USA TODAY OPINION
This list goes on, sure to anger foreign officials, embarrass diplomats, undermine relationships and complicate communications and intelligence gathering.
Less clear is whether there's much that's truly new. There are a few revelations, such as China's complicity in shipping North Korean missile technology to Iran. But for the most part, the leaked diplomatic cables do more to confirm what was widely supposed, in an unusually colorful way, than to expose deep secrets.
Did anyone doubt that the Saudi's Sunni Arab leaders, separated by ancient hatreds from Iran's Persian Shiites, would fear Iranian nukes? Does anyone doubt that foreign diplomats privately say similarly critical things about American leaders?
Not likely. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the leaks "embarrassing" and "awkward" but said the damage will be moderate.
That seems about right. The greatest damage could come less from the leaks than from the reaction to them. Previous WikiLeaks releases have already driven the Pentagon to limit cross-agency sharing of information, partially undoing practices put in place as a response to the 9/11 attacks. More restraint will surely follow. Just as surely, some diplomats will be less frank, at least in digital communications.
This is troubling, but it also is probably unavoidable in a digital world, with or without WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks is a problem because its zealous founder, Julian Assange, exercises no judgment. Unlike the news outlets he feeds, he doesn't talk to governments before publishing secrets, and he doesn't redact information that threatens lives. In his eagerness to tell the public what their governments are doing — usually a good thing — he is reckless. But he is not a spy.
The most striking fact about Assange's recent leaks is that the suspected leaker is a lowly Army private, Bradley Manning. If Manning, who is in custody, was able to get access to such a vast storehouse of information, there seems little doubt that foreign spies or freelance hackers can do just as much.
In that context, efforts to silence WikiLeaks seem simultaneously inadequate and beside the point.
Tuesday night, Assange was placed on Interpol's most-wanted list for an alleged sex crime in Sweden, but jailing him is likely to prove easier than solving the underlying problem. Vital information isn't easily protected and shared at the same time.
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