Tue, Dec 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Who gains from leaked 'minutes'?

Leaked "minutes." "Bugged" offices. Secret backroom "deals" on arms sales. The commotion created by the alleged minutes of a meeting last week between American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) vice presidential candidate Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) resembles a subplot in a John le Carre thriller. Or Franz Kafka, perhaps.

But with the facts that have emerged, one can whittle away at the fantastic and consider the possibilities that remain -- assuming the document is real. The question is who stood to gain from releasing the "minutes" to the Chinese-language Apple Daily. Or, conversely, who stood to lose.

If the leak came from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), there would likely be two purposes. First, given its timing, it would expose the fact that the KMT did not agree to cease blocking an arms appropriation bill in a sudden burst of patriotism, but as the result of an under-the-table deal with AIT.

The second would be to portray the US as meddling in Taiwan's domestic affairs by choosing a favorite candidate as elections approach -- something AIT strongly denied yesterday.

In either scenario, the benefits for the DPP of making the "minutes" public would be minimal -- notwithstanding the precious extra air time given to DPP spokespeople -- and could further alienate Washington at a most inauspicious time.

As to how the DPP might have managed to get its hands on the "minutes," there is a number of possibilities: a leak by a disgruntled KMT member, a leak by a US official or, as KMT Legislator Su Chi (蘇起) has alleged, DPP "spying."

But if the KMT leaked the document to the press, this would be to demonstrate that it is Washington's favorite and thus portray the DPP as a cornered animal willing to resort to dirty tricks -- assassinations, staged events, attacks on Chinese fishing vessels -- to win the elections.

But the problem here is that the DPP legislator involved in an as yet unconnected leak that broke the news of the Siew-Burghardt meeting, Sandy Yen (莊和子), said her information came through Taiwanese expats from a US congressperson, whose own reasons for publicizing the meeting could be personal differences with Burghardt or dissatisfaction with the US State Department or the AIT.

Then there are Su Chi's allegations that the DPP "bugged" KMT offices. First, it is wise to remember that Su has a history of making extraordinary or untrue claims, like his assertion in October that the DPP government was developing nuclear weapons.

Second, political parties do not "bug" offices. Intelligence services do, meaning that a great number of individuals down the chain of command in the security apparatus would be involved.

As this would be illegal without a warrant stemming from a threat to national security, the DPP would be dealing itself a fatal blow by leaking the contents of any intercept, knowing full well that doing so would expose misuse of state resources.

Another possibility is that the information came from a Taiwanese intercept in the US. But leaking such information would create a diplomatic faux pas of awful proportions: Allies are not supposed to brazenly reveal that they are spying on each other.

Yen, formerly a California-based "overseas Chinese" legislator, is running again for the DPP, this time in Chiayi City, where the pan-green camp vote is likely to split, which would kill her prospects. It would be naive to think her role in this affair had nothing to do with her need to appear more aggressive than her Taiwan Solidarity Union rival.

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