On the 19th of June, Wikileaks partnered with a Lebanese Newspaper, Al-Akhbar, to start releasing over 100,000 Saudi cables, giving us a glimpse into how the Saudi Diplomacy works and supporting what many of us have known for years: Saudi Arabia buys Media silence.
What is interesting about these leaks is what they haven't revealed (or at least what the available translations have not revealed). The Saudi Foreign Ministry confirmed that the leaks are related to a recent cyber-attack, insisting though that some documents were “clearly fabricated”.
Reacting to Iran
A 2012 cable refers to Iran having received “flirting American messages” and that the US seemed to have no objections to a “peaceful Iranian nuclear program so long as it had guarantees, possibly Russian ones” - this is very interesting not only because the present Iranian situation proves the Saudi concern, but because it also sends us back to that conversation between President Obama and then President Medvedev “Let me get reelected first, then I’ll have a better chance of making something happen. (..) On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him [Vladimir Puin] to give me space,”.
On another cable of the same year, the Saudis refer to Iran having bombed South Sudanese forces during a stand-off over Heglig (an oil-rich area) – on April 20, 2012, South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, announced the withdrawal of his troops from the area "The Republic of South Sudan announces that the SPLA (Southern army) troops have been ordered to withdraw from Panthou-Heglig,", so basically Iran helped Sudan settle the stand-off as a way to cement its influence in the region. This event may have prompted Saudi Arabia to approach President Bashir and try to turn him, but as the Sudanese Minutes showed us, Sudan is doing Political Taqiyya: it works with the Saudis while still reporting to Iran.
[NB: Wikileaks also exposed a message allegedly written by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to the Saudi King informing him about a Sudanese and Egyptian plot to assassinate President Kiir and a couple of his aides, in 2011 – another piece of info that puts those Minutes into perspective]
The Iranian growing influence in the Middle East also triggered Saudi Arabia's plan to change the revolutionary regime citing the “frustration of the Iranian citizens and his strong desire for regime change”, having the cables revealed suggestions of ways to “publicly expose Iran's social grievances through the internet, social media, like Facebook and Twitter” and to “host opposition figures overseas, coordinate with them and encourage them to use galleries to show pictures of torture carried by the Iranian regime against the people” - an ambitious endeavour that may not work given the Iranians temperament. A different game must be played.
Another 2012 cable accuses the United Arab Emirates of helping Russia and Iran to circumvent international sanctions – this is curious, especially when at the time we received information that Saudi Arabia was also involved in it (but then again, not all officials are aware of every single move made by the country they serve).
“Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.” – Wikileaks
The Saudis have two strategies when it comes to the media: containment and neutralisation.
Neutralisation: to buy “individual journalists and media institutions (..) silence and co-operation”. These assets are not expected to defend or praise the Saudi kingdom, they are simply to refrain from criticising its policies and from giving it a bad image.
Containment: propaganda effort. The bought journalists and media organisations are expected to praise Saudi Arabia and lead attacks on any party that dares to air/publish criticism of the kingdom.
“One of the ways 'neutralisation' and 'containment' are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an 'asset' in the Kingdom's propaganda strategy.” -- idem
When you read this section, it is curious that only Arab media is detailed; having the Western media been cast into obscurity even after Wikileaks stated that the kingdom “buys loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between” - is Wikileaks trying to encourage an investigation on western individual journalists and media networks? Because such an investigation would be in the public interest, given the recent multiple breaches of the Journalist Code of Ethics carried out by CNN, BBC, the Telegraph, the New York Times, and others.
Looking at these leaks we have to wonder what was the true purpose of releasing information that lacked capital relevance given the present conjuncture. For instance, the cables didn't expose:
- the Saudi funding of ISIS and other Islamic Jihadist groups
- the Saudi orchestration of such groups to shape foreign policy in the ME and beyond
- the Saudi double-game played with Iran
- the Saudi western media and academic assets
- the Saudi destabilisation of Africa as a way to destroy competition
“We do not censor our news, but from time to time we may remove or significantly delay the publication of some identifying details from original documents to protect life and limb of innocent people.” [This is highly debatable when Wikileaks has put the lives of security agents working on the field at risk; but perhaps these are not considered “innocent people”?]
Did the organisation cherry-picked information or should we suspect of the anonymous source?
Saudi Arabia claimed to have suffered a cyber-attack, however, given the absence of relevant information we should ask ourselves whether we are in the midst of a disinformation war – since what has been translated so far doesn't significantly hurt neither the Saudis nor the Iranians.
These leaks were truly à la carte: bait and bleed?