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How Brown the Nose?

Wikileaks' so-called CableGate (leaks of communications from US Embassies to Washington) may have uncovered something that shows how the Danish government lied to Parliament and the Danish people in order to maintain good relations with the United States. It's an interesting study into how governments sometimes lies in order to avoid criticism.

In 2008 a Danish documentary claimed that CIA had flown prisoners through Danish and Greenlandish airspace with the tacit approval of the Danish government. The Prime Minister denied this, of course, but Parliament nonetheless ordered the government to obtain assurances from the US that no rendition flights had gone through Danish airspace. The alternative would have been an independent inquiry into the matter, but the government managed to wriggle out of that one.

Officially, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller raised the question with US officials. On the sidelines of an arctic summit, FM Moller talked to the US Deputy Foreign Secretary about the rendition flights, and the US Ambassador in Copenhagen, James P. Cain, sums it up like this:

"The Deputy Secretary recommended that legal advisors from both governments meet to discuss this issue, while noting that standard U.S. policy is not to comment publicly. FM Moeller indicated that he understood the dilemma facing the U.S., particularly with respect to other countries who have asked for similar assurances, but he emphasized that Denmark needs answers to its questions. Moeller remarked, however, that the Danish government is prepared to work with the U.S. on which questions to ask. The Deputy Secretary again suggested that the matter be addressed by legal advisors." [1]


Or in short Moller says: We must ask you awkward questions, but we are as interested in this going away as you are. Therefore we will phrase the questions to allow you to sidestep any painful issues. The US answer: All right, but let's keep the questions out of the public anyway.


To make matters much worse, other things were going on behind the scenes. In one of the leaked documents, James P. Cain, writes that:

"Danish government officials have expressed their concerns about the allegations publicly, but have indicated to us privately their interest in quieting the matter as quickly as possible. The Danish government is now working to hold together a thin majority to block expected moves for an inquiry in parliament." [2] [My emphasis.]

In a different document, Ambassador Cain refers to a talk with members of the Danish foreign agency (among them, Michael Zilmer-Johns). They mention a talk that the Danish Ambassador in Washington had with US officials:

"Zilmer-Johns noted pointedly that Ambassador Petersen had not been instructed, however, to ask us for additional public comment, observing that U.S. public statements could hinder Danish efforts to quiet the controversy." [3]

Based on this, Cain concludes: "The CIA flights issue is one that will perhaps never go away entirely, but the government´s success in calming the critics and avoiding an independent inquiry should give the Danes some breathing room for now." [4]

So behind the lines, the government said: We can't officially approve of the CIA abducting people, but if we don't know, we won't have to criticize you. And more importantly: Nobody can criticize us for knowing and not stopping the flights, so please don't tell us anything.


After this surfaced in the papers, the current Prime Minister declined to comment on leaked documents. The nationalist Danish People's Party (which is in support of the current government) are suggesting that Cain misunderstood something--not being the best diplomat in the US. But I call BS. The phrasing of the document strongly suggests otherwise. The word 'pointedly' underlines that this statement was made with some force and that this message was meant to reach Washington.


Further suspicion is cast on the government outside of the Wikileaks documents. A cross-ministerial workgroup was set up, and in the third draft of their report they concluded that the US and CIA had done no such thing, in Denmark at least. However, at that time the government hadn't asked the US for an answer yet, and the workgroup later had to change the conclusion to one of: "The US declines to confirm or deny the allegations." It seems the textbook example of 'A Foregone Conclusion'.

If this is true, the government is acting as if they're above parliamentary control, and they're deliberately misleading the people. There will be elections later this year, and the opposition is promising a full investigation. For that reason alone, I hope they win.

Got questions? Ask away, and I'll dig through the Danish media for you :-)


[1] Source: (#4)
[2] Source: (#1) 
[3] Source: (#2)
[4] Source: (#5)



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