The loser in all of this, as it has been since Wikileaks began
releasing its stolen classified data, is not the U.S. government but the
process of diplomacy and statecraft. When they first released the Afghan War Logs,
Wikileaks revealed a key area where they demonstrated their inherent
untrustworthiness in safeguarding sensitive information: they had no
idea what was actually sensitive. I wrote at the time:
The military is rightly accused of overclassifying material, but in
this case we have some idea of why: even with the names removed from
these reports, you know where they happened (many still have place
names). You know when they happened. And you know an Afghan was speaking
to a U.S. soldier or intelligence agent. If you have times, locations
and half the participants, you don't need names to identify who was
involved in a conversation -- with some very basic detective work, you
can find out (and it's much easier to do in Afghanistan, which loves
If I were a Taliban operative with access to a computer -- and lots of
them have access to computers -- I'd start searching the WikiLeaks data
for incident reports near my area of operation to see if I recognized
anyone. And then I'd kill whomever I could identify. Those deaths would
be directly attributable to WikiLeaks.
In the year or
so since the initial release of raw Afghan incident reports, the U.S.
military has been loathe to admit any negative consequences. There are
many reasons for this: by the data's very nature, any "blowback" in the
form of botched operations or murdered Afghan informants would be
classified, so publicizing them would defeat the purpose of keeping them
secret to begin with. Furthermore, it is in their interest to never
admit that such leaks damage them in anything other than general way --
otherwise, they would offer anyone who might want to hurt the
government's ability to function a blueprint for how to do so.
most direct effect of the Wikileaks was its sloppy handling of
information that, whatever the pretense of transparency activists, should remain confidential and out of the public. Last December, my friend Chris Albon explained for The Atlantic how improperly handling this information can have dire consequences:
To their supporters, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian
Assange are heroes of the democratic cause. Assange himself has claimed
that his organization promotes democracy by strengthening the media. But
in Zimbabwe, Assange's pursuit of this noble goal has provided a tyrant
with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for
multiparty democracy. Earlier this month, Assange claimed that "not a
single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed" by Wikileaks'
practices. This is no longer true, if it ever was.
Zimbabwe cable Albon discusses was reviewed and vetted both by
Wikileaks and The Guardian newspaper as a part of their "harm
minimization" process. It was clearly inadequate. The latest leak,
however, contains no such attempts
at harm minimization. The new tranche available online contains no
redactions, which places diplomatic sources, informants, methods, and
communications even more directly at risk than any previous risk from
accidental exposure. This latest leak is the purest distillation of
Wikileaks' campaign to destroy the system of international diplomacy.