Heather Hodges, the former US Ambassador to Ecuador, who was made persona non grata and expelled from Ecuador over information revealed via Wikileaks visited the UK campus yesterday. It might have been an opportunity to engage with many of the security issues that are going on right now, and to join the national debate on intelligence, leaks and the nature of whistleblowing that President Obama has said he welcomes.
Instead, her talk consisted of platitudes and half-truths. More remarkably for someone at the center of events relating to Wikileaks, she seemed unfamiliar–or chose not to mention–facts pertaining to events she was caught up in. For example, in speaking of the risk to sources who speak to the State department, she failed to mention that when the Guardian, NYT and Le Monde were initially publishing the cables that personal names were redacted. It was only after a Guardian journalist, who had fallen out with Julian Assange, published the secret pass phrase to the cables (therefore making them available in full to anyone) that they were released in unredacted form by Wikileaks. She also personally insulted Assange and noted how difficult it must be for the tiny Ecuadorian embassy in London to host him, since it has no guest bedrooms “and only one bathroom.” Assange, she said, wanders out on to the balcony from time to time “to make speeches.”
She also claimed that PVT Manning was not a whistleblower (and that Assange is not a journalist). She did not give the grounds for this assertion, nor mention that the USG defines whistleblowing as the reporting of abuse, fraud and waste (emphasis added). She further stated that there was “no way” that Manning could have known what he was passing on to Wikileaks because he could not have read that many cables. She did not mention the so-called “Collateral Murder” video, nor mention in any way Manning’s motivations as published in the well-known chatlogs that he had with FBI informer and former hacker Adrian Lamo. She left her audience, which appeared to include many students, with the impression that Manning irresponsibly acted without motivation or knowledge of the material he leaked.
Finally, she repeatedly stated that the leak of the State department cables had not caused any damage: “no wars had broken out” and no-one was killed. While she did lose her position as Ambassador to Ecuador she was still employed by State, and she finished her career as an adviser to a military commander in Europe, who was a personal friend of hers. She did not mention any of the information from Manning’s trial, nor reconcile these claims of little damage with Manning’s 35-year sentence.
Perhaps her most telling comment was her bewilderment about why Ecuador (or anybody else) should hate America. Everybody she met in Ecuador, she claimed, liked Americans and didn’t understand Correa’s position (who she nevertheless characterized as a “popular and populist” president who was elected twice with majorities). When she left after being expelled, she was put on first in business class, and everybody greeted her as they came on the plane (she’d requested to be put on last but there was a mix-up, she stated). “We’re very interested in working with Ecuador,” she stated “even if they are not interested in working with us.” She added, “We don’t do coups.” Her comments brought to mind the similar bewilderment of Present Bush after 9/11. While she did not say “they hate us for our freedoms” her lack of political acumen as a senior member of the diplomatic corps was disappointing.
Overall this was a big missed opportunity to learn more about the region and US foreign relations, as well as the role of whistleblowers in a democracy.