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France scrambles to avoid its own WikiLeaks fiasco

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-03

France's foreign ministry is tightening security to avoid further scandal after the Wikileaks revelations. Paris' ambassador to Tehran stresses that French diplomacy ‘will not change’, nor will the diplomats' ‘psychological portraits’.

AFP - With an embassy network second only to the United States, France stressed Thursday it had taken steps to avoid its own WikiLeaks fiasco as diplomats said frank pen portraits highlighted by the leaks would continue.

The French foreign ministry said it had beefed up security to avoid ending up in the same embarrassing predicament as the US State Department after WikiLeaks began releasing a quarter million confidential US diplomatic cables.

"In order to preserve documents' confidentiality, we are in a permanent process of improving security," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
The lessons that Paris has learned from the whistleblower site's staggered dumping of the slew of diplomatic cables into the public domain are about security rather than changing message content, diplomatic sources said.
"We often paint psychological portraits of the people we meet, including those in power and in the opposition in the country in question, and that will not change," said a French diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.
From Russia's "alpha dog" Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to France's "thin-skinned and authoritarian" President Nicolas Sarkozy, the often unflattering assessments of world leaders are among the leaked cables' most striking revelations.
But Francois Nicoullaud, Paris' ambassador to Tehran from 2001 to 2005, insisted that French diplomacy would "continue to work in the same way."
"The Americans work like us. It's normal for a diplomat to describe a foreign head of state as they see them, with their family environment, their faults and what could influence them."
"Everything that can help you save time in understanding the person you're talking to is welcome."
Philippe Moreau-Defarges of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) think-tank said that political leaders are perfectly aware that frank, subjective portraits are made of them.
"If Nicolas Sarkozy or any head of state is upset about the way he is portrayed, he's not very smart. Every head of state know that people say bad things about them as soon as their back is turned," said Moreau-Defarges.
Some experts blame the scale of the WikiLeaks "cablegate" on the removal of barriers between US government agencies in a bid to speed up intelligence sharing in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Others blame a lack of security measures that could have prevented access to the mass of cables or flagged up suspicious behaviour by an individual.
No one has yet been charged with leaking the cables to WikiLeaks, but suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old disgruntled army intelligence officer who had access to secret documents while working in Baghdad.
A former French diplomat who also requested anonymity pointed out that the leaked cables are hardly scoops and none of them are in the top secret category.
"The computer system at the Quai d'Orsay (French foreign ministry) is pretty secure," because diplomats "only have access to cables in their specific domains," he said.
France has firmly condemned the leaks, which also quoted unflattering remarks about Iran and Venezuela by Sarkozy's top diplomatic adviser.
"Relations between countries imply a minimum amount of trust. What trust can you have when you suggest something and then it ends up in the public domain?" Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.
But "let's not fantasise," she added, diplomacy is not just about swapping such "little secrets.

Date created : 2010-12-02