Moroccan version of Wikileaks sows confusion – and doubts
An anonymous hacker using the Twitter handle @chris_coleman24 has been leaking classified Moroccan diplomatic documents. But the authenticity of the incriminating documents has raised questions over the credibility of the leaks.
Over the past few months, a Moroccan version of Wikileaks has sowed disorder with a steady, almost daily, drip of leaked diplomatic documents appearing online – including classified papers, bank transfers and confidential correspondence, which have exposed the Kingdom of Morocco’s diplomatic dealings with the international community.
Since early October, a hacker who uses the Twitter handle @chris_coleman24 has used social media sites and other platforms to post hundreds of incriminating documents, some of which date back several years and involve members of the Moroccan royal family, ministers (especially Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar), diplomats, private companies, as well as Morocco’s intelligence agency, the DGED (Direction générale des études et de la documentation).
Corruption within the close circle of family members and advisors to Moroccan King Mohammed VI is one of the worst-kept secrets in this North African nation. But while whispers of royal corruption abound, public discussion of the allegations are sensitive in a country that has been ruled by the reigning Alaouite dynasty since the 15th century.
US cables published by Wikileaks have detailed “the appalling greed” of those close to King Mohammed VI and the high-level corruption in elite Moroccan circles.
The latest leaks, however, purportedly reveal the inner workings of the makhzen, a term that literally means “royal coffer” in Arabic, but in Morocco is loosely used to refer to the royal court.
The problem with the latest leaks, though, is the overwhelming focus on a deserted, disputed territory controlled by Morocco, leading to questions about the intended target of the leaks – and ultimately, their authenticity.
Western Sahara at the heart of the matter
The spotlight on Western Sahara, a territory over which Morocco has been in conflict with the separatist Polisario Front group, have raised questions over whether the leaks stem from political activism or personal revenge.
The Polisario Front has been waging a guerrilla war against Moroccan authorities for the independence of the former Spanish colony since the 1975 Spanish withdrawal.
A number of leaked Moroccan diplomatic cables reveal the tensions between Moroccan authorities and the UN, particularly with Christopher Ross, the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy for Western Sahara. Some of the documents also disclose tensions between Rabat and Washington.
The most incendiary revelations, however, suggest that Moroccan officials bribed diplomats and foreign journalists, including French reporters, to ensure they support Rabat’s position on the Western Sahara issue.
The targeted focus on one of Morocco’s most thorny foreign policy issues forced Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Mbarka Bouaida to accuse "pro-Polisario elements" – in complicity with neighbouring Algeria – of being behind the revelations, making Bouaida the only Moroccan official to comment on the leaks.
The deafening silence of Moroccan officials on the leaks has raised questions over Rabat’s failure to deny their authenticity.
The government’s refusal to either confirm or deny the authenticity of the documents may be aimed at ensuring the “Marocleaks” – as they have come to be called – do not get undue media attention. But there’s little doubt that the Moroccan secret services are actively trying to identify whoever is behind @chris_coleman24 and silence him or her if possible.
In the meantime though, the hackers are leading the dance.
A blend of ‘authentic and manipulated documents’
In late October, respected French journalist Jean-Marc Manach, who specialises in online privacy and security issues, conducted a thorough investigation into the leaks.
In an article published on the French media analysis site, arretsurimages.net, Manach concluded that "the analysis of hundreds of documents posted by the mysterious whistleblower…reveals that this operation, according to the best rules of the genre, skillfully blends authentic and manipulated documents.”
Manach therefore dismisses comparisons between the whistleblowers behind Wikileaks and Marocleaks. When the French reporter asked the unidentified hacker, via social media, about the reasons for his leaks, the answer he received was, in effect, to destabilize Morocco. "It's also why we distinguish between a whistleblower and a spook,” explained Manach. “The first wants to get to the truth. The second is, if not on duty, at least prepared to manipulate the truth and instill doubt,” concluded Manach.
In terms of instilling doubt, @chris_coleman24 appears to have accomplished his mission – even if none of the startling information he has revealed has succeeded in destabilising Morocco’s powerful makhzen.
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