Ambassador breaks WikiLeaks silence

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US Ambassador Barry White has been complaining about Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten for months and finally went public with his criticism of Norway’s largest daily on Monday, in Aftenposten itself. He thinks the paper’s use of WikiLeaks documents is inappropriate.

US Ambassador Barry White PHOTO: US Embassy

White has been unhappy over coverage in Aftenposten and a vast array of other Norwegian media about everything from the embassy’s controversial surveillance program to its pending move to a residential neighborhood north of downtown.

It’s Aftenposten’s access to all 251,287 documents initially supplied to the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks that has upset White most of all. Aftenposten, in a long series of stories since late last year, has been able to report on a wide range of topics the US government would rather be kept secret. Much of it involves Norway, some of it doesn’t, but there’s no doubt the revelations emanating from WikiLeaks material are highly embarrassing to the Americans indeed.

‘Dealing in stolen property’
On Monday, Aftenposten reported that White was accusing it of nothing less than dealing in stolen property. The WikiLeaks documents, most of it classified embassy cables sent to the US State Department in Washington DC, were never meant to be made public.

Instead, Aftenposten has been able to disclose the poor opinions US Embassy officials have had of Norwegian government officials, how the US pressured Norway into going along with a missile defense plan for Europe, US criticism of probes into suspected terrorism activity in Norway is going and, most recently, how Norway and the US have been on different sides in a split with NATO. Over the weekend, Aftenposten also reported how NATO members including both the US and Norway have tried to restrict information on the real numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

White clearly has not been pleased by these revelations, although he generously claimed that he wouldn’t try to halt Aftenposten’s ongoing coverage. His chances of doing so would probably be zero at best, and he, too, claimed he supports a free press. Just not the reporting of information that he views as the property of the US government.

Inappropriate access
He claimed in an interview with Aftenposten that he thinks the news organization acquired its access to the WikiLeaks material inappropriately. He also criticized Aftenposten for championing openness, yet refusing to itself reveal the source of its WikiLeaks access. When told that Aftenposten needs to protect its sources, White countered by saying that then the US should be allowed to protect its classified documents as well. He sidestepped a question on whether he would have said the same about the New York Times’ famous publication of the Pentagon Papers, which ultimately helped lead to the end of the US war in Vietnam. Since Aftenposten has access to the embassy cables, White said he won’t go so far as to say Aftenposten can’t publish them. But that doesn’t mean he approves of how the cables were acquired.

White also used the interview to try to smooth over US relations with Norway, which clearly have been rocky at times given disclosures over the past few months. He said Norwegian officials have been very “understanding” about the revelations emerging from the WikiLeaks documents. He claimed officials at Norway’s foreign ministry are “professional,” and know how diplomacy works.

Criticized the Chinese
Meanwhile, White expounded on various other topics. He called the Palestinians’ elected Hamas a “terrorist organization” and said the US wasn’t using Norway’s contact with Hamas as a channel itself. He once again tried to downplay the surveillance scandal and indicated the US wouldn’t be allowing Norwegian police to question Norwegians involved in the surveillance any time soon.

And in a stab at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo and its government in Beijing, White claimed their attempts to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony — because they were angry the prize was awarded to one of their leading dissidents — were inappropriate. He said it was unreasonable that China should try to punish Norway for a decision made by the Nobel Committee. He said the Chinese reaction was narrow-minded and not in their own best interests.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The undersigned formerly ran Aftenposten’s now-defunct English news service but is currently no longer connected to the newspaper or its website.)

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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