The Problem With WikiLeaks

I still haven’t decided whether WikiLeaks is a net good or bad, but I thought this was an interesting perspective:

Anyone who has worked in international affairs would understand (and this goes for Americans and non-Americans) secrecy is an essential element of diplomatic relations. Henry Farrell makes the smart point here that effective diplomacy actually relies on a healthy level of hypocrisy. The simple reality is that effective diplomacy and effective counter-terrorism often must work in the dark. To suggest otherwise demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding about how diplomats actually operate.

First of all, we rely on our diplomats to offer candid, unvarnished and secret assessments of foreign leaders – and now Wikileaks has splashed those assessments across the Internet for all the world to see. Now, for example, Turkey’s leaders can read first-hand the analysis of our diplomats in Ankara about them (by the way if anyone believes that the Turkish government hasn’t done similar assessments of US leaders they’re crazy). How does that help anyone and how that does strike a blow “against the U.S. Government’s authority generally and secrecy powers in particular”?

Short answer: it doesn’t. All that’s happened here is that it will now be more difficult for US diplomats to do their job; it will fray relations with a key Middle East ally and ironically it will probably lead to more not less secrecy, because diplomats will be more fearful of putting their thoughts down in cables that can then be leaked to the New York Times (a point made well here by Charles Hill).

The full post, by Michael Cohen, is worth the read and can be found here.

Update: Megan McArdle adds a similar perspective here.

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