Syria – The Strange Tale of Ambassador Ford and the Email Debate
The return to Washington of US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, as reported by the BBC yesterday, caught my intention.
Ambassador Ford is not exactly a proponent of quiet diplomacy, despite an admiring profile in the Washington Post that suggests otherwise. A few weeks ago, I heard a radio interview in which he lambasted the Syrian government about their tactics in suppressing the unrest around the country. He has since been the recipient of various foodstuffs thrown in his direction by government supporters in Damascus. His forthright style is quite a contrast to that of ambassadors of other countries in the region, who tend to leave the tub-thumping to their political bosses.
When I read the BBC report yesterday, I went to Wikipedia to see what it had to say about him. I was a bit gobsmacked to see a long email exchange between him and Mohamed Tamalt, an Algerian journalist living in the UK. It was not the most friendly exchange. Over four emails he and Tamalt argue over Tamalt’s claim he is a covert CIA agent, and Tamalt’s alleged links with an Algerian Islamist faction.
It also dealt with an article Tamalt had written about “the wikileaks cable sent by Ford when he was an ambassador in Algeria requesting a military plane to transport a sick child to the USA in order to promote the image of the American army after what happened in Abu Ghrib and Guantanamo”. The passage quoted is from the Wikipedia profile of the Ambassador.
The whole exchange was a rather undignified ding-dong – what some of my American friends would describe as a pissing contest. At one stage Tamalt claims that Ford lost his temper with him. Ford replies “you have never seen me lose my temper”! Ford more than once asks to be removed from Tamalt’s email list.
My original reason for posting about the brouhahah was that it illustrates my long-held belief that email is not a good medium for debate – much better to confine yourself to exchanges of information and documenting transactions. But then a strange thing happened.
I have no idea how the exchange found its way into the Wikipedia profile, but there it was. Yesterday. When I went back to the profile today, lo and behold, the whole exchange had disappeared! What remained was a reference to Tamalt’s claim that the Ambassador was a CIA agent.
I find the CIA allegation to be profoundly irrelevant. After all, one would expect senior US State Department officials to be working pretty closely with their CIA colleagues, would one not? So why Ambassador Ford would be sufficiently sensitive about the issue to enter into a long email debate with a journalist when he knew that there was a danger the exchange would go public is beyond me. Unless the whole episode was a piece of mischief-making by persons unknown.
So I then tried to find a reference to the exchange elsewhere on the web. I happened upon a YouTube video in which Tamalt seemingly makes the same accusation. Surprise, surprise, YouTube said “an error occurred, please try later”.
Is it a coincidence that these strange happenings coincide with the Ambassador’s return to Washington? Perhaps not, or perhaps I was imagining yesterday’s email exchange…..