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CableKlept: Wild Times in the Caucasus

WikiLeaks’ recent infodump (available on a DNS mirror here) of over 250,000 US diplomatic cables has raised myriad questions about media responsibility, notably just how open America’s information-drunk society needs to be when private (but not really) communications between members of the intelligence community and governments are open to the public.

And regardless of whether you think the leak is embarrassing (to the US), strategic (for the US making a case against Iran) or triumphant (Assange as Martyr 2.0), the cables themselves actually make for some pretty great stories. Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic has rounded up some of the more finely crafted transmissions, revealing an intelligence corps that often eschews dry, fact-based tones for rich and, in the case below, humorous detail.

This excerpt of a cable from Moscow to DC recounts an oligarch’s wedding in the Caucasus but reads like the plot summary from an episode of Eastbound and Down:

Gadzhi was locked into his role as host. He greeted every guest personally as they entered the hall — failure to do so would cause great insult — and later moved constantly from table to table drinking toasts with everyone. The 120 toasts he estimated he drank would have killed anyone, hardened drinker or not, but Gadzhi had his Afghan waiter Khan following him around to pour his drinks from a special vodka bottle containing water. Still, he was much the worse for wear by evening’s end. At one point we caught up with him dancing with two scantily clad Russian women who looked far from home. One, it turned out was a Moscow poet (later she recited an incomprehensible poem in Gadzhi’s honor) who MOSCOW 00009533 004 OF 005 was in town with a film director to write the screenplay for a film immortalizing Gadzhi’s defense of Dagestan against Shamil Basayev. By 6 p.m. most of the houseguests had returned to Gadzhi’s seaside home for more swimming and more jet-skiing-under-the-influence. But by 8 the summer house’s restaurant was full once more, the food and drink were flowing, the name performers were giving acoustic renditions of the songs they had sung at the reception, and some stupendously fat guests were displaying their lezginkas for the benefit of the two visiting Russian women, who had wandered over from the reception.

While the excerpted cable is 5 pages of hilarity, others leaked are sad accounts of Gitmo detainees starting new lives and judges seeking protection from the US against terrorist assassins. In all of them, we’re reminded us that diplomacy and intelligence activities are driven not by abstract political ideals, but by humans with feelings, desires and perspectives of their own. Cheers to the Atlantic for finding life (and the humor) within the debate.

Read more of Madrigal’s picks.