Transparency will be the first casualty of the latest WikiLeaks revelations

Christopher Dickey writes:

The first and most lasting casualty of this massive avalanche of documents classified “confidential,” “secret” and “noforn” (not for foreign governments to see) is going to be precisely the “transparency” that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he advocates. “Transparent government tends to produce just government,” he opined in July after an earlier dump of military dispatches about Afghanistan. But the fact is, transparent diplomacy is nothing but press releases.

The problem the State Department faces now is not just the difficulty of having frank conversations with allies or secret negotiations with enemies who think—who know—it leaks like a sieve. It will also be harder to have frank exchanges within the United States government itself. To avoid this kind of massive leak in the future, documents will get higher classification and less distribution, and a lot of the most important stuff may not be committed to the keyboard at all.

As a former US ambassador in some of the Middle East’s most sensitive posts wrote me (privately) this morning: “The consequence will be even less written reporting and communication—a disaster if you ever want to reconstruct what happened. It is already bad and now will be even worse. Everyone (or those in the know) will be passing info verbally. Ever play that whisper game as a kid?” He means the one where you pass a message from mouth to ear and discover it’s utterly distorted at the end of the chain. “Yep!” he wrote, that’s what internal communications are going to be like.

For everyone who believes that the truth will set you free (and I do), transparency is something that has the flavor of being inherently good. But to understand that diplomacy and transparency mix together as well as oil and water, one merely has to remember that diplomacy hinges on negotiations.

If you’re buying a car, do you want the seller to know what you earn or how much money you have in the bank? Haggling — and that’s what every negotiation ultimately is — is all about being able to control what you want to reveal and what you want to conceal. Walk into a negotiation as an open book and there won’t be any negotiation.

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5 thoughts on “Transparency will be the first casualty of the latest WikiLeaks revelations

  1. dickerson3870

    RE: “Transparency will be the first casualty of the latest WikiLeaks revelations” – NEWS SOURCE
    MY COMMENT: I’m wondering what transparency that might be. As far as I can tell, there is precious little transparency to be made a casualty of. That certainly seems to be the case with the US’s double-dealing foreign policy.

  2. hquain

    Let me, in the manner of the boor in The Graduate, say just one word: encryption. Before we chastise the Wikileakers, let’s ascertain whether the State Dept took minimal care to protect its own traffic — aside from the scout’s honor level of stamping the docs with some bureaucratic slogan.

    Simon Jenkins of The Guardian remarks ominously that there’s no such thing as an ‘electronic secret’. Nonsense. All finance runs electronically — and, as we know to our distress, that’s usually a lot more important than anything the State – any State – does.

    The dominant impression conveyed US actions and reactions over the last decade is, let’s face it, that they have taken place in a fog of stupidity. Is this now different?

  3. richard01

    All of the ‘revelations’ have been shown in clear English (well, telegraphic jargon and acronyms). Didn’t the senders of these emails encrypt them at all? And did some idiot decrypt them all (every single one) and put them into a database that could be leaked by anyone, let alone a junior intelligence officer in Kuwait?

    The result of ‘Your Ears Only’ will be the classic:
    ‘Send reinforcements; am going to advance’
    which became:
    ‘Send three-and-fourpence; am going to a dance’

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