Thursday, September 15, 2011

When state secrets leak… Don’t blame Wikileaks

Friday, September 16, 2011
As we focus attention on the Wikileaks report, trying very hard to find fault, apportion blame, or use the contents of the report to deepen the political divide between the NDC and the NPP, we must remember that the overarching negative impact of the report on the country is huge.
We must not simply dismiss the contents of the US Embassy’s cables as part of the exercise of the freedom of speech by those loose talkers in a democracy. In most cases, those who made those contacts with the US Embassy to make those comments would have been questioned thoroughly by the appropriate state institutions to ascertain the extent to which they exposed the country’s interests to harm.

The US won’t tolerate that (mis)conduct by any of its citizens. I remember very well the diplomatic spat between Ghana under JJ Rawlings’ PNDC in 1986 and the Reagan administration as a result of the liaison and exchange of “information” between Michael Soussoudis and his US Embassy girlfriend that ended up in Soussoudis’ being lured to the US and arrested on charges of endangering the US’ interests.
Indeed, Soussoudis’ girlfriend (one Sharon) had been accused of passing on to Soussoudis some secrets concerning the operations of the US’ intelligence network in Ghana, which they deemed as exposing their own operations and agents (the Ghanaian internal collaborators) to harm. This case attracted international attention and is recorded in our history as a sordid one, following the arrest of three operatives of the BNI at the time who were put before the George Agyekum Public Tribunal in a trial that was held at the same time that Soussoudis’ trial in the US had begun. This “war of nerves” damaged Ghana-US relations to an extent.
Eventually, matters got settled when the US authorities agreed to discontinue the trial of Soussoudis and their Ghanaian counterparts reciprocated under an agreement reached to save a nasty situation from worsening. Under the terms of that agreement, the three Ghanaian intelligence officers were divested of their citizenship, swapped with Soussoudis, and deported to the US (which had accepted to accommodate them as US citizens). As Soussoudis returned home, these three ex-BNI officials found themselves in the US. The matter might later have taken a different turn for those ex-Ghanaians’ citizenship to be restored to them and allowed back into the country unconditionally under Kufuor; but the implications aren’t lost on some of us.
We know the seriousness of “loose talk” by those walking the corridors of power or those who have access to “secrets” not to be released anyhow for anybody’s consumption. That is why Ghanaians should be wary of how much at all was revealed by those loose talkers, which the Wikileaks report didn’t disclose in its entirety. Again, we don’t know how our foreign missions are conducting affairs; but we are already worried that much water might have passed under the bridge. If those in Ghana can boldly rush to sing like drunk parrots to the US Embassy officials, what prevents those in foreign lands from doing worse for some material gains? I have no proof but can talk aloud about what perturbs me.
The responsibility for protecting our national interests rests with us all. If we can’t do so and rush to reveal our frustrations, speculations, and hunches to foreign embassy staff, we shouldn’t be surprised when the information leaked to them is processed and later used against us.
The question is: Why did all these officials choose to contact the US embassy? Or did they go to others that Wikileaks is yet to reveal? If we should infer from the contents of these reports to conclude that those making those utterances did so to curry favour, we might wonder whether such people are still fit to be in positions of trust. Or whether they should even be walking about freely.
Of all those indulging in loose talk, none hurt the country’s image more than those NDC functionaries, now in responsible positions in the government. Hannah Tetteh Kpodah, Baba Jamal, Mahama Ayariga, Fiifi Kwetey, and all others involved in this Wikileaks scandal deserve condemnation for all that has been reported about them.
Those among them who were appointed to office as Ministers or public officials in other capacities at the time they made those utterances reported by Wikileaks should be held liable for violating the oaths of secrecy and office that they swore to uphold. Hannah Tetteh Kpodah, for instance, must have sworn the Oath of a Minister, important parts of which say: “… and that I will not directly or indirectly reveal any matters that shall come to my knowledge in the discharge of my duties and committed to my secrecy as Minister of State (Deputy Minister).”
So also is the Oath of Secrecy, which says in part: “…that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall come to my knowledge in the discharge of my official duties except as may be required for the discharge of my official duties or as may be specially permitted by law.”
These oaths are designed to curtail loose talk and irresponsible behaviour. They are to be given maximum respect and compliance as a safeguard against espionage (anything that endangers the security of the country). Undermining the integrity of any arm of government is one such danger, which all those in government who opened their mouths too wide caused.
Although some have rushed to dismiss the cables as mere gossip or figments of people’s imagination circulating as rumours that the US Embassy picked up, we must not fail to question the implications or to ponder the attitude of those whose names cropped up as the informants.
All the personalities whose names have been mentioned in the US Embassy’s diplomatic cables have in one way or the other contributed to a major problem that will for long cast our country in a bad light.
So far, Kwasi Pratt has come across as one particular individual whose “loose talk” has done much damage at several levels. As a journalist, Pratt must be deemed as knowing much and should be expected to attract all manner of contacts from both local and foreign entities interested in tapping into his knowledge about developments in the country. He went for the bait and let loose his mouth. He can’t turn round to attempt undoing the harm that he has done to those about whom he made the disparaging comments, whether he intentionally “grassed on” them or not.
As for the exchanges between Ben Ephson and Gabby Otchere-Darko, the least said about it the better. Whether the NPP attempted bribing Ephson or did succeed in greasing his palm with $20,000 to skew a poll result in its favour or not is moot. After all, it didn’t win the 2008 elections about which the poll was conducted. No amount of doctoring of figures could change the party’s fate. But the report confirms the rot that has reduced Ghanaian politics and journalism to their lowest ebbs in contemporary times. How Gabby redeems from the depths of the gutter his personal image and that of the Danquah Institute of which he is the Executive Director is his own cup of tea.
Francis Poku has rushed to deny his role in the episodes on which the US Embassy wrote those diplomatic cables. Of course, he has every right to do so if for nothing at all, to prove that he knows how to carry himself as a security-conscious person who would not open his mouth anyhow about “state secrets.” But happenings under the Kufuor government run counter to Poku’s string of denials. Can Poku explain to us how his outfit related to the CIA Station Officer in Ghana at the time? Nothing ever remains a secret forever.  
Now that Wikileaks has alerted Ghanaians to the shady dealings of their public office holders and journalists parading as defenders of public morality but functioning to the detriment of political figures and the society generally, they should be informed enough to guard against loose talk. Anything that has the potential to harm anybody in authority’s interests or expose our country to undermining by foreigners must be cautiously handled.
To suggest that all these Ghanaians who have been exposed as informants to the US Embassy deserve stiff punishment is an understatement. Under an effective leadership, such characters would have resigned their positions or be booted out of office and subjected to stern grilling to serve as a deterrent to would-be glib-of-tongue traitors; but under the current “Fa ma Nyame” administration of President Mills, nothing of the sort is happening. Nor do we expect it to happen, even when some of the revelations have harmed President Mills himself beyond measure. He is waiting for the Holy Ghost fire to stir him into action.
As long as this kind of laxity persists in our national life, nothing will work well for us. There are too many loopholes through which many national interests leak into the drain. Is this how a country in search of the means to make progress should position itself?

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