WikiWhatthewhat?

Kevin Clarke| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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It's hard to know how to feel about the prolonged embarrassment to U.S. diplomacy represented by the endless parade of classified material disseminated by the knowledge-is-freedom activists at Wikileaks. Certainly in a free society, the more information about how government works—what its intentions are and how its foreign policy is developed and directed—in the hands of its citizens the better. We don't live in a police state. Our political leaders are empowered by the informed consent of the voting public and are necessarily accountable to it. Transparency in statecraft is the easiest way to assure that accountability.

That said, even in the most democratic nations a certain amount of diplomatic decorum and operational secrecy remains warranted, particularly when the dark arts of espionage are focused on networks intent on doing harm to state interests and the lives of citizens. It's possible that the ongoing revelations at Wikileaks are putting people in danger; they are clearly a source of acute embarrassment to career diplomats and foreign service agents now forced to explain to informants, confidants and professional peers who presumed they were sharing information under statecraft's seal of the confessional.

That they weren't ultimately calls for a thorough re-evaluation of procedures for accessing and digital storage of classified materials. Something obviously went very wrong with whatever constituted business as usual in Washington, Langley and Baghdad. That's particularly true if it is finally confirmed that Wikileaks acquired all the vast catalog of classified documents it has released from one source.

The temptation will be to blame the media for the release of this material. But it is not the media's job to protect government secrets, that's the responsibility of career professionals in intelligence and diplomacy. The press is only doing its job to make sense out of these vast data dumps. And it's important to make the best use of this odd opportunity to see history and policy in the making, whether it is in confronting perhaps faulty rules of engagement that resulted in noxious indifference to noncombatant injury and death in Iraq or in confronting the complex of interests and ambitions which appear to be driving the United States into a profoundly dangerous confrontation with Iran. While we absorb the import of the various revelations offered up by Wikileaks' data mining, the entire sorry affair also offers the opportunity to consider what level of operational secrecy and autonomy of judgment are acceptable within our political and intelligence classes before they become themselves a threat to the society they purport to protect.