An email sent to Hillary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state shows that government officials tried to pressure the Washington Post into suppressing details about a WikiLeaks cable that revealed information about the US cooperating with Turkey to share intelligence about Kurdish militants.
The message, released by the State Department on Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by VICE News, was forwarded to Clinton on September 9, 2011. Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff at the State Department, passed along an email that had originally been sent to 14 State Department officials, including Mills.
"Despite our efforts, WaPo will proceed with its story on US-Turkey intel cooperation against PKK," the message said, referring to the Kurdistan Workers' Party. "They will not make redactions we requested so expect the Wikileaks cables to be published in full."
The message said other Clinton advisers had been briefed on the situation, and that the State Department was "working with EUR and NEA press, we're deploying guidance below, including our standing Wikileaks guidance." It ended by thanking others in the State Department for their work, and the line, "wish I had better news to share."
Turkey has recently started bombing PKK targets in Syria, triggering the worst violence the NATO member country has seen in two decades. The group, which says it is fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy, is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States, but has been one of the most effective forces fighting against the so-called Islamic State.
Including the cache of messages released on Wednesday, more than 19,500 pages of emails sent by Clinton during her time at the State Department have now been made public. The correspondence suggests a relentless focus by Clinton's team on WikiLeaks, and concern about the potential fallout from the disclosures.
"The administration's response seems quite weak to me," Clinton aide Mark Penn wrote to Clinton in an email dated November 28, 2010. He recommended offering "a bounty for the capture of those responsible," and "aggressively dealing with the problem directly."
The next day, Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal sent an email laying out a strategy for how the WikiLeaks documents "can be cast as reflecting a positive light on the US government and diplomacy."
The WikiLeaks disclosures are "the opposite of the Pentagon Papers," Blumenthal argued. "On the contrary, the Wikileaks papers prove that the U.S. government today has been telling the truth about the threats we face in the world," he said. "Our government is telling the truth." Blumenthal also claimed that the documents "are testimony to the diligence, intelligence and clear mindedness of our diplomats."
'Despite our efforts, WaPo will proceed with its story on US-Turkey intel cooperation against PKK.'
"Let's hear it for the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service!" the article began. Cohen saw the quarter-million cables that had been released by WikiLeaks at that point as proof that US diplomats were "thoughtful, well-informed and dedicated servants of the American interest."
In fact, Cohen wrote, his "longstanding admiration for America's conscientious diplomats" had actually "been redoubled."
"Not bad — thx," Clinton wrote back to Blumenthal the next morning.
On December 21, 2010, Clinton acknowledged receiving a message from Mills originally sent by Ambassador Daniel Baer. Titled "more wikithink," Baer said he "took a quick stab at stringing together some of the pieces of the 'moral argument.'"
"Some of those who are cheering [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange mistakenly believe that his action constitutes a speech act in a debate about good governance—that his action constitutes a kind of critique, a demand for a particular kind of better behavior," Baer wrote. "But it doesn't constitute a critique or a demand — this is not an exchange with another interlocutor about a particular position or action."
Baer called leak "an attempt to harm the medium itself —confidential communication among governments— rather than a rejection of the messages."
The latest Clinton email dump showed that when it came to WikiLeaks, the current Democratic presidential nominee was receiving advice from all corners of the State Department. A January 19, 2011 email from Lissa Muscatine, then the State Department's chief speechwriter, noted that Clinton was "under pressure to say something… about Wikileaks."
Muscatine told Clinton that she had recently authored a blog post based on an interview with Ben Bagdikian, the former national editor at the Washington Post who fought to publish the Pentagon Papers. She said her post compared WikiLeaks to the publication of the secret report on the Vietnam war. "I can send it if your [sic] interested, though it may not tell you anything you don't already know). Hope all is well. xoxo"
On January 24, 2011, Blumenthal sent an email that briefed Clinton on the release of the so-called "Palestine Papers" by Al Jazeera and The Guardian. The Clinton adviser described the documents as a "more significant cache than Wikileaks." Blumenthal also offered advice on how "the Democrats should respond to the Republican response to the SOTU (State of the Union)."
"The Republicans have designated Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Weird) to give their formal televised response, but La Pasionaria of the Tea Party, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Fringe) is also giving a response at the same time," he wrote. "Therefore, the Democratic talking points should be to characterize the President's SOTU as the program to meet the challenges the nation is facing while characterizing the GOP response as politically divisive and confused."
The Clinton emails demonstrate numerous attempts to undo what WikiLeaks had already done, but there are also occasional attempts at forward thinking. A note sent to Clinton by Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross on April 13, 2011 warned that "Between now and January 2013, technology will continue to play a very disruptive role in the conduct of our foreign policy….for both good and ill." Ross pointed to four 2009 prognostications he says he made, "which many thought a little crazy, proved true."
He said that social media would enable "almost leaderless political movements," and that "internet-enabled cell phones would proliferate and become a central feature of global economic development." He also said that authoritarian regimes would respond to increased internet access "by tightening restrictions on free expression and heightening surveillance for the purpose of squelching dissent."
Ross then offered a list of new predictions, including the notion that that technology-based breakthroughs in finance and education would create "many new billionaires in the developing world," and that cyber-warfare would become more commonplace.
"The measure of the Department's success in the face of this change will be the creativity, speed and flexibility of our responses," he wrote. "As Clarence Darrow said, 'It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.'"
Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: __@JustinRohrlich
Michael Kalenderian__ contributed to this report