The big news over the weekend was the most recent Wikileaks scoop, revealing the contents of a quarter of a million confidential cables relating to US diplomacy. The internets, as they seem to be filled with people who also would enjoy watching the world burn, are thrilled.
The documents, released to The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France), The New York Times (US), Der Spiegel (Germany) and El PaÃs (Spain) cover communications between US diplomats and the State Department from as early as 1966 to as recently as February of this year. The source of the leaked documents, 22 year old Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning, was arrested after he bragged about releasing the documents (as well as video footage of an Apache helicopter mistakenly killing two Reuters employees and previously reported secret documents from Afghanistan, is currently facing court martial and faces a lengthy prison term. Manning is being treated as a hero in some circles, and has even earned the support of Michael Moore, who has been campaigning for his release since September of this year.
The cables themselves, as being reported by the above news outlets, describe intelligence activities undertaken by US diplomats to gather data and information about both allies and adversaries. Several world leaders are described in an unflattering light, and the overall theme of the most recent documents (since 9/11/01) reflect how much terrorism continues to dominate US foreign relations. The docs also outline tensions overseas, and implicate Russian, Italian, Iranian, Yemeni and Saudi leaders in addition to revealing the names of confidential sources. So far, all the coverage I’ve seen has summarized the content without actually printing the original documents. The Wikileaks site released 200 cables, but names and identifying details have been redacted.
The leak is being done in the name of ‘transparency’, but I don’t think it’s a huge leap to believe that those who collected and released these documents would like to see tensions between the US and the places that host US diplomats increase. The tone of Wikileaks suggests they feel the US needs be humbled and humiliated, and that we deserve whatever backlash may arise from the release of our secret documents. Commenters all over the internet are celebrating the blow to the US. It is unlikely that every outlet given access to these materials will redact the names of individuals, as it is also unlikely that they will remain only with the outlets given access. If Wikileaks decides to publish the entire collection unredacted, all of this information will be available to anyone who wants it.
The United States Government has a spotty track record, and we have, on several occasions, overstepped our bounds. This isn’t a secret to any well read American. We do need to examine our actions in foreign countries and our interactions with other governments, but making an entire catalog of our intelligence data available for both our allies and adversaries to read isn’t the way to do it. Let’s hope we can solve this diplomatic crisis with diplomacy, and that it doesn’t escalate to the point where our diplomats’ lives are in danger.