Posts Tagged Wikileaks

Egypt, Revolution, Democracy, The Arab Street and America’s Friends

The situation in Egypt is very fluid. No one knows what the outcome will be. Yet there are things that we do know now…

 1)      Wikileaks mattered: despite the efforts of some pundits to downplay the impact of the leaked diplomatic cables, it helped lead to the fall of Tunisia’s government. Perhaps soon Egypt, and then next….who knows? Julian Assange changed the world –for better or for worse we may not know for years.

 2)      The Arab Street cares more about the price of cooking fuel than American interventions. While the invasion of Iraq was supposed to blow up the Arab Street it did not. Rising prices, unemployment and unresponsive governments are the root causes sited by the protestors on the street. Sounds like the Arab Street has more in common with Greek protestors than with Al Qaeda or radical clerics.

3)      Arab nations do yearn for Democracy. In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, some very clever pundits opined that the Arab and/or Muslim world did really want democracy, as an argument against President George W. Bush’s policies. Score one for Bush, Pundits zero.

4)      This CAN be like Iran in 1979. The lesson from previous revolutions is that it is often an authoritarian counter-revolution that takes control. Examples: French revolution (the world does not need an Arab/Egyptian Napoleon), Russian Revolution, Iranian Revolution. Mubarak may not be good news, but the alternative could be worse.

Then there are the things we don’t know:

What about the price of oil if the protests spread to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? What would that do to the fragile world economic recovery?

Will Hamas take advantage of the now unguarded Egypt/Gaza border to bring in weapons and terrorists to renew hostilities with Israel?

President Obama has taken the Sun Tzu approach of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. Poland and the Czech Republic got this treatment for missile defense versus US accommodation with Russia. Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan is getting similar treatment. Obama even did this domestically when he placed Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet and praised John Boehner during the State of the Union speech.  

If Mubarak does not survive in Egypt will the world note that it is better to be America’s enemy than America’s friend at this time? A dangerous lesson when there is a cash rich China willing to make new friendships in the Middle East – especially oil rich countries.

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Is your organization prepared to be Wikileaked?

The giant Wikileaks data dump is making headlines for the contents of the revealed documents. It is also making headlines as a landmark internet event. The revelation of thousands of pages of Pentagon, US Department of State and other government documents was followed with the news that a major financial institution is next.

This will not be the last event of this kind. Digital documents, downloading, thumb drives and processor speeds have made this too easy. It can happen to you and your organization. There are technical people who can advise you far better than I can on how to beef up your information security. The history of information technology teaches us that almost all security measures can eventually be defeated.

That leaves you with no choice. You must have a communications strategy ready if and when a data dump happens to you.

Know thyself

When running political campaigns, one of the most vital departments is “oppo” – or opposition research. Researching the opposition is good – researching yourself is vital. 

Years ago , when starting a campaign for a candidate for public office, I did my due diligence and asked the candidate my usual series of uncomfortable questions. The list included “Have you ever been arrested?” The candidate told me “No.” Three days later, the candidate sheepishly admitted that he had been arrested once in college days. It was a case of mistaken identity and nothing came of it.

Sure enough, as my candidate was heading for a big win, his desperate opponent trotted out the arrest record. Since we had done our research, the campaign was ready and turned the tables on the mudslinging opponent. There was no “deer in the headlights” or “gotcha!” moment. The result was victory.

In the same way, your organization must find out what is in your files. Are there potentially embarrassing internal assessments about clients, vendors or competitors? What about evaluations of current and former employees, or even current top management? Are there any digital skeletons in your virtual closet?

Keep it Confidential

This must be done by a highly trusted and discrete individual or team– either inside or outside the organization. After all, you will be handing this person or team the “keys to the kingdom.” The last thing you want to do is choose a person who ultimately becomes a leaker!

Here’s an idea on how to help keep their findings confidential; hire the assignment done under the retainer of an attorney. This may keep their findings in the undisclosable realm of attorney client privilege. (Disclaimer: please verify this with your own legal counsel, I am not an attorney nor do I play one on the internet.)

You may want to have a team do this research since financials as well as language can come into play.  Were there any comments that could be misunderstood from your audits, or tax records?  Are there any legal issues? It helps to have someone who can analyze financials, someone with legal and someone with a public relations background.

Have a Plan

Once you have done your self-audit, ask yourself how bad is it? What will this look like as the main headline of the Drudge Report or the equivalent for your industry?  Do not pooh-pooh the impact – after all you know the reason behind each revelation, don’t trust that your entire side of the story will cut through the Fog of Scandal. What will your answer to embarrassing questions be? This means questions from media, from clients (angry to be a part of the scandal), business partners, investors and employees. The answers for each of these audiences may be different to address their concerns.  Think them through and have them ready.

If you get a sinking feeling in your stomach when you read the results – consider placing on retainer public relations professionals with crisis management skills and experience. These are people who can help you weather the digital storm by staying calm, at the very moment almost everyone in your organization will be flustered.

Prepare Now

Proper preparation is vital today. Who knows who will be leaked next? If you are ready, you can at least minimize damage, and possibly even turn your fifteen minutes of infamy into a positive.

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