, what was released, ain’t so bad for Israel. Here’s a quote from The Jerusalem Post: “For years now, top Israeli political and defense leaders have warned the world that a nuclear Iran is not just a threat to the Jewish state but is a threat to the entire region. ‘If only we could say publicly what we hear behind closed doors,’ Israeli officials would comment, following off-record talks they held with Arab leaders throughout the Middle East. Well, now they can. According to one cable published by WikiLeaks on Sunday, Saudi King Abdullah ‘frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program’ and to cut off the head of the snake.” Jerusalem Post goes on to say, “From an Israeli perspective, therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that WikiLeaks may have done the country a service on Sunday.” So who benefits from WikiLeaks? How truthful do we think it all is? What does it reveal, particularly about the issue of Iran, which seems to be the main focus in the first release of documents? And now joining us to help us make sense of his initial take, initial look at the documents is Gareth Porter. He’s an investigative journalist and a historian. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: Alright. So Jerusalem Post say, hey, this ain’t so bad; we were told this might be bad for Israeli national security, but it’s actually looking pretty good. It’s the–so far the release of the documents seem to beef up the case the Israelis were trying to make, that Iran’s a regional threat, not just something Israel’s concerned about. So what’s your take on all of this?

PORTER: [snip] the Israelis are making. It is certainly news that you have high-level Saudi officials saying what is attributed to them in these cables, that is to say, approving and in fact urging the United States to attack Iran.

JAY: Now, just to be specific, the cable says the senior members of the royal family are urging that. But in another cable, which talks about that, it specifically says that high officials in the Saudi ministry actually gave opposite advice and said the Americans should moderate their approach.

PORTER: Right, and I think this is the point that really any journalists covering this story really need to be very careful of. We know that there are very strong differences of view within Arab regimes, and including the Saudi regime, about this issue, that there have been for a long time different factions within Saudi Arabia, one of which wants to take a very aggressive approach toward Iran, and has even favored a military approach by the United States, and this goes back, really, to the 1990s. And the other faction in the Saudi regime has in fact called for very much the opposite, an accommodating approach, which also goes back to the 1990s, when the Saudis in fact did improve their own relationship with Iran dramatically and really warmed relations up. So, I mean, there’s nothing really new about this theme, but it’s certainly interesting that you have for the first time identified some of the specific people in the Saudi royal family who are calling for this very aggressive approach to it.

JAY: The way the cables are written, they almost come out like reinforcing propaganda points we heard during the Bush-Cheney years and afterwards–the whole region is concerned about the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. And perhaps they are, but there’s never any other context. For example, the traditional rivalries between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, the serious rivalry of Saudi Arabia and Iran over what’s happening in Iraq, where Saudi Arabia is not so happy about having a Shia government on the border and an oil competitor, and not the least of which, if there’s a war against Iran and you’re sitting on a lot of oil, you could wind up benefiting.

PORTER: Well, I think part of this is a reflection of the fact that news media do tend to focus on those stories that tend to fit the bias of the political system in the United States and Europe with regard to Iran, the bias that suggests that indeed they are a threat, that you should assume the worst about Iranian intentions. I think there is a tendency on the part of The New York Times, The Guardian, other–

JAY: And Der Spiegel.

PORTER: —Der Spiegel, to look at those articles or those documents that do tend to reinforce that, and in fact to pick out from those documents those lines that do tend to reinforce it.

JAY: Yeah. For example, Der Spiegel had 50 reporters going over this for weeks. We’ve only seen a tiny handful of selected pieces. We don’t know what’s in the thousands of other cables that may have mitigated this.

PORTER: Right. And I would just say that from my own brief perusal, just [snip] and I looked at US talks with other countries trying to talk them into supporting a tough US policy toward Iran, and then meetings between American officials and Israeli officials about this over the last five years or so, and what strikes me is that there’s a lot of material in these cables that indicates that (A) the United States has been exploiting the Israeli threat of attack against Iran for its diplomatic purposes, a point which I don’t think the Israelis and the Americans are particularly eager for the rest of the world to understand, that this was a rather blatant exploitation of [inaudible]

JAY: What’s an example of that?

PORTER: Well, I mean, in February 2010, in the case of both Italians and Turks, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US officials went and talked to them. In one case it was Bob Gates, secretary of defense. In the other case it was a high-ranking official of the State Department. And in both cases they told officials, high officials of those foreign ministries, that if they didn’t help the United States get really tough sanctions through the United Nations Security Council, that Israel might well have to attack Iran, and that would be very bad for their interests. So, I mean, this was clearly an exploitation of something that the United States clearly did not want to happen and had no reason to believe was going to happen in any time frame in the immediate future, and they were, you know, basically lying to these governments for diplomatic purposes to try to reinforce their determination to support the kind of sanctions that the US and Israel want.

JAY: Now, the State Department knew what was coming out today. They were–in fact, many of the governments involved with WikiLeaks actually gave them the documents ahead of time so they could tell WikiLeaks if there was anything, any individual lives that might be compromised. Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and The New York Times have had the documents for several weeks. One must assume the State Department also in some way had access to that, which means they knew what was going to come out today and they knew how much of this would actually help the war drums about Iran. Then they issue a statement yesterday pleading with WikiLeaks not to release. But when you look at it, actually, on the whole, there’s some embarrassment about Putin and Berlusconi or something–there’s nothing so damaging there. It actually makes you wonder if the State Department didn’t want to actually add credibility to the release.

PORTER: [snip] I would have said that in any case, regardless of the specifics of what comes out, the State Department and other branches of the US executive would be very concerned about the implications with regard to sensitive conversations between the United States and other countries, to the extent that it is anticipated that another WikiLeaks could occur. I think that’s probably a genuine fear, just as I’m sure that the US military was really very upset about the prospect of, you know, knowing that in the future, whether it’s in the same country, whether it’s in Afghanistan or in other countries where they want to make war, they face the prospect of more releases of information that could compromise their secrecy. I mean, I think that there is genuine concern about that. But I take your point that there is undoubtedly some satisfaction that some of the points that they would like to see get out–.

JAY: Well, you can–as you can see from the quote in the The Jerusalem Post, they’re practically cheering.

PORTER: I don’t know if they actually knew which ones The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian would choose to put out, but they probably could make some educated guesses, you’re right.

JAY: And as I say, Jerusalem Post was rather happy with the whole thing, which tells us something. In the next segment of the interview, let’s go through some of your more detailed reading of some of the cables and what you learned from it. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Gareth Porter on WikiLeaks’ latest leak.

End of Transcript

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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.