So who’s for freedom of information technology?
JARED COHEN is an interesting young man.
When Condoleezza Rice, then US secretary of state, appointed him to the state department, he was just 24, the youngest ever member of the policy planning staff.
He was fresh out of Oxford University, where he’d taken a masters degree in international relations. He already had one published book under his belt – on the 1994 Rwandan genocide – and had another well under way.
This second book, Children of Jihad, was subtitled “A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East”. It was those travels and his thoughts about them that made him so important to Rice.
Almost more remarkable, when the presidency changed hands and Hillary Clinton took over Rice’s old office, she chose to keep Cohen on. Not too many people work as senior policy advisers to both Republican and Democrat administrations – let alone while still in their 20s.
It is surely Clinton’s loss, and maybe America’s, that after four and a half years in Washington’s corridors of power Cohen has now chosen to go work for Google instead.
It’s no surprise Google should want him, though. Because his real area of expertise is not just Middle-East relations, but the internet.
- 1 School submits plan to turn site into 7 homes
- 2 Boy, 14, injured in altercation near Ipswich primary school
- 3 Severe delays on A14 outside Ipswich after vehicle sheds turf on road
- 4 Missing Ipswich man found safe
- 5 Police hunting two men with Suffolk links after cannabis farm discovered
- 6 Emergency services attending incident in Suffolk town
- 7 Aging gas main replacement works begin around Ipswich
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- 9 Ipswich teen accused of brandishing machete tells court it was a plastic toy
- 10 Staff shortages hit 98% of firms, including Suffolk hotels and restaurants
In particular its power to reach out to people, to bring them together, to change lives. In that, he has not only knowledge but zeal.
It was he who took a party of Silicon Valley bigwigs, including some Google engineers and the founder of Twitter, to a meeting with the president and vice-president of Iraq in Baghdad.
It was he who called Facebook “one of the most organic tools for democracy promotion”.
He who believed American technology could be a powerful diplomatic tool around the world.
At a video-linked press conference during that Baghdad trip, he told reporters in Washington: “The platforms that all of these guys here are pushing out from the tech industry are riddled with American values of critical thinking, free flow of information, freedom of choice, freedom of assembly.”
No wonder both GW Bush and Barack Obama thought this flag-waving geek was one of the good guys.
When you consider the huge role the internet played in Obama’s election, the close tie-up between the net and democracy looks pretty clear.
But hang on. What was that about “critical thinking” and “free flow of information”?
Obama might have espoused those values when he was in opposition, but now he’s president it’s a different matter.
He’s incensed about the free flow of information from Wikileaks, which this week posted just the first few hundred of a promised 250,000 formerly secret diplomatic messages.
A White House statement described the release as “reckless and dangerous” and added: “We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”
Among other things, Wikileaks got up Obama’s nose by revealing that he considers David Cameron “a lightweight”. (You were right about one thing, anyway, Mr President.)
Meanwhile, Clinton described Wikileaks’ latest disclosures as an “attack on the US and the international community”.
So net freedom’s a good thing, then, when it’s spreading “American values” among the youth of Iraq. Or when Twitter is helping dissidents organise protest rallies in Iran.
But when it’s American secrets being revealed, that’s another matter, apparently.
Freedom of information is an essential component of democracy. Until you’re in power.
Jared Cohen’s no fool. Maybe his decision to quit government work is about more than money.
SO some of Prince Andrew’s characteristics have been revealed thanks to Wikileaks.
In an era that until now has not been a great one for investigative journalism, Wikileaks promises to become a goldmine resource for the world’s press – and a right pain in the posterior for its politicians. Which can only be a good thing.
Trouble is, there’s far too much material coming out for anyone to make sense of it all. Which leaves the traditional media to filter it – not always good news.
What, among this week’s deluge of diplomatic memos, have we heard most about?
Not the Americans’ real opinion of Vladimir Putin’s Russia (“a deeply corrupt state dominated by its security forces”).
Not US diplomats’ description of Afghan president Hamid Karzai as “an extremely weak man who does not listen to facts”.
Not the inside stories about Guantanamo Bay, Al-Qaeda or Pakistani uranium.
Not even the suggestion that Iran has acquired “sophisticated missiles” from North Korea with which it is capable of hitting western Europe.
By common, almost unanimous, consent the news editors of this little island think what will interest us most is the Duke of York’s ability to open his mouth and insert his foot.
The sad thing is, they’re probably right.
Which just shows how pathetically we remain in thrall to the soap opera of the dysfunctional family we call royal.