A dump of secret documents was leaked. The BBC sat on the documents for some time before the leak finally went public -- and viral -- via the world wide web. Even after that leak, the CBC sat on the story for two full weeks, ostensibly hoping the story would just go away. Oh wait, that was Climategate last year. Bottle genies, eh?
No, this year the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, currently directed by the Australian progressive gadfly computer slacker Julian Assange (who, as Jonah Goldberg wryly observes, is astonishingly not dead yet) has leaked a massive dump of diplomatic cables that purport to air some of the dirty laundry of diplomats and world leaders. (So far there doesn't seem to be much more to it than that.) But unlike last year's leak of the Hadley CRU papers, international media revealed themselves to be collectively salivating at the prospect of jumping out of the gate early and often. Le Monde, Der Speigel, and the Guardian, among others, were fully prepared to run the story (complete with an interactive map in the case of the Guardian) even though WikiLeaks itself was reportedly trying to fight through a "denial of service" (DNS) attack.
So, what have we learned so far? Not that much really -- mostly "inside baseball" stuff. Politicians and diplomats say snarky, unkind things behind other world leaders' backs that they most likely would not say to their faces. Some world leaders have urged certain actions that anybody who's been paying attention already figured they were urging. Well knock me over with a feather.
Those cited in the leaked cables will no doubt dust themselves off, deflect attention from their embarrassment, and publicly rally and reaffirm their relationships -- even if they harbour suspicions and grudges privately.
An anticipated further round of leaks may tread into more dangerous, more security-sensitive areas, but that remains to be seen. The concern within American diplomatic circles (they're not alone in this) is that the release of secret memoranda and other types of documents, falling into the wrong hands, could put lives in jeopardy. This concern, I believe, is well-founded. And on that basis alone, the WikiLeaks project seems reckless. The public's right to know ends where hostile adversaries' desire to know begins.
If spies must report back to their own governments, could we not at least insist that they do their own damned legwork? Don't espionage crutches like WikiLeaks just set the bar too low, and dumb down the spies' craft? I'm just sayin'.