Full Disclosure: Is Wikileaks Friend Or Foe?

06/01/2011 16:23 | Updated 22 May 2015

It was with more than a dash of glee and a pinch of schadenfreude that I skipped off to the newsagents early yesterday morning. The news that Wikileaks - the internet's controversial whistle blowing organisation - had got hold of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables was more than my curiosity could take.

How had it happened? What had been discovered? Would the documents destabilise national security? And, more broadly, is this kind of disclosure responsible and in the public interest?

The revelations fall into two camps. The first was of the juicy, gossipy variety that I would have expected on the cover of a weekly glossy rather than the front page of The Independent. Yet there it was - with pictures and everything: German Chancellor Angela Merkel 'lacks creativity', French President Sarkozy is an 'emperor with no clothes', Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is partial to 'wild parties', and Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi is 'attended by a voluptuous blonde nurse'. All that was missing was a ubiquity of exclamation marks and a blurred photo of Hilary Clinton leaving the State Department with her hand covering her face.

The second, and perhaps more far reaching, collection of documents details behind-the-scenes foreign policy wrangling, the US' view of the world, and diplomatic manoeuvres between states: China would prefer the reunification of Korea, the Saudis are losing sleep over nuclear proliferation in Iran, the US has asked it's diplomats to spy on UN leader Ban Ki Moon, and allegations that corruption is rife within the Afghan leadership.

It's all very interesting stuff (particularly for novelists and historians, not so much for conspiracy theorists), but there's nothing shocking about the revelations. Anyone with a passing interest in international relations could have made a couple of educated guesses that would've come to the same conclusions. The only difference now is that it's fact, rather than conjecture.

So, why is it that the White House and Clinton have come out and said that the publishing of these documents is illegal, irresponsible and puts individuals at risk? To me, it seems as though they've taken hold of the 'attack is the best defence' mantra and come out with their verbal guns blazing.

After all, Wikileaks has said that it initially intends to redact identities, while the five news publications that were given advanced access to the documents, including the Guardian, have all pledged the same. And it's not like the missives were classified to the highest level – according to news reports, around 3 million US citizens had clearance to access the data. If that many people knew the intimate details of the way I conduct my life, I'd say the cat was out of the diplomatic bag.

The truth of it is that the leak is a massive issue of pride and embarrassment for the US government. And they were given fair warning. Wikileaks obtained the documents earlier this year and gave the US ample time to warn its allies and bolster relations ahead of their release.

I also think it's important that the US has been made aware of the gaping holes in its intranet security before any truly sensitive information made it into the mainstream. Although this latest load of cables is, by most accounts largely innocuous, I'd hate to think what might happen if information of a highly classified and confidential nature fell into Wikileaks' hands. Then the security of individuals – particularly those who supply highly sensitive information to the intelligence services – would be severely compromised.

Ultimately, as long as Wikileaks keeps conducting itself in the same responsible manner, the existence of such an organisation can only be seen as a good thing. For me, I think things work better when there is transparency and our governments are forced to take responsibility for their actions. As the old adage goes, the truth will set you free. Perhaps these latest leaks will pave the way for some open and honest communication between states. One can only hope.

By: Kate McAuley


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