While everyone was getting their kecks twisted about last week's key news item – “Woman Who Was Clearly Very Old and in Poor Health Dies” – Julian Assange was having his thunder stolen.
Down at the Ecuadorean Embassy, the WikiLeaks founder and self-proclaimed data-messiah was going full David Koresh. Via a satellite link-up, he was presenting his new thing, The Kissinger Files. He did so while stood against a spotty blue background and wearing a patterned white shirt that made him look like he was auditioning for the world's most underwhelming Happy Mondays video.
The silver-haired drone wasted no time in quoting that old saw about, “He who controls the past controls the present. And he who controls the present controls the future.” It doesn't matter what day of the week it is or what subject he's carping on about, Assange is always straight in there with his leftover undergrad sociology notes.
Julian was unveiling all the decommissioned telegrams sent to the US State Department during the era when Henry Kissinger was pulling the strings – approximately 1970 to '76.
Sadly, unlike 2010's Cablegate, they aren't actually new. Technically, the've been declassified by the federal government since 2005. But they were at least previously difficult to get at. You definitely had to look for them. Now, thanks to the creepy Australian fugitive, they are just there: fully searchable within the WikiLeaks archive.
As with Cablegate, where The Guardian "pioneered crowdsourcing", one of the reasons we haven't had much juice from them is that the sheer heft of reading involved in the Kissinger Files instantly throws up a barrier against analysis. There are 1.7 million telegrams. (Even the vast Cablegate payload only weighed in at 500,000.) And they cover simply everything. Some are requests for extra funds to cover cocktail parties. Some are discussions of appropriate dimensions for new armoured cars. Some are personal requests from Kissinger to kill Chilean president Salvador Allende (actually, I'm not entirely sure this one was written down). The only thing that they have in common is that they were all sent via the State Department at some point.
So how do you analyse this Death Star of data? The obvious answer is, "Not at all, just give up." And that is entirely correct; there is no methodical way to attack it. Unless you're the RAND Corporation, you're almost as likely to come out with a reasoned analysis of the situation by tapping swear words into the WikiLeaks search box. So that was exactly what I set out to do: parse the data by looking for its saltiest points. After all, swearing implies people being emotive or argumentative. And that, surely, is as close as we're going to get to a heat trail.
The best place to start was with a swear word that is still basically top three, yet, like the Soviet Union, has undergone its own process of detente and glasnost over the past 20 years, to the point where it's considered "not actually too bad" and "something Ant or Dec might get away with once".
And lo, Assange's search engine instantly coughed up a half-dozen shits. The first one of consequence was this:
Yes, an "Ambassador's Call". It sounds very fancy, but in reality it's just when an ambassador says nasty things behind your back, which is really very mundane and happens to me all the time.
Instantly, we're pitched up against the evil mug of Kissinger's USA, a place where you can get away with being incredibly rude about an entire sub-continent. We'd all love to have a job where we could write memos finishing with lines like, “It would seem no great thing to chew him up and spit him out in bits.” Sadly, you just can't if you're an estate agent. So all power to Schneider here for letting rip. I imagine when he wrote this, he was on his sixth G 'n' T and the mosquitoes had kept him up again long into the night.
Note that the ambassador has also made a clear distinction between "thinking men" like PN Dhar (former PM Indira Gandhi's private secretary) and "bullshit artists", like DP Dhar (the long-standing Indian ambassador to the USSR). That is the fine line you have to walk as a US diplomat: invite the wrong Dhar to your party and you'll be washing fragments of canapé out of your dinner jacket for weeks.
Encouraged by the shit, it was time to go looking for flange within the mouldering memos:
A direct hit. On July the 3rd, 1973, the Moscow embassy was told by the State Department that it should seek out some of the new vault doors it was after. The doors themselves should have "eight inch flange". A lot of flange to us nowadays, true. But remember: this was the 1970s, flange was far more readily available then.
Having made decent progress, it was time to dig a little deeper into the big bag of swear:
But that wily, mass-murdering coyote Kissinger was keeping the cuntflaps cables to himself. Without success, it was time to head back to the more temperate waters of "penis". Technically not actually a swear, of course – unless you say it properly.
This is basically why people train for years to become diplomats. It'd take ages to unpack the deluge of cultural misunderstanding this metaphor breeds. I'm still not sure I understand. Is this a well-known Korean saying? Or is there just a big cultural issue with drag kings who are only rumbled while expertly greasing a rudely-carved cucumber into the lower quarters of their brides? Is it even a metaphor at all?
The discussions that enclose the penis are between a Korean ambassador and State Department representatives. The date puts it a month after a failed assassination attempt on President Park, South Korea's semi-benevolent dictator, at the Korean National Theatre. His would-be assassin was a Japanese-born North Korea sympathiser – hence the frantic ironing-out of always-fractious relations with Japan. Shooting from a balcony, the assassin had missed the General, but a stray bullet had struck Park's wife. As Mrs Park was carried out of the theatre to the hospital where she died later that day, a defiant General Park decided to continue with his speech. The ghastly fucking cunt.
From penis, it was only logical to jump towards the close friend of "penis", the much-cooler penis substitute, beloved of pornography and Squarepusher:
This illustrates just what an avalanche of meaningless bureaucratic confetti the Kissinger Cables can often be. Here we have a US State Department memo re-summarising a Newsweek article about legendarily bonkers dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, via facts less hidden from the public domain, and more always in the public domain. What exactly did key intelligence source Newsweek have to say about the Zairean big man?
Mobutu loved titling himself almost as much as Equatorial Guinea's equally bonkers Francisco Nguema, AKA “The Unique Miracle, Grand Master of Education, Science and Culture” and even more than bonkers "King Of Scotland", Idi Amin. Sadly, nowadays they just don't make bonkers African dictators like they did in the 70s. Back then, Mobutu was Ziggy, Amin was Bolan and Nguema was Johnny Thunders. Whatever Robert Mugabe's been up to lately, he's still basically Luke Kook compared to those guys.
But whither "asshole"? Surely the most proudly North American of all swears, so singularly USA that it would be the putdown on the lips of Uncle Sam himself.
Sure enough, asshole arrived direct from Canada.
"Engels" is Raoul Engels, a journalist with a show on Canadian news network, CBC. Mel Hurtig was a Canadian bookstore chain owner, later more famous as the publisher of The Canadian Encyclopedia, who had a deeply unsuccessful political career in which he tried to argue against free trade and for Canadian ownership of Canadian businesses. This was a telegram from Toronto agents to national State Department HQ in Ottawa, reporting how Hurtig was leaning on a local editor to get favourable coverage of a big speech he'd made – not exactly a story Assange could punt to Indymedia as HurtigSpeechNewspaperGate.
So, having peered through our dirty lens into The Great Satan USA's interests around the world, from their abandonment of Indian engagement to their constant struggles to placate the Korean peninsula, via door-renewal in Moscow, reading Newsweek articles in Africa and the ongoing mission to hide the cuntflaps dossier, I think it's safe to say we've simultaneously learned and laughed, which has always been what WikiLeaks is about, right?
Julian, your time spent as a prisoner of conscience in that embassy has not been in vain, even if your brain has turned to blancmange and you've started dressing like an Ariel ad.
Follow Gav on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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