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WikiLeaks and distortions for the sake of sensation

One problem WikiLeaks has run afoul of in dealing with dribbling cables out through the media is distortion. Some of its partners have things other then pure enlightenment in mind when they write stories on newly released cables. Like fame and fortune.

And because WikiLeaks is difficult to search directly onsite, readers are left with either taking what's printed in the media for granted. Or spending a lot of time sifting through originals, with little guidance available, at WikiLeaks.

I'm assuming, perhaps wrongly, that this was never Julian Assange's intent.

The point of WikiLeaks is, obviously, to shed light. Not to provide more of the same old horse s---.

Which is what a recent story run by its new media partner, The Telegraph, has engaged in: The publication of a carefully distorted piece, based on WikiLeaks cables, to cast the same type of impression one has been regularly handed by the US government during the war on terror.

A few samples from it are presented along with fallout as other newspapers and blogs rushed to play catch-up:

After sourcing nuclear materials and recruiting rogue scientists to build "dirty" bombs, Al Qaeda is on the brink of producing radioactive weapons, as disclosed by leaked diplomatic documents.

The Vancouver Sun reports that, "a leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a 'nuclear 9/11.' Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing 'workable and efficient' biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West."

The Daily Telegraph of London obtained thousands of classified American cables originating from Wikileaks that detailed the global struggle to halt the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the world.

According to the Vancouver Sun, "at a Nato meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaeda was plotting a program of 'dirty radioactive IEDS,' makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan." -- Dallas blog

And, even more energizing:

Airport security staff are being urged to examine "children's articles" after US intelligence concluded that terrorists were plotting to fill them with explosive chemicals.

The threat was disclosed at a meeting in Spain between Janet Napolitano, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, and European ministers in January 2010.

Ministers said that planes remained the "priority target" for al-Qaeda.

According to the cable, Thomas de Maizière, the German interior minister, described "recent threat information that noted the possibility of terrorists using children's articles to introduce bombs into airplanes" -- The Telegraph, in "WikiLeaks: terrorists plan to use teddy bear bombs to blow up planes"

The obvious purpose of The Telegraph's release of WikiLeaks material is sensationalism -- the creation of the feeling that menace lurks everywhere and that al Qaeda is hatching new plots.

However, the newspaper's website is a thicket of misleading information and come-ons to cables, promises and links that lead virtually nowhere except to the newspaper's own material.

For example, after serially reading through WikiLeaks itself, consulting a searchable database tied to keywords for WikiLeaks here, and using the Telegraph's own portal purported to search its cables, I could find nothing on teddy bear bomb plots.

This does not mean it doesn't exist. Maybe I couldn't find what was very obvious. And al Qaeda seems to have such a high problem with unreliability, quality of human capital and achievement these days, any feverish dream could be possible, I guess.

However, the result does smell really bad when taken within the context of everything else I could find.

If one has a sensational story to be pushed around the world there is a responsibility to make it as transparent as possible. Not just the opposite.

And it was my understanding that this was one of the things WikiLeaks was ostensibly about: The presentation of material in such a way that it could not be twisted and distorted by the usual players.

Which is what has transpired with the Telegraph's use of WikiLeaks.

The Telegraph's coverage aggressively promotes the impression of terror capabilities when there is no actual proof they exist.

It scavenges what is often old news, or just wrong information, in an effort devoted to weaving trivia, random appearances of radioactive scrap -- waste of an industrialized world, unexplained events and outright hoaxes on nuclear smuggling into a tapestry that indicates growing danger.

After using Cablesearch and WikiLeaks itself, DD could find very little really interesting postings on nuclear smuggling.

Most of it is rumors and crap, revealing only that the US government is bent on chasing around everything that might have to do with nuclear smuggling worldwide ... even rumors and crap.

There is a report from Kabul on alleged materials, "2 bottles of uranium," seized from a native. Later, it turns out to be gun-cleaning fluid, if I'm reading the thicket of cables correctly.

There is an unreliable hoaxer in Bujumbura in 2007, peddling red mercury and other materials, a scam that's been around as long as people have been worried about nuclear proliferation.

It reads, in part:

DATE 2007-06-27 16:04:00
ORIGIN Embassy Bujumbura

The XXXXXXXXXXXX men indicated that there were 14 items found in the concrete bunker. All items have marking and labels indicating that they were produced in Belgium. The subjects were unable to spell the names of some of the items properly and did not know what the other items were, thus some of the spelling of the items are phonetic.
-Uranium, 30kg, powder form. The men did not know if the uranium was weapon-usable fissile material, highly enriched uranium, what the percentage of uranium-235 isotope or other isotopes were, or how its content was determined. -1 booklet describing the Uranium -Brommerck, 2,500g -Red Brommerk, 12kg -Red mercury, 6kg -Cocaine, liquid form

¶4. (C/NF) When asked what they intended to do with the items the subjects stated that they brought a vial of the Brommerck, to Bujumbura from the Congo. They planned on selling it to get enough money to transport the Uranium to Bujumbura upon securing a buyer. They also stated that they had not approached anyone else with this information. Their motive for approaching the American Embassy was that they did not want these items to fall into the wrong hands, specifically mentioning that they did not want Muslims to possess the items. When asked why they did not notify the Congolese authorities the subjects stated that they were afraid that the corrupt Congolese police would steal the items and sell it themselves. When asked why they approached the American Embassy in Bujumbura instead of the embassy or Consulate in the Congo they stated that the embassy in Bujumbura is much closer.

¶5. (C/NF) The ARSO asked the men to provide detailed photos of the items and their labels, especially the Uranium. The subjects agreed to provide photographs and additional information on all items at a later date. They indicated that they could produce a sample of the brommerck, upon request. The ARSO declined, but noticed that the subjects were pushing for a sale of the sample of brommerck,. The ARSO has the contact information of XXXXXXXXXXXX and is currently waiting to receive further photographic information from the subjects.

¶6. (C/NF) ARSO assessment: This case fits the profile of typical scams involving nuclear smuggling originating from the eastern DRC. ARSO considers this case to be a non-credible case of nuclear smuggling.

"Terrorist acquisition of WMD was the next topic of major concern. Although there was a limited assessed capability for al-Qaeda and other groups to acquire WMD, the intent was clearly present, and there were ongoing credible reports of attempts to recruit the needed expertise. A 'dirty' RADIOLOGICAL IED program was assessed to be under active consideration by al-Qaeda," reads a cable here.

It's one paragraph of very old rumint, trash, from a 2009 cable.

The Telegraph has used it to help resurrect an al Qaeda dirty bomb plot, one that probably doesn't exist except on the terrorist organization's wish lists.

There is a Czech incident in 2007 where depleted uranium is passed off as highly enriched uranium, apparently part of another criminal business scam.

And there are "bricks" of something in the ocean off the Philippines.

These and others, taken together without a newspaper purposely futzing them up for purposes of titillation, don't describe anything but a random world. One where the US is obsessed with any information about potentials for nuclear terrorism.

In one sense, this is reassuring.

In another, it reveals a criminal underground of unreliable people out to make a quick buck who also know it.

WikiLeaks had to partner with newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian for maximum impact. As these relationships fell apart, one was made with The Telegraph.

Subsequently, all three newspapers, as well as Der Spiegel, have monetized WikiLeaks.

In the process, particularly with the Telegraph's recent news stories, the result has been to make things less clear than they were previously, to create smoke where there is no fire.

Blogger ph2dot1 was onto this story on February 2, in an eminently vulgar manner, declaring:

"[What] a total load of codswallop!"

And he didn't even have to go to the trouble of using Cablesearch.

This post was originally published at Dick Destiny blog, which everyone should read.

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