Minister of Information, Communications, and Culture Rais Yatim owes Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian people, and the US government an apology.
Rais recently was named as one of three persons in Malaysia whose job it is to "thwart the dissemination of false news by irresponsible people."
That is indeed a worthy goal. No one want to see false news disseminated.
So one would have hoped that at the first opportunity he had to perform the job he was appointed to do, Rais would ensure that the news he received was true. But that was not to be.
Here's what happened.
On July 11, Utusan Malaysia published an article claiming (not for the first time) that Anwar is a CIA agent and stooge. For its evidence, Utusan quoted a blog in America that no one has ever heard of. Utusan falsely said that it is a “well-known” blog.
Rais didn't check the background of the blog's author, and I doubt he even read the blog before he spoke. Instead, he ran with what Utusan reported.
If Rais had checked, then after a 15-second Google search, he would have learned that Utusan's "expert" says she has been struck by lightning 10 times - inside her house - and that the Queen of England is engaged in money laundering.
She says she lives on a mountain in New York with her horses and cats and dogs and chickens.
So how could she know anything about Malaysia and who is a CIA agent?
Before Rais disseminated false news from such a person, why didn't he check the truth and save himself from embarrassment? Why didn't he do the job he was recently appointed to do?
But it is not just Rais and Utusan. It amazes me that today people in Malaysia still continue to disseminate the nonsense that "Anwar is a CIA agent" for their own political gain.
I dealt with this issue 10 years ago in an article I wrote for Malaysiakini (‘Anwar was never an American spy’, Sept 2, 2000) in which I said categorically that Anwar is not and never has been an American agent.
If I was lying 10 years ago, then why couldn't Mahathir - after 22 years in control of the Special Branch - prove me wrong? And why hasn't anyone been able to prove it in the seven years since Mahathir left power? Why can't they prove it today, instead of relying on the ramblings of mountain top bloggers in New York? Why hasn't Anwar ever been arrested on espionage charges?
It's an easy answer - because it is not true. Anwar is not and never has been an American agent.
I say this for the same reason I told then-foreign minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 1998: If you say that Anwar is an American agent, you also are saying - falsely - that America is interfering in the internal political affairs of Malaysia, and that is not true.
As I wrote in Malaysiakini a decade ago ( I had then said I went to ‘a very senior official in the Malaysian government. I can reveal now that the official was Abdullah), I said that on behalf of my government, Anwar was not a CIA agent.
And if the Malaysian government arrested Anwar and claimed that he was an American agent, we would immediately issue a denial of the strongest order and challenge the Malaysian government to issue any proof to the contrary.
I also bluntly told Abdullah that his government would be embarrassed because they could never offer any proof to the contrary – because it does not exist.
I went on to say that the Malaysian government might have its internal political differences with Anwar, but if it made a false claim against the US, namely, that we have interfered in your internal affairs, that someone in the government is an American agent, then it is involving the US, and we will expose it for the lie that it is.
Today, twelve years after I met with Abdullah, Malaysia still has not offered any proof that Anwar is an American agent - because it is not true.
Finally, there is one more person that Rais Yatim needs to apologise to, and that is Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. That is because Najib has made a special effort to improve relations with the US. People in both countries think that so far he has succeeded.
So why are you now undercutting your prime minister's efforts and claiming that the American government is interfering in Malaysia's internal affairs and supporting the opposition?
And if the US government is happy with Najib's efforts, then where is the logic in supporting Anwar and the opposition?
JOHN R MALOTT was the United States ambassador to Malaysia 1995-1998.