How blind is the entrenched government secrecy apparatus to this problem? Consider that in the aftermath of the cable release, the U.S. government instructed its employees to continue treating the cables as secret, and to never access them. It would be a cliche to say the executive branch instructed its functionaries to stick their heads in the sand, but that's exactly what they did. Even worse, it means that the foreign officials whom our representatives are interacting with definitively know more about the ongoing actions of the American government than do the members of the American government.
A final point, this one on the government's charge against Manning of "aiding the enemy." Shortly after the New York Times published the first round of leaked cables, Robert Gates offered an honest appraisal of the situation to the press. There are few men alive today who know the secrets that Gates knows; he was Secretary of Defense then, during a time of war, and before that a Director of Central Intelligence. His opinion is therefore quite worthy of deep consideration. Gates pointedly questioned the alarmists in Washington at the time. He said:
Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who's been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: "How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel."
When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.
Now, I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is: governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.
Fairly modest. In the years that followed the actions of Bradley Manning, it's hard to peg exactly what horrors have befallen the U.S. government aside from the Gates-prophesied embarrassment. The meandering war in Afghanistan certainly didn't need Manning's help to get that way. If he "aided the enemy," perhaps someone should tell that to the enemy. For all that Bradley Manning revealed, he didn't really reveal much. But by its shameful non-application of justice in Manning's prosecution -- 1,000 days in chains for a nonviolent offense, without the dignity of a trial by jury -- the U.S. government has itself revealed the most terrible truth imaginable.
Some of the material in this article appears in Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady, available in hardcover in April.