Wikileaks and National Security

The fear and trembling in government circles and the self-justification heard from the complicit press brought on by the latest leak and publication of official and classified documents are exaggerated.  Nevertheless, America’s relations with the rest of the world will be adversely affected, at least in the short term.  Our representatives abroad and at the United Nations, and officials in Washington who regularly do business – i.e., negotiate – with foreign embassies and visitors, will be treated warily for some time while their interlocutors reconsider the possible effects on their own security of candidly sharing information and views that they intend for our ears but not those of the general public.

WikiLeaks and its infamous founder deserve no special mention here, other than to say that if they were active parties in securing their treasure trove rather than mere recipients, they may be legitimately pursued on charges of espionage.  Apparently, pursuit is under way.  As for the U.S. Army patriot-cum-traitor who allegedly furnished the documents, if found guilty he will presumably, and justifiably, be put away for the rest of his miserable life.  To my way of thinking, however, the leading villains of the piece are the leading newspapers and journals that have cashed in on this sordid affair.  And I find the most despicable and disappointing of them to be the revered The New York Times, which I’ve read loyally since childhood and more recently come somewhat closer to understanding, while in no way excusing, its slavish and unquestioning support of the invasion of Iraq.

Much has been made of the redactions aimed at protecting individuals, as if that removed the only real impediment to laying bare our diplomatic laundry and leaving our international relations out to dry for the world to see.  Nor is the fact that WikiLeaks runs the stolen material on its own website any excuse for major world news outlets to magnify the damage a million-fold.  There could not be a more transparent, self-serving and absurd argument than that offered by the Times in its editorial of November 29 by way of justification:  “The documents are valuable because they illuminate American policy in a way that Americans and others deserve to see.”  A truly nauseating sentiment that recalls the flawed first of Woodrow Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points, the one that would reduce diplomacy to public relations:  “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at (emphasis added), after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view.”

The relationship between this tragic-comic farce, diplomacy and national security is clear enough, and the Times leads the way with its hypocritical and pitiful defense of its policies and actions which, one assumes, have been profitable.   The expressed views of Wilson and the Times notwithstanding, openness and privacy can peacefully co-exist.  In a game of poker, showing one’s cards at the outset is not a winning strategy and refusing to show them at the end if claiming victory assures defeat, but a decision to drop out carries no requirement to reveal anything.  A diplomat’s ability to gather and report information in private is a key ingredient in the mix of factors that together contribute to peace and understanding among nations.  Supercilious rejoinders from publishers, editors and reporters claiming to be the essential defenders of freedom of expression do not serve that goal.

7 thoughts on “Wikileaks and National Security

  1. Jennifer Hughes January 17, 2011 / 5:53 AM

    The link given above is quite pertinent to the whole wikileaks issue and national security. It is actually very threatening to see how the people from your enterprise itself leak your confidential information. Well we can only raise our voice against the whole incident which is happening.

  2. Catherine December 30, 2010 / 5:24 AM

    “You know, this whole WikilLeaks incident really makes us think hard about the role of IT security in business and government. In this case, it appears that just one person was able to violate organizational policies and leak such vast amounts of information. By the way, speaking of this, I came across a very thought provoking blog titled Identity, Security and Access Blog. It is apparently written by a Microsoft security expert, and it raises some very thought provoking points which get to the essence of the incident. It is definitely worth a read and I’d highly recommend it. By the way, just in case the link doesn’t work, you can find it over at Anyway, let’s hope something like this doesn’t happen again.

  3. Harry C. Blaney III December 13, 2010 / 5:06 PM

    Many thanks to Alan for his post and other comments and analysis of the Wikileaks

    There has been a lot of discussion about the damage done by the Wikileaks as well as the so-called usefulness of open diplomacy and transparency. Alan makes a good case for the damage it has done to diplomacy and the advantages of keeping confidences. And others have made the case about the usefulness of citizens knowing more about what is being done in their names.

    Some, as noted below, now also praise the role of the self styled “Anonymous” hackers supporting WikiLeaks in trying to take down those organizations that have taken down the WikiLeaks’ servers and think they are the best examples of open democracy:

    One posted note has the title “Battening Down the Hatches, Circling the Wagons: The Wikileaks Effect on the Public Diplomacy of Internet Advocacy ” by Monroe Price on the Huffington Post:

    He said “A few months ago, I blogged here and elsewhere about the similarities and differences between China and the United States in terms of articulated policy concerning the development of the Internet. Wikileaks – so huge an event in the history of the way we think about these questions — is dramatically bringing the two positions more closely together and will probably have some significant impact on what might be called the ‘public diplomacy of Internet structuring.’ … There are very different takes on the impact of WikiLeaks and its implications for national security. But it will also have its mark on how the United States is perceived and projects itself in the ongoing debate over architecture of information, the role of the state, and the power of law itself.”

    As another blogger, Pat Kane, on said : “As Evgeny Morozov wrote in the Financial Times earlier this week, Assange’s movement could become ‘either a new Red Brigades, or a new Transparency International. … But handled correctly, the state that will benefit most from a nerdy network of 21st-century Che Guevaras, is America itself’. At the very least, we have an immediate branding glitch: Hillary Clinton was making speeches about the power of free information to create healthy societies only a few months ago, but is now squeezing the fibre-optics of the internet like the most enthusiastic Chinese firewall manager.

    Quoting again Morozov “ better to harness the power of these hackers ‘as useful allies of the West as it seeks to husband democracy and support human rights’ – that is, make them a complement of Western soft power or public diplomacy – than to martyr their main representative and thus radicalise his followers. The leaked US embassy cables themselves hardly show a steely American empire bent on world domination – more a faltering hegemon, resigned to world mitigation. There’s surely some grounds there for mutual understanding.

    From all of this we can see the range of opinion and analysis. Where will all this end up?

    Time will tell. I suspect that there will be some good and some very bad results in different places and on different issues. Having had access to government secrets in my Foreign Service career, I know that some real secrets should not be made public for public safety, security, and ability to act internationally for legitimate objectives. But I also know that some classified documents could and perhaps should be made public. I can also assure readers that much of the “macro” information that are in cables you will find in your morning newspapers.

    For those who think there should be no secrets, I ask if they would be open for all the world to see everything you did throughout your life without exception? That you could not keep any secrets from others? Think of the results?

    On the other side I would ask, should governments be more open and frank about the direction of their policies, the motivation for actions and the true nature of the challenges our nations face?

    Harry Blaney

  4. Alan Berlind December 10, 2010 / 8:38 AM

    I’d like to have recorded the following correction to this article. I wrote that I had come somewhat closer to understanding the slavish and unquestioning support of the New York Times for the US invasion of Iraq. Written in haste, review convinces me that NYT editors and reporter Judith Miller were totally irresponsable
    in their coverage of the invasion and the war and their wholesale acceptance and broadcasting of the Bush Administration’s propaganda concerning the existence of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein. I apologize to my readers.

  5. Alan Berlind December 3, 2010 / 11:04 AM

    Thank you, Sharon. Your piece contained a number of things I wish I had had the patience to include, but we seem to be in perfect sync. I’ve thanked Roger Cohen for his piece in today’s NYT but gently admonished him for letting his employer off the hook.

  6. Sharon Stevenson December 1, 2010 / 10:09 PM

    Bravo Alan! You said it much more fully and better than I did,
    They didn’t post all the comments, only replying to a few. I hope more people will take heart and whack their little behinds more. The justification was very sad, infuriating and just plain stupid.

    It’s not the various nations reactions that will hurt us, it’s the little guy down the line, the informant, the informed observer, the guy or gal with info even as a government official who will not trust bequeathing it to a US dippy anymore that will in the end really hurt us.

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