By Alexander Reed Kelly
Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.
It is the practice of those in American government to pay lip service to the ideals of liberty and democracy. But anyone who, since the release of the Snowden documents in June, has read about the abuses of power committed by officials of the National Security Agency and other leaders in public and private sectors has grounds to believe the public interest does not guide the wielding of state power.
Another leak appearing earlier this month on YouTube bolsters this view. It featured an audio recording of a phone call in which the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and the American ambassador in Kiev criticized the EU and seemed to plot to exploit the social chaos ongoing in Ukraine to oust that country’s democratically elected government.
“So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the U.N. help glue it. And, you know, fuck the EU,” State Department official Victoria Nuland said to Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.
The mainstream media focused mainly on Nuland’s use of the expletive. But the two were also heard laying out a strategy for turning the unrest in their favor.
“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Nuland said about Ukrainian politician Vitali Klitschko.
Pyatt responded, “Yeah. I mean, I guess, you think—in terms of him not going into the government, just let him sort of stay out and do his political homework and stuff. I’m just thinking, in terms of sort of the process moving ahead, we want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be [Ukrainian politician Oleh] Tyahnybok and his guys. And, you know, I’m sure that’s part of what [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovych is calculating on all of this. I kind of—”
And Nuland replied, “I think—I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy—you know, what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week. You know, I just think Klitsch going in, he’s going to be at that level working for [Ukrainian politican Arseniy] Yatsenyuk. It’s just not going to work.”
To understand what this and other parts of the exchange meant, “Democracy Now!” turned to Stephen Cohen, an NYU and Princeton scholar whom Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer described as “a longtime brave voice among academics interpreting events” in the post-Soviet part of the globe.
In part, Cohen explained, “Notice the intimacy with which the Americans deal with the two leading so-called ‘moderate’—and these are big shots, they both want to be president—Ukrainian opposition. Klitschko is Vitali Klitschko, a 6-foot-8 former—he resigned his title two months ago to enter politics—heavyweight champion of the world. His residence has been Ukraine—I mean, Germany. He pays taxes in Germany. He’s a project of [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel. He represents German interests. I’m sure he’s also faithful to Ukraine, but he’s got a problem. Yatsenyuk ... is a representative of the Fatherland Party. It’s a big party in parliament. But Washington likes him a lot. They think he’ll be our man.”
And that’s how our taxpayer-funded leaders think. President Obama can claim to value democracy and insist the government is responsible for the violence wracking Ukraine—as he did in an address this week—while his less-conspicuous officials arrange things outside of public view. “Shame,” Cohen says to that behavior. And hypocrisy. “He is saying that the responsibility for restoring peace is on the Ukrainian government, and it should withdraw its security forces from the streets. But let me ask you, if in Washington people throwing Molotov cocktails are marching on Congress—and these people are headed for the Ukrainian Congress—if these people have barricaded entrance to the White House and are throwing rocks at the White House security guard, would President Obama withdraw his security forces? … This incites, these kinds of statements that Obama made. It rationalizes what the killers in the streets are doing. It gives them Western license, because he’s not saying to the people in the streets, ‘Stop this, stop shooting policemen, stop attacking government buildings, sit down and talk.’ ”
The source of the leaked exchange is not known. Some, including Cohen, have speculated that the Russian government could have the means to surreptitiously record or collect the conversation. If that’s the case, “the U.S. can hardly protest,” Cohen points out, “given the whole scandal with the NSA recording conversations.” But the issue goes beyond the ethics of spying. U.S. officials have once again been caught in the act of interfering with the government of a sovereign state. And when meddling is done secretly, whistle-blowing and spying—whoever the source is—is the only recourse the global public has to protect itself from predation. For shining a light into a dark place of official trespass, we honor the unknown leaker of the State Department tape as our Truthdigger of the Week.