So, WikiLeaks leads the news agenda across the world once again. It granted advance access to a number of news organisations, including Der Spiegel in Germany, the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais in Spain and Le Monde in France. These outlets began publishing reports on the leaked diplomatic cables on their Web sites on Sunday afternoon.
As I said in a blog last month this is a victory for a new form of journalism, a collaboration between a collection of international media like this points the way towards modern investigative journalism. I was also critical saying that Wikileaks needed to be responsible in the way it operated. If I’m honest leaks make me uneasy.
An op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this year went a lot further saying:
“Let's be clear: WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise. Its reason for existence is to obtain classified national security information and disseminate it as widely as possible -- including to the United States' enemies. These actions are likely a violation of the Espionage Act, and they arguably constitute material support for terrorism. The Web site must be shut down and prevented from releasing more documents -- and its leadership brought to justice.”
Strong words. It wouldn’t surprise me if these were repeated across America over the coming days. On the face of it these latest leaks seem relatively harmless; a bit of fun even. Who didn’t smile at the news that Colonel Gaddafi travels everywhere with a “voluptuous blonde Ukrainian nurse”? Or have some sympathy with President Karzai on hearing he is “driven by paranoia” – wouldn’t you be?
I’m not an advocate of a big state but there are certain things governments do that should remain secret. For a country to be strong, stable and healthy there has to be some element of a strong state. The work of diplomats helps to underpin global stability. Ultimately it helps to keep us all safe and stop the world descending into some kind of neo-medieval feudal system. The problem is that these are assessments by professionals that are deliberately candid. As such it does enormous harm for them to be made public.
That is why I have great sympathy with Jeffrey H. Smith, a former CIA general counsel, quoted today saying “it just makes my blood boil”.