"Moroccan Wikileaks" rattles Rabat

"Moroccan Wikileaks" rattles Rabat
The Moroccan government has been shaken by the publication of secret diplomatic cables apparently obtained by a hacker sympathetic to Sahrawi independence claims. The documents were released on a fake Twitter account under the name of the Welsh football manager.
5 min read
23 December, 2014
Hundreds of Morocco's secret diplomatic cables have been released online [Getty]

Over the last two months, Morocco has been reeling from its very own Wikileaks scandal. Confidential diplomatic cables have been published online through a fake Twitter account, the impact of which has not been publically discussed by the government or political parties.

However, the hacker has managed to create a state of political turmoil in what is reputedly the most stable country in North Africa.

Since 2 October, an anonymous Twitter profile (@chris_coleman24) has been used to leak hundreds of diplomatic cables from the Direction Générale des Etudes et de la Documentation (DGED) – the equivalent of the US's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

     "Chris Coleman" recently explained the aim is to "destabilise Morocco".

Some have been trivial, like private wedding pictures of Mbarka Bouaida, an official working at the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The account is named The Makhzen, the Moroccan Arabic term for the state, the elites around the king and sovereign institutions.

Passing him or herself off as Chris Coleman, manager of Wales' national football team, the hacker initially released the information on Facebook. Facebook closed the account, but a Twitter accoun soon replaced it.

The tweets contain links to documents published online on file sharing and storage sites such as Dropbox, Mediafire and 4Shared. These accounts have since been closed.

"It's true that for the last few days, the state has increased its threats to discourage me," the hacker complained on Twitter, while promising to continue. The metadata accompanying the tweets suggests the hacker is based in Morocco, although Twitter may have been deceived about their location.

In a rare comment "Chris Coleman", whose comments suggest a Sahrawi independence sympathiser, recently explained the aim is to "destabilise Morocco". The Sahrawi are a people in the Western part of the Sahara desert which is under disputed Moroccan control. The Sahrawi independence sstruggle is led by the Polisario Front in what is known as the Western Sahara conflict.

International relations

The hacker's goal to destabilize Morocco seems a lonog way off. Still, the quality of material published online has rattled the Makhzen. It reveals a Moroccan state angry with Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and whose relations are equally strained with the US Department of State.

Since May 2014, Morocco has refused to let the Canadian Kim Bolduc take up her post in Laayoune as head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso). Laayoune is a city in the Moroccan-controlled part of the Western Sahara, and Minurso is the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara tasked with monitoring a ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front amongst other things.

Rabat has continually also tried to disrupt the work of US citizen Christopher Ross, who is Ban Ki-moon's personal envoy in the Sahara. Ross is a fastidious defender of human rights, who believes the solution to the conflict is to give Western Sahara its independence. However, according to the leaked documents, during his tenure as Moroccan ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Omar Hilale described Ross as a "clumsy, old, alcoholic", who was "unable to put on his coat by himself".

The most significant revelation, however, is probably the secret verbal agreement between US President Barack Obama and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI made at the White House in November 2013. The US agreed to stop asking the UN Security Council to broaden Minurso's mandate to include the monitoring of human rights, which they did in April 2014, in exchange for three concessions: first Morocco must stop trying civilians in military courts; secondly, it must help representatives from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visit the Sahara; lastly, it must legalise pro-independence Sahrawi associations such as the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (Codesa).

It has not yet fulfilled the third condition.

The leaks also show the DGED and its collaborators paid journalists as well as think tanks in France, the US and Italy, to write analysis that supports Morocco's position in the Western Sahara conflict. The DGED has also been using intermediaries to court the Jewish lobby in the US, hoping they will persuade the US administration to sympathise with Morocco's position over the Western Sahara. In addition, in 2011 and 2012, possibly longer, Israel and Morocco were engaged in political dialogue.

The cables also reveal Morocco views the world through the looking glass of the Sahara, or what Moroccan diplomats refer to as the "national question". This issue is seen everywhere, in meetings with the European Union Association Council, in ministerial visits to Europe, and in relations with countries as far away as Paraguay.

Public accountability

     In recent weeks, the leaks have dominated conversation in Rabat.

In recent weeks, the leaks have dominated conversation in Rabat: in parliament, in cafes visited by high-level civil servants, and at diplomatic functions. However, the government has not issued a public explanation. There has been no comment on how the information was leaked, the inquiry into the issue that is reportedly underway, or the potential political impact. The opposition has also failed to question those in power over the issue.

The media has also glossed over the issue, typically viewing the hacker as pro-Polisario supporter who is acting with Algeria’s support [Fr]. Algeria has been supporting the Polisario Front since 1975.

Discussing the leaks at the senate over two months after they were first published, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Salaheddine Mezouar echoed the words of government spokesperson Mustapha El-Khalfi, when he said: "It is an angry campaign orchestrated by adversaries, [who are] trying to harm Morocco, its image and its power."

The government and political class have adopted an ostrich-like policy that either does not want to or does not dare to discuss the leaks. This contrasts with the American reaction after Wikileaks released US government secrets in 2010. The US government opened a public inquiry in 2010, and announced how the leaks would impact on its foreign policy and international image.

This article is an edited translation of the original which appeared in OrientXXI.