Wikileak Fall Out
There's a lot of chatter, for obvious reasons, about the Wikileaks document dump and whether or not it's a dangerous and despicable act. My personal feeling is that any allegedly democratic government that is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade probably needs a self-correcting mechanism. There are times when it's necessary that the powerful be shown that there are checks on its behavior, particularly when the systems normally designed to do that are breaking down. Now is one of those times.
I also think that all the sturm und drang about leaks is fairly bizarre considering that the technology to transfer large amounts of secret information has been out there for some time and has shown its capability in many facets of our lives already. Privacy and secrecy are very abstract concepts in this age. I would have expected the government to have anticipated this kind of document transfer in advance and guarded against it.
As for the substance of the revelations, I don't know what the results will be. But in the world of diplomacy, embarrassment is meaningful and I'm not sure that it's a bad thing for all these people to be embarrassed right now. Puncturing a certain kind of self-importance --- especially national self-importance --- may be the most worthwhile thing they do. A little humility is long overdue.
Update: I highly recommend this thoughtful essay on the topic by Walter Shapiro.
All this brings to mind the enduring wisdom of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the last intellectual to serve in the Senate (four terms from New York) and the only public official to serve in the Cabinet or sub-Cabinet of four successive administrations (from JFK to Jerry Ford). Moynihan, who was U.N. ambassador and envoy to India, was long obsessed with the folly of excessive government secrecy. As Moynihan put it in a 1990 memorandum written right after the Berlin Wall came down with no warning from the CIA, "The central and enduring problem of the security system is that ... the secrets are frequently wrong."
Moynihan's correspondence has been collected in a new book titled "A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary," edited by my friend Steve Weisman. Moynihan took pains in his final 2000 letter to his constituents in New York to stress, "As I close out near on to a half century of government and politics, the great fear that I have is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows. Since the end of the Cold War – which, incidentally, all those secret agencies quite missed ... the secret side of government just keeps growing."
These words were written a year before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.