The Iranian Diaspora Comes of Age

Photo by Roya Soleimani: Rudi Bakhtiar interviewing Christiane Amanpour


Over three decades after their mass migration began from their ancestral homeland, Iranian Americans have achieved success in their new home in many fields. From media to high-tech entrepreneurship, from the senior ranks of the federal government to academia, people of Iranian origin have truly “arrived” in America. Now, they also want to give back. Having done well, now they also yearn to do good.This has been the main theme of the “Passing the Torch” events, the flagship annual gatherings of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 by a group of Iranian American professionals and leaders.

This year’s event took place in Washington, D.C., at the spacious Lisner Auditorium of George Washington University, in close proximity to the White House, the State Department, and other national and global institutions.

More than 1,000 Iranian Americans gathered at this year’s PAAIA event to pay homage to the latest round of honorees: men and women of distinction selected not just for their individual success, but also for their ethic of service and significant contributions to human betterment. The event’s cohosts were former broadcast journalist Rudi Bakhtiar and comedian/actor Maz Jobrani, who succeeded in keeping the audience enthused throughout the three-hour program, which was punctuated with cheers and standing ovations for every honoree.

Christiane Amanpour, host of ABC’s This Week and former chief international correspondent for CNN, was the most widely known of the honorees. She advised attendees, especially the younger generation, to pursue their dreams with passion and commitment. “Failure,” she said, “is a key ingredient of success.” “I have never tried to hide my Iranian heritage,” she added, expressing pride in her roots in one of the world’s most important civilizations. She called her own and others’ experience of career success in America “bittersweet” — thankful for being given the chance to succeed in America, but never ceasing to wonder what it would have been like placing such levels of energy and talent at the service of Iran’s advancement.

Anousheh Ansari was another “star” honoree: a highly successful telecommunications entrepreneur, who came to America in her late teens in the 1980s, she achieved international fame for becoming the world’s first female space tourist in 2006. Her 11-day excursion into space was a life-altering experience: “Looking at our little planet from space, teary-eyed,” she said, “makes you think how much all of humanity have in common, and how small the things are that divide us.” Since that time, alongside her ongoing business pursuits, Ansari has traveled the world promoting space exploration as a conduit to world peace.

Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House of Representatives — and thus the most powerful woman in U.S. political history — who now serves as House minority leader, joined the proceedings through a recorded video clip. She applauded the achievements of America’s Iranian community, and introduced two of the honorees, noting their contributions to their adopted home and to human betterment: Firooz Naderi and Nazie Eftekhari.

Firooz Naderi is the director for solar system exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In this role, he oversees JPL’s robotic space missions. He played a key role in NASA’s missions to Mars throughout the 2000s and has received numerous distinguished service medals for his seminal scientific and administrative contributions to the American people and humankind. Asked how he reconciles the two sides of his identity, he replied, “I am American and Iranian.” He emphasized his deep love of America, and his deep attachment to his country of birth, which represents a great culture and civilization. Naderi’s commitment to Iran can be seen in his civic activism: as a founding board member and vice chair of PAAIA, and as a trustee of Encyclopedia Iranica, he has led in efforts to educate non-Iranians and second-generation emigrés about the richness of Iranian society and culture.

Nazie Eftekhari, whose friendship with Pelosi helped make possible the former House speaker’s video message, is a successful healthcare billing entrepreneur with a passion for community work and human rights. She created the Foundation for the Children of Iran some two decades ago to bring children from Iran with intractable diseases to the United States for treatment. A trustee of the University of Minnesota Medical School, she recounted the challenges (especially in getting visas) and the rewards of providing world-class medical services to those Iranian children who lack the means to pay for the exorbitant medical bills in the United States. A gifted orator in both English and Farsi, Eftekhari also emphasized the vibrancy of the Iranian American community, which is comprised of the brightest, best educated, and most ambitious members of Iranian society.

Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at Tufts University and a policy advisor on the Muslim world and South and West Asia to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, extolled the virtues of combining academic work in the social sciences with providing counsel to policymakers, so they have a better understanding of the world’s complexities as they make decisions. He related an episode involving the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whom he also advised, that showed the statesman and diplomat’s belief in the value of pluralism and inclusiveness in the American foreign policy establishment.

Faryar Shirzad and Ramin Asgard spoke about the significance of government service by the Iranian American community as a key barometer of their full integration into American life. Shirzad, now a senior executive at an investment bank, was formerly the deputy national security adviser for economic affairs and, prior to that, assistant secretary of commerce for export administration in the George W. Bush administration. He extolled the virtues of public service by underscoring a key attribute of American culture, which has made his own ascent possible: “It matters far more how well you can do your job than where you are from,” he said. Contrasting government service with work in the private sector, he said that in the former, your clients are the American people, which means much greater responsibility.

Asgard, the newly appointed director of Voice of America’s Persian Service, addressed the career and personal gratification that government work brings. Having served as a political adviser to then CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus and as a senior Foreign Service officer with postings on multiple continents, he related the sense of surprise among many non-Americans, including foreign officials, when they discover a person of Iranian heritage serving in a senior capacity in the U.S. government.

Asgard’s observation is especially poignant since the United States and Iran have now endured more than three decades without diplomatic relations. Asgard extolled the ethic of service as an indispensable ingredient of integrating fully into the fabric of American life. In an article for Tehran Bureau by Amir Bagherpour — an Iranian American West Point graduate who is now a research director at VOA’s Persian Service — titled “The Iranian Diaspora in America: 30 Years in the Making,” Asgard is quoted as saying, “As Iranian Americans, we need one of our own in Congress to really get recognized, but that requires better organization.”

Other honorees included Harvard University geneticist Pardis Sabeti and Nariman Farvardin, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, who inspired the audience with their personal stories of creativity, achievement, and challenges overcome.***

Iran & the International Community in the 21st century

A UCLA BURKLE Center conference

Held at the James West Alumni Center
Friday, May 13, 2011

By: Touraj Rahimi,
Key Lectures (see also: www.keylectures.com)

Panel 1: Bringing States Back In; Kal Raustiala, Moderator

Charles Kupchan, Georgetown University & Council on Foreign Relations
Kupchan discussed when and under what circumstances rivalries to come to an end. This talk was based on his book When Enemies Become Friends in which he looked at historical examples of such relationships in the international arena.  Examples include the United States and Great Britain; Germany and France; Argentina and Brazil.

To engage or not engage, that is the question. Kupchan doesn’t see this as a serious debate. Not engaging, according to him, is not a policy. How to engage should be the question. Long-term rivalries come to an end when parties sit together to discuss issues. A less desirable policy is fir one party to destroy the other and build a new government in its place. In case of Iran, coercion may be necessary but only in conjunction with negotiations.

Another point mentioned was the fact that the nature of a regime is not a good indication of whether one should engage in negotiations. How regimes behave domestically is not a good indication of how it will behave internationally. Kupchan strongly believes that despotic regimes eventually collapse as a result of their engagement in international political arena.

Kupchan’s view of Arab Spring was somewhat muted. Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and  Bahrain are all in turmoil and on the edge. “Will the emergence of democratic movements in the Middle East, in the near term, create a more stable environment?” asks Kupchan. His answer is “absolutely not.” But he defines stability as the one in which “the United Sates will find it easier to do business in the Middle East!” His solution is a top-down incremental change instead of a grass-roots revolution from below. Give his definition of stability, his solution makes sense.

With regards to Iran, “the ball is decisively in Iran’s court,” he says. All proposals to stop Uranium enrichment have been rejected by the Iranian government. The “clock is now ticking” for Iran to make a counter offer. The current US government is “as good as it gets,” according Kupchan, meaning it’s the best hope Iran has for reasonable negotiations. “This is an opportunity to engage the United States that may never come along again,” concludes Kupchan.

If negotiations fail, Kupchan sees only two options: either Iran goes nuclear or it is bombed by the US before it does. These are extremely unattractive options.

Bruce Jentleson, Duke University

The case of Libya in 2003 and dismantling of its nuclear program was discussed by Jentleson as an example of what can happen with Iran.”Lessons of Libya,” according to Jentleson, proves that engagement was a short-term success (Libya gave up its WMD) but counter-productive in the long-term.

Looking at the current situation in Libya, having WMD seems like a form of insurance policy against military intervention by the US and its allies. Non-proliferation enforcement is difficult under such circumstance. The second point raised by Jentleson is that the policy achieved its goals. The goal was not to bring democracy to Libya but to eliminate its nuclear program and its terrorist activities. “Business opportunities for American companies” was a side-benefit of these negations which always seems to be the case! This limited success can be a model for Iran as well. For diplomacy to work, Jentleson points out three main characteristics of diplomacy:

Proportionality between the kinds of policy instruments one uses (sanctions, for example) and objectives of the policy (giving up WMD). In this respect, sanctions can never bring about regime change. Reciprocity: There should be give-and-take on both sides. Credibility: consequences for noncooperation have to be made clear but without the constant threat of use of force.

One important point raised by Jentleson was that the elites of the society – business, bureaucratic, scientific and military – can operate in two modes: “transmission valves” or “circuit breakers.”  If the demands are against the interests of society’s key elites, the elite will act as circuit breakers. If concessions made by the “international community” are in line with the interest of the elite, the elite may accept and “transmit” them to the rest of society.  In case of Iran, the US needs to figure out who the elites are, what they demand and how to satisfy them.

American domestic politics is a problem when one needs to make tough international negotiations. Accusation of “soft on terrorism” is enough to discourage any meaningful diplomacy. It is therefore best to keep negotiations secret (like in the case of Libya) as much as possible.

Etel Solingen, UC Irvine

Solingen started off by talking about “rehabilitated” countries. “States are more likely to seek rehabilitation when they are lead by leaders and coalitions seeking integration in the global economy.” These regimes promise their citizens both economic growth and political stability. As such, they need to cooperate with the international community to achieve these goals. Examples include South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam and China.

States that resist are those that the ruling class rejects economic integration in favor of isolationism: North Korea, Iran, Burma and a few others. In case of Iran, Solingen points out that the government controls over 80% of the economy, the largest state-sector in the world. Such overwhelming control leaves the state with little desire to integrate its economy with the rest of the world. But without integration in the global economy, it is hard to have economic growth. Economic stagnation, in turn, undermines the regime’s political stability and its legitimacy. So goes Solingen’s logic.

Solingen’s simple world is, therefore, divided in to “internationalizers” and the “inward-looking” countries. She points out incentives (positive or negative) do not work well with the inward-lookers. In case of North Korea, positive incentives were used to strengthen the regimes while negative incentives were simply ignored by them.

Panel 2: Prospects for Change Inside Iran; Asli Bali, Moderator

Abbas Milani, Stanford University

Abbas Milani

Dr. Milani started off by saying that “the prospect of change strategically is very good but practically, in the short run, is going to be very difficult.”  He argues that the foundation of this regime is profoundly unstable, especially in the light of recent announcements by the government. A democratic revolution was hijacked by the clergy and turned it into an Islamic government and clerical despotism.

A new discourse has emerged over the past few weeks that claims Khamenei was not elected but “discovered” as “a gift of God” and no one can have oversight over him! In line with this, the office of the Presidency has been degraded; Ahmadinejad is only a step away from impeachment. Equally important is the fact that the office of the spiritual leader – Khamenei – has been degraded because of Ahmadinejad’s refusal to obey his commands.

Since 1840, Iran’s leaders, with one exception, have either been deposed or assassinated. This regime is no exception. Milani argues that the current opposition movement has its strength in three areas:  the women’s movement, education of its members and technologies it employs.

Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
While despots rule, Sadjadpour explains, the idea of change seems inconceivable. A year ago, pundits would have called Iran the most vulnerable country in the Middle East while no one would have predicted the Arab Spring revolutions. The three factors that brought down the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia were corruption, repression and economic stagnation. He points out that Iranian regime ranked highest in all three categories, but it has remained in power.

Sadjadpour suggests that it is not easy for despots who are US allies to do as they please; such despots are under scrutiny by the US, especially when actions are in the open. Not only they are concerned about the US public opinion, they are also concerned about their economic and military relationships with the US. Iran, on the other hand, is not subject to such scrutiny.

Second point raised by Sadjadpour is that supporters of the regime in Iran amount to around 30%, not exactly a majority. However, “what they lack in terms of breadth, they make up in the depth of their support”, he postulates. This explains their unpopular brutality, but also their staying power.

The third point was that the military in Egypt and Tunisia acted in favor of their countrymen. In Iran, however, the Revolutionary Guard is an integral part of the regime and its main supporter. In Egypt and Tunisia, the opposition had no clear leadership but they had a common goal of removing the dictator. In Iran, on the other hand, lack of leadership is combined with lack of common goals among the opposition.

The final point raised by Sadjadpour – the most important difference between Egypt/Tunisia and Iran – was about oil. Iran sits on one of the largest oil reserves. Every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil puts $600 million in Iran’s coffers annually. This is the “single most important variable in determining Iran’s future”.

Sadjadpour notes an up-side to the regime’s staying power, and that is that if they were to go today, the day after would be unstable. “It is not necessary a bad thing that the Islamic Republic hasn’t yet fallen. There is no clear plan yet for the day after.” The new “post-ideological youth” are “independent, moderate and nationalistic.” That’s a hopeful sign, he concludes.

Ali Alfoneh, American Enterprise Institute

Alfoneh is among the pessimists. “The future has already arrived,” he says, referring to the unprecedented militarization of Iranian government through the alliance between the clergy and the Revolutionary Guard as its protectors. The executive branch – office of the presidency – is now manned by ex-military officers, including Ahmadinejad and the majority of his cabinet. Over fifty percent of the members of the Parliament were formerly associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Alfoneh then expanded this to include to almost all government agencies, business leaders and university professors.

A. Milani, K. Sajadpour, A. Alfoneh

The economy is similarly under the control of the IRGC. Under the banner of “privatization,” Alfoneh explains, IRGC has taken ownership of the main industries. In this, IRGC has its own corporate interests. With such massive infiltration of IRGC in all aspects of Iranian society, Alfoneh sees a long process before we can see the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran transoms into a functioning democratic government.

Panel 3: Iran and the International Community; Deborah Avant, Moderator

Mahsa Rouhi, Harvard University

Mahsa Rouhi

Mahsa Rouhi had the difficult task of presenting the “Iranian state view” as opposed to US’ view that was prevalent throughout the morning session. She asked if the international community really wanted to engage Iran and the answer was no. She points out that there were a few attempts by the Iranian government to open dialogue with the Europeans and the Americans, but they were all ignored.

Rouhi talked in detail about the current nuclear standoff. It is common, she says, to suggest that Iran rejected all attempts by the West to stop the nuclear enrichment program. But no one talks about what those proposals actually were. Almost all proposals demanded Iran to stop its nuclear program before any further negotiation could take place. From the Iranian perspective, then, there has never been a genuine proposal on the table.

Rouhi tried to show Iran’s relationship with Germany as proof that Iran is willing to work through difficult issues with formerly un-supportive countries. Lastly, someone asked if we should just “accept” a nuclear Iran. Rouhi replied “yes”.

Jon Alterman, Center for Strategic and International Studies
The focus of Alterman’s talk was on similarities and differences between China and Iran. There is an important link between the two countries: oil. But it is a mistake, according to Alterman, to assume that the importance is mutual. China feels very vulnerable because it gets 60% of its oil from the Middle East without being a major influence in the region. Indeed, getting oil to China depends a great deal on the US protecting the sea routes.

China, in order to protect its interests, wants to have good relationships with every country in the Middle East, including Israel. It is in china’s interest that the region remains stable. As such, their policy toward Iran is very measured. But Iran’s view is different. China is considered a critical partner by the Iranian regime since they do not have many alternatives.

Dalia Dassa Kaye, RAND Corporation

Arab governments’ view of Iran is that of a threat whereas Arab street’s view of Iran is much more positive in that they see Iran’s standing up to the Imperial West as a sign of strength and a counterbalance to their own puppet regimes.

Post-Arab Spring’s view of Iran, according to Kaye, is more hostile to Iran than before. This is opposite to the view many held that the unrest in the Middle East would strengthen Iran’s position in the region. This said, she believes that Iran will try to benefit from the unrest by highlighting the hypocritical US’ stance in selectively supporting of some while ignoring other democratic aspirations (Libya vs. Bahrain, for example).

Despite their effort, Kaye has three reasons why Iran would not succeed in its effort to position itself as a major player in the region. First, Iran’s claim as the only power that can stand up to the west does not resonate any longer. Iranian model of government is not attractive to Arab popular movements. Second, Iran’s regional allies – Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria – are all in serious trouble. Although Iran and Egypt will try to normalize their relationship, this should not be read as Egypt falling under the Iran’s influence. Finally, Iran is facing its own domestic pressures which will prohibit it from exporting its ideology to the rest of the region.

Kaye’s policy proposal for the US government is that the US needs to do as much in supporting the Arab Spring as it should in isolating the Iranian government.

Panel 4: The US and Iran; Mike Shuster, Moderator

T. Pasri, P. Pillar, W. Clark, R. Gerecht

Trita Parsi, National Iranian American Council

Very early on, the Obama administration reached out to Iran for genuine dialogue, Parsi contends. Obama knew time was of essence and a deal needed to be worked out quickly before the political climate would change. The biggest blow came after Iran’s fraudulent election of 2009 and the massive human rights violations that followed. Once the sanctions were imposed, the diplomatic track ended and no deal was reached. Parsi sees it very unlikely that negotiations will start, at least not until the 2012 election is over.

Parsi ended with proclaiming that Washington will take Mujahidin off the terrorist list in preparation for possible covert operation against Iran, since Mujahidin would be an integral part of any possible military action within Iran.

Paul Pillar, Georgetown University

Pillar, a critique of Washington policies toward Iran, thinks Iran is too important of a player in the region to be left alone. As such, US must try to have a normal relationship with Iran. Both sides, he says, have “enormous baggage,” which will put many obstacles ahead. But such barriers need to be overcome. It is important for the US to recognize its own baggage, Pillar convincingly argues. With regards to the discourse in Washington, he sees two main discrepancies: demonization of Iran, leading to “absolutist reasoning” with no room for a reasonable cost-benefit analysis of policies; and the myopic focus on the nuclear issue “as if the number of centrifuges spinning in Natanz was a measure of the entire relationship!”

Sanctions are only one half of the equation, Pillar says. The other half – the rewards – have been missing in negotiations so far. Another point raised was that there can be safeguards to reassure Iran’s compliance with the final agreement but these have not been explored. Broadening the negotiations to include economic ties, for example, can lead to the desired agreement on the nuclear nonproliferation.

Pillar’s last point was significant: “the US must avoid doing things that only increase the Iranian incentive to make a decision to acquire nuclear weapons.” US “saber-rattling is counterproductive. If 90% of what we are saying to and about Iran is all about the pressure and hostilities, the other 10% becomes totally ineffective.”

Gen. Wesley K. Clark, UCLA Burkle Center, former Commander of NATO
The soft-spoken and measured Gen. Clark started the conversation by stating that the US needs to reduce its reliance of oil, reducing its vulnerability on supply interruptions and price hikes. Gen. Clark was concerned about diminishing power of the US, at least as it is perceived by some Asian countries. He emphasized that unless US can reduce its reliance on the Middles East oil, it cannot deal with Iran effectively.

There I, of course, the military option for Iran. But the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was effective, he said, in delaying the production of enriched uranium. Surprisingly, Gen. Clark does not see a solution for Iran other than energy independence.

Later during the Q&A, Gen. Clark asked a rhetorical question “why do we need a solution? What is it that we are solving?” His answer was astounding: “if Iran were to disappear – and I don’t mean for the Iranian-American community taking this personally – and sink beneath the waters of Persian Gulf, it would not affect the gross domestic product of the United Sates in any way. Iran has put itself in that position.” The only problem to be solved, according to Gen. Clark, is Iran’s access to nuclear weapons by delays rather than decisions. His solution is to delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology through cyber warfare – a new frontier in the US arsenal. Trita Parsi cautioned that with a tech-savy youth, Iran may become a match to the US might in that arena.

Reuel Gerecht, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

Reuel Gerecht

It is amusing to see neoconservative think-tanks tittle themselves with the words “democracy” and “peace” since they promote dictatorships and warlike policies. Gerecht saw nothing short of military assault working with Iran. He mockingly described Obama administration’s lack of foreign policy experience and, while making jokes about Obama, dismissed any effort by his administration to talk to Iran. His tone, though entertaining, was sarcastic throughout.

Touraj Rahimi is the founder and creative director of Olibro Design (http://www.olibro.com/), a website design and development company in Los Angeles. He attends many talks and lectures given by scholars, professors and activists in the area and around the country. He posts his notes and comments on his blog called Key Lectures  (www.keylectures.com) to popularize and promote those speakers and lectures he finds interesting and informative. He can be reached at Touraj@olibro.com.    **


By Touraj Rahimi:

Implications for National Security and US Foreign Policy:
January 04, 2011

Amy Zegart: (Amy Zegart is Associate Professor at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, a Fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, and a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in U.S. national security policy, U.S. intelligence, global studies, and public policy. In 2003 she was awarded Public Policy Professor of the Year for excellence in teaching.)

WikiLeaks documents are not facts. A cable or a memo is one person’s perspective with three goals in mind: advocate a position, report a situation and make the person reporting look smart. These documents obscure US foreign policy instead of shedding lights on it. Secrecy is not necessarily bad or evil. There should be a balance between secrecy to protect national security and transparency to promote the public interest. In fact, secrecy has been an important part of the US government since its inception. The big difference between WikiLeaks and the mainstream media is that the latter is owned by Americans and the former by an Australian who considers himself an anarchist. The national media are concerned about the implication of what gets reported whereas WikiLeaks’ interest is in exposing the United Sates. We do not yet know the potential harm of WikiLeaks. CIA has formed a task-force to assess the potential impact of the leak. Obama administration’s reaction maybe the most damaging aspect of the WikiLeaks episode. First, Assange’s prosecution under Espionage Act opens the door to prosecution of other journalists. Second, the intelligence community’s shift from pre-911 need-to-know to the post-911 need-to-share has been now jeopardized. The classification system is in a desperate state of repair.

Dalia Dassa Kaye: (Dalia Dassa Kaye is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. From 2008 to 2009, she served as associate director of the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy. Before joining RAND, Kaye served as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow at the Dutch Foreign Ministry in the policy planning division, specializing in transatlantic relations and Middle East policy. )

The focus of this presentation is on the implication of the leaks to the Middle East. Individual cables are quite inflammatory, particularly about Iran. It would be a grave mistake to take these cables at their face value and imply from them a coherent policy position. The most misleading narrative is that US allies in the region are uniformly aligned and promote US military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The peace process has taken the second seat to Iran’s issue. There is no doubt that the Sunni states in the region are alarmed about Iran’ infiltration in the region. They look at Iran as an ideological threat who has been a major winner in the region ever since the end of the Iran-Iraq war. But, views about Iran differ amongst the region’s governments and their people. WikiLeaks documents completely obscure this diversity of views toward Iran. These countries will not unite in their support for a military strike against Iran. Bear in mind that there is a tremendous resentment if the United States and its policies in the region and anti-American sentiments is very strong. The damage done to the US diplomacy is grave. These documents have shown how subservient most dictatorial regimes in the region are to US who has increased the vulnerability of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. We may soon see a change in the overt support of the US policy in the region.

Robert Trager: (Robert F. Trager is an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of California, Los Angeles.  His research focuses on how states form beliefs about the intentions of other states, and in particular on the role of diplomacy.  He also works on the determinants of coercive success and international terrorism, and has published in International Security, The New York Times, Foreign Policy and The Political Methodologist. )

Implication for US: There has been no major revelation. Most of what has been released thus far is about subjects that have either been suspected or already know by experts. If leaks such as these become norm, there would be significant implications for transparency within the government. US personnel around the world would be hesitant to put things in writing. In short, the sky is not falling!

Will WikiLeaks Transform American Diplomacy?
January 20, 2011

Geoffrey Cowan: (For more than 30 years, Geoffrey Cowan has been an important force in almost every facet of the communication world – as a public interest lawyer, academic administrator, best-selling author and award-winning teacher, playwright, television producer, and government official.  From 1996-2007, he served as dean of the USC Annenberg School. In 2006, he was named the inaugural holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership at the Annenberg School and director of the School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.)

One of the great conflicts in media law stems from the need of the public to know vs. the need of the public to live in a safe society. The press is the proxy for people’s right to know and the government is the proxy for keeping us safe. This is the issue of the national security vs. the first amendment, protecting the free speech. The Pentagon Papers was a good example of this dilemma. Government always sides with protecting its secrets on the grounds that releasing them would be dangerous. There are times that this is true but only in a small number of cases. Press has changed. Newspaper these days tell the government in advance before printing a story that could be dangerous. This also happened with WikiLeaks. But who is the press? WikiLeaks is more about the technology than the press. Technology makes extreme transparency possible.  Countries who are in trouble because of WikiLeaks are closed societies such as Tunisia. The Foreign Policy magazine named USA and its diplomats as the big winners of the release of the cables because the US diplomats appear to be doing the right thing.

Derek Shearer: (Shearer served in the Clinton administration as an economics official in the Commerce Department, then as ambassador to Finland (1994-97). After diplomatic service, Shearer was a fellow at the Economic Strategy Institute and the Woodrow Wilson Scholars Center. He also was a visiting Woodrow Wilson fellow and ambassador-in-residence at a number of colleges. Shearer’s articles on foreign affairs and public policy have appeared in The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.)

Technology has had a tremendous impact on leaks. It has also impacted the diplomacy. Julian Assange is not Daniel Ellsberg; they have different motivations and their roles are completely different in publishing leaked documents. Cables leaked are not secret documents. All cables are signed by the ambassador but, a great majority of them are not written nor read by him. All cables are addressed to the Secretary of State but, they are not read by him or her. These cables end up in desks and read by junior staff. Secret reports have a separate channel. Important policy discussions happen in closed meetings, telephone conversations and top-secret communication. Removing Julian Assange or shutting down the WikiLeaks’ site does not change much. More significant WikiLeaks releases were those earlier ones on Afghanistan and Iraq war.

What are the Legal Implications of WikiLeaks?
January 26, 2011

Jon Michaels: (Professor Michaels is Acting Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. He currently teaches Administrative Law, National Security Law, and a seminar on Redesigning the Administrative State. Michaels is a graduate of Williams College, Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar, and Yale Law School, where he served as Articles Editor for the Yale Law Journal.  Michaels worked as an associate in Arnold & Porter’s National Security Law and Public Policy Group in Washington, D.C. Michaels’ principal scholarly interests lie at the intersection of national security law and administrative law.)

US statutory law of Espionage makes it a crime to disclose classified information unlawfully without making any distinction on who discloses it. But, in practice, government action has not been uniform. Government employees have been prosecuted for leaking classified information. There are those who leak information for strategic reasons. There are others who do it on ethical principles and in the interest of the public. Traditional media fall into this category. Papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have been very careful about what they publish, trying to balance between the right of the public to know vs. national security concerns. WikiLeaks is a new media; it does not have a strong editorial tradition, and there is no filtering. Should we treat these differently? That is the question that needs to be discussed.

Norman Abrams: (Norman Abrams served as Acting Chancellor of UCLA in 2006-2007. Retiring from the Law School faculty in 2007 with the titles of Acting Chancellor Emeritus and Professor of Law Emeritus, he has been recalled and continues to teach and write in the areas of federal criminal law, anti-terrorism law and evidence.  Abrams joined the faculty and has been a member of the UCLA family since 1959. )

Prosecutorial discretion ranges from not prosecuting a case at all to putting the full force of the law prosecuting a case. Given what we know, the government will pursue Julian Assange with the full force of the law. Assange has institutionalized the notion of disclosing government secrets. He is asking people to send him secret documents. This is a real threat to any system that relies on secrecy for its proper operation. On the assumption that Assange is exercising his first amendment right, one can argue that he is not to blame.  However, one can also argue that his free speech is about encouraging others to engage in criminal activities. The WikiLeaks itself is protected by the first amendment but how can we prosecute Assange then? Here, the government will purse Assange on the theory that he was either an accomplice to Private Manning’s illegal activities or was a coconspirator. Private Manning who leaked the information is certainly guilty of the crime and will be prosecuted. In case of Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg was never prosecuted. Here is a case of prosecutorial discretion that decided not to go forward.


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