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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks likely set back to open government cause

Regardless of whether you agree with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the latest Wikileaks document dump is "an attack on the international community," Foreign Minister Rudd's expression of extreme concern" or Attorney General McClelland calling in the police to investigate whether Julian Assange has committed a crime, the release of cables sent by US missions abroad won't help advance the cause of more openness in the foreign policy field. Random transparency of this kind will likely boost the "told you so" arguments of those who advocate more not less secrecy, making a sensible debate about the legitimate issue of the balance between those needs and openness and accountability more difficult. To date secrecy has too often trumped those other values.(Update:This AFP article canvasses these issues. Martin Dart - an "IM manager working in government in Perth"-also sees lots on the downside.)

Coincidentially (?) The Australian today reports that the Attorney General has written to media organisations proposing a national security protocol for reporting sensitive information.

Other views on the Wikileaks disclosures include Praveen Swami in The (UK) Telegraph who sees some potential for embarrassment but concludes there's "a lot more to be learned about the world around us from nothing more secret than old newspapers than from the treasures Julian Assange has brought up from the beast’s lair." And James Mann in The New Republic who observes "Wikileaks has taken us well beyond the types of disclosures that the Freedom of Information Act, for the past several decades, has provided to journalists and historians" but nevertheless confidently predicts the survival of secret diplomacy.

Information gathering in legitimate ways is a large part of what diplomats do, not evidence of spying, although you have to wonder about the instruction to US embassy officers to collect among other things credit card account numbers as part of the biographical information gathered on notables around the world.


  1. Anonymous5:11 pm

    Just remember that we've seen less that 1% of these cables released yet.

    I'm sure that over coming weeks there's going to be some very interesting stuff.

  2. "Interesting" for sure, and some may disclose matters where the public interest in disclosure for example about unlawful actions override other considerations.But "interesting" according to the Wikileaks source isn't an appropriate guiding principle.