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WikiLeaks: Where's the Oil?

Posted: 12/16/10 12:10 PM ET

Ever since the first WikiLeaks "dump" of classified documents began during the summer of this year, I've been looking for official documents that confirm what many serious -- but often censored -- journalists have known for a long time: that the war on terror is really just the latest stage in the Great Game for Oil.

I just went to WikiLeaks' new website and typed in "oil" under its archived section on "Iraq and Afghan war logs." I found numerous mentions of military attacks against oil installations (pipelines, refineries) on the first page of 320 pages of archived documents, but for some reason my computer froze when I tried to gain access to the remaining pages. As for the diplomatic cables, the archives do not reveal leaks of "Top Secret" documents -- and that's where the oil discussions are likely to happen. It's possible there are some juicy documents in there that have been suppressed by the newspapers that WikiLeaks cooperated with. The establishment press has consistently under-reported if not suppressed the crucial oil aspect of the War on Terror on grounds of national security. I've provided some key documentation in my own book, The People v. Bush (Chelsea Green, 2010) which seems to have been totally blacklisted by the mainstream media and widely ignored by the alternative press as well. Perhaps we will get the really hot information when WikiLeaks begins releasing, as promised, its files on banks and multinational corporations which would presumably include communications with oil companies.

But in the absence thus far (and correct me if I'm wrong) of any significant oil-related diplomatic and/or military analyses among the leaks, allow me to provide some declassified -- but rarely seen -- documents of my own, which were released to me by the CIA once I sued for my father's papers under the Freedom of Information Act. They relate to his activities as one of America's first master spies in the Middle East during World War II., but they are rich in insights for the modern era.

In fact, I begin with a reminder that one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the 20th Century occurred when Russian Bolsheviks took power in the midst of World War I and promptly released to the press secret documents that revealed the true intentions of the Czar's erstwhile European allies in the Middle East. The documents, part of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 (and named after the negotiators) reveal how the French and the British agreed to divvy up the former Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres of influence -- despite promises of independence to the Arabs for helping to drive out the Turks. The agreement gave the two European powers, then secretly certain of victory, control of the territory and pipeline routes connecting the oil of Iraq to two key Mediterranean terminal points. The British would control the land bridge and pipeline route connecting Iraqi with Haifa, Palestine (now Israel). The French would control the pipeline route connecting Iraq with Tripoli, in Syria, (now Lebanon). Somehow, the British were able to keep enough of a lid on these revelations to complete their occupation of Jerusalem with the assistance of Arab troops, and to later incorporate this agreement into the French and British mandatory system that ruled over these regions after World War I. They got away with it then, but have been living with the ramifications ever since. Indeed, as I point out in the People v. Bush, Saddam Hussein's resistance to the planned reconstruction of the Iraq-Haifa pipeline (closed in 1948) was a key motive for the Iraq war and his removal from power.

Fast forward to World War II. My father, the late Daniel C. Dennett, worked under diplomatic cover as U.S. cultural attaché in Lebanon for the Office of Strategic Services and later the Central Intelligence Group. He had been recruited because of his Harvard education in European History and Islam and his invaluable post-graduate education during the 1930s teaching English to Arabs at the American University of Beirut. In 1943, just prior to his departure for Beirut, he issued a warning to an audience of academics: "God help us if we ever send troops to the Middle East." And yet, once immersed in his espionage work, he found himself having to play the Great Game for Oil. That same year, 1943, he wrote an "Analysis of Work" (which I later released to The Village Voice) where he wrote -- thanks to the inattention of some CIA-redactor who missed this line -- that the oil of Saudi Arabia was so important that it "must be controlled at all costs." And when he said "all costs" he wasn't kidding. He had been trained to anticipate a post-war "free for all" among America's former WW II allies in their quest for Arab oil. His involvement in trying to secure the greatest oil reserves in the Middle East for the U.S. -- the oil of Saudi Arabia -- would cost him his life, as well as the lives of tens of millions of Arabs and Jews. But that is another story.

I never knew my father. He died under mysterious circumstances following a top secret mission to Saudi Arabia in 1947, when I was six weeks old. But I've done a lot of digging, and I invite you to go to the Voice article where you will find a World War II era government map that I obtained from the national archives in Maryland that says this: "World War II is largely a war by and for oil."

The War on Terror: In a rare example of forthrightness, my own Gannett-owned newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, reprinted a New York Times piece two weeks after 9/11 that made this prophetic observation: "Beyond American determination to hit back against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, beyond the likelihood of longer, drawn out battled producing more civilian casualties in the months and years ahead, the hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil." It went on to point out that the war on terror coincided with "a map of the world's principal energy sources in the 21st century" in the Middle East and Central Asia. "The defense of these energy resources -- rather than a simple confrontation between Islam and the West -- will be the primary flash point of global conflict for decades to come, say observers in the region." I should point out that work on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline (TAPI) is scheduled to begin soon, with its completion projected to be the same year as the revised deadline of US troop removal: 2014.

When I spoke to The Village Voice in 2007 about my research into America's hidden oil history, I noted that "It's hard enough to get documents from the CIA, but post-9/11, it's 10 times more difficult. I am concerned that there is an effort to secretize our history." It's precisely for this reason that I appreciate what WikiLeaks' Julian Assange has been doing, and understand why his website quotes TIME Magazine as saying WikiLeaks "could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." Like FOIA, the ability of WikiLeaks to act as a watchdog over government abuses will depend largely on whether an engaged public succeeds in protecting it -- and the internet in general -- from retaliatory actions by embarrassed governments. Meanwhile, I look forward to the next batch of releases, while at the same time expecting that the most revealing documents of the post-911 era are likely to remain under wraps for a long time.

Charlotte Dennett is an author and attorney who specializes in FOIA litigation. She is the author of The People v Bush: One Lawyer's Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and The National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way (Chelsea Green, 2010). For more, visit her Facebook page