The release of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables revealing backroom war negotiations – where truth sometimes becomes collateral damage – could become fodder for Al Qaeda propagandists, analysts warn.
Take for instance the blunt admission contained in the thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables that states Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh concealed U.S. missile strikes against a local branch of Al Qaeda.
“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh is quoted as telling U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, then the American commander in the Middle East, in a January meeting.
The cable notes that Saleh’s comment prompted Yemen’s deputy prime minister to light-heartedly add that he had just ‘lied’ to parliament, telling them that Yemeni forces had carried out the strike.
The detailed cable goes on to quote Saleh’s concerns about drugs and weapons smuggled from nearby Djibouti – then joking that he is not concerned about whiskey being brought into the Islamic republic, “provided it’s good whiskey.”
It is a poorly kept secret that the U.S. has been heavily involved in Yemeni security since Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed credit for last year’s failed Christmas Day plot to down a Detroit-bound flight, among other attacks.
But some warn that Saleh’s candid admission in a country where foreign intervention is despised will be a boon for groups like AQAP.
“President Saleh’s comments will be translated and used over and over again by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a recruiting and propaganda tool,” says Princeton scholar and noted Yemen analyst Gregory Johnsen.
“His statements regarding lying about U.S. air strikes and ‘whiskey’ fit seamlessly into a narrative that AQAP has been peddling in Yemen for years.”
Sunday’s disclosure of nearly a quarter-million cables from website whistle-blower WikiLeaks touches on some of the most sensitive and pressing national security concerns, including U.S. fears about the rise of Islamic militant organizations in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.
But the cables also provide bizarre details of candid conversations that were sure to make foreign leaders squirm Sunday night and dread the continued release this week of thousands of more cables.
Saudi King Abdullah is reported to have suggested during a March 19 meeting with U.S. counterterrorism advisor John Brennan that surgically implanted chips could help monitor released Guantanamo detainees.
” ‘I’ve just thought of something,’ the King added, and proposed implanting detainees with an electronic chip containing information about them and allowing their movements to be tracked with Bluetooth,” the cable states.
” ‘This was done with horses and falcons,’ the King said,” according to the released document.
To which, Brennan reportedly replied, “horses don’t have good lawyers.”
The issue of closing Guantanamo appears often in the cables, although the anticipated disclosure of documents concerning Canadian detainee Omar Khadr was not released Sunday.
Negotiating placement for the Guantanamo detainees became a diplomatic version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” with State Department officials promising lucrative financial and political payoffs to personal meetings with President Barack Obama if allied countries would take a detainee off their hands.
One cable notes that accepting Guantanamo prisoners would be a “low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”