Holy WikiLeaks, Batman!
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 9:31 PM
The biggest losers in the WikiLeaks debacle? American diplomacy in general and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular - even though a chunk of the controversial cable traffic was from the George W. Bush days.
The biggest winner? Batman and sidekick Robin, who seem to have edged out Yogi Bear and Boo Boo as the preferred diplomatic description of less-than-equal partners.
One 2008 cable, among many that frosted KGB thug-turned-Russian President Vladimir Putin, described him as an "alpha dog" who really ran the country and cast Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as the less assertive "Robin to Putin's Batman."
Another 2008 cable, appropriately titled "More From the Rumor Mill," talks about the "reflexively loyal" Medvedev and notes that Putin "has been master of the political surprise over the past year and consistently bamboozled the chattering class and pundits as to his long-term intentions."
Our Canadian cousins were upset by a cable reporting that they "always carry a chip on their shoulder" because they are "condemned to always play 'Robin' to the U.S. 'Batman.' "
But there are a lot of countries and leaders around the world playing these roles. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is Robin to Germany's Batgirl, Angela Merkel. Bolivia's Evo Morales is Robin to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Every leader in Southeast Asia is Robin to China's Hu Jintao.
And there's got to be a strong supporting cast. Let's see, former British prime minister Gordon Brown is perfect for Alfred, the loyal butler. The evil Joker, everyone's favorite villain, is naturally Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Catwoman could have been Condoleezza Rice, but she's made history on the cover of Der Spiegel as Xena, the warrior princess, so Sarkozy spouse Carla Bruni-Sarkozy could work. And the Penguin? Maybe Moammar Gaddafi. The buxom Ukrainian blonde who's his "nurse" could double as a henchwoman.
Browse at your own risk
Meanwhile, even though most everyone on Earth has seen these documents, federal agencies are warning employees that they are still secret and cannot be viewed on government computers.
The Commerce Department's Monday e-mail "Guidance regarding WikiLeaks" told all employees and contractors that "recent reports indicate that a number of government documents" were posted by Julian Assange's operation and the documents "may or may not contain . . . classified information." (Sure seems as though they do.)
This "information is NOT authorized for downloading, viewing, printing, processing, copying or transmitting" on your government "computers, laptops, blackberries or other communications devices," the e-mail says. You might create a "potential security incident."
"There has been a rumor that the information is no longer classified" maybe because it's gone viral, bigger than the Beatles. "This is NOT true," the Commerce Computer Incident Response Team (DOC-CIRT) says, citing a dictate to that effect from President Obama a year ago - Executive Order 13526. "Unauthorized disclosure" doesn't mean a document is legally declassified.
So don't download or even read any of the stuff on your computer. "Accessing the WikiLeaks documents will lead to sanitization of your PC to remove any potentially classified information from the system and result in possible data loss," the e-mail warns. (Listen, you will not like it when they take the giant Brillo pad to your hard drive.)
The Education Department, citing the same executive order, said Tuesday in an e-mail that no one from the agency should look at the documents on their government computers. "To ensure this, the WikiLeaks site is being blocked by the Department," the e-mail said.
Looking at classified information on your unclassified computer "is considered a 'spillage,' " the message said, which is a "computer security event that must be properly remediated." If you've already looked at the documents, call the IT guys and "they will work with you to remediate your device." Nothing like teamwork.
Meanwhile, our colleagues Keith Richburg in Beijing and Leila Fadel in Baghdad write that "authoritarian governments and tightly controlled media in China and across the Arab Middle East have suppressed virtually all mention of the documents, avoiding the public backlash that could result from such candid portrayals of their leaders' views."
A Cheney travel advisory
An Agence France-Presse wire out of Lagos, Nigeria, reports that anti-corruption authorities there plan to file charges against Dick Cheney over a bribery scandal involving Halliburton, the company Cheney used to head.
Now, before Cheney-bashers get too excited, it should be noted that these allegations have been kicking around for some time. In addition, we're now headed into the Nigerian election season - voting is set for April 9.
Finally, it's not as if the former vice president, suffering from some serious heart problems, was planning to take the family on a cruise up the Niger Delta anytime soon. The odds of his showing up in Africa - except maybe for a hunting trip - are zero.
The AFP story said charges would be filed against Cheney along with former and current Halliburton officials in an investigation of bribery allegations involving the construction of a liquefied-natural-gas plant.
The secretarial pool
Good news for our old buddy Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales. Seems 23 former Bush Cabinet members are working to raise money to help him pay legal bills arising from the investigation into his role in the allegedly politically motivated firing of some U.S. attorneys.
The 23 former Cabinet heads - including Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Hank Paulson and Michael Chertoff - said in an e-mail, obtained by Politico, that the Justice Department had concluded its investigation "concluding no charges were justified." So Gonzales has "been vindicated and deserves our help," they said.
The group is looking for gifts up to $5,000 for the Alberto Gonzales Legal Expense Trust.
The signatories also include former secretaries Tom Ridge, John Snow and Tommy Thompson but not former attorney general John Ashcroft or secretary of state Colin Powell.