Why WikiLeaks is wrong - and what it does to us all

There are two sides formed up pretty quickly here: those who feel the divulgence of information is part of open government (“And about time, too� is their motto) and the other side who feel the law has been broken and that open government at the cost of damaging security is not worth it (“Hunt the bastards down� is their motto). While both have their fair points, what is not being discussed is why we are in this sorry state and what the real consequences are.

In a small town, as many of us inhabit, if there is a scandal the whispers die down quickly merely because everything leaks out and facts are exposed to one in all. Problem? No problem, everybody knows. Reality changes a little. Life goes on.

For the person whose secrets were revealed, life may never go on quite the same way, but that depends on neighbors who should, by now, know that everyone in a small community lives in a glass house of their own making to some degree and, sooner or later, it will be their turn, so mind where you are throwing rocks.

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These WikiLeaks exposures have happened — for whatever motive — against the backdrop of the diminishing world. What I mean is that the world is constantly in touch, at the speed of light. Every bit of gossip and tittle-tattle is exchanged. Television, radio, the Internet — all these are purveyors of fact, fiction, gossip, leaks and news (the news being opinion these days based on what little facts are known about anything).

When someone leaks this volume of “secret� papers (as stamped on each page), they may have done so in the belief that we are already a global society and that the time for hidden truths is over.

They are wrong; they are myopic about the ubiquity of the Internet and media outlets. Most of the world does not share that opinion — yet. And so their leak can be seen as someone taking a little town’s secret and screaming it in the middle of Times Square.

Without context, without balance of the free flow of countermanding information, their barrage and accusations fall on virgin ground or, at worst, enemy fields where, distorted and taken out of context, accusations and “facts� can become seeds of destruction later on.

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The harm is not all against the United States. It is fair that we are concerned here that the United States is being harmed, because it is. But what we should be more concerned with is that these leaks, one-sided and disproportionate as they are, will destabilize those countries and regimes that serve different communities with even less of a balanced media and informational exchange. In short, the town crier in a foreign land may cast a very much longer shadow on future welfare for us all than is fair.

WikiLeaks says it is releasing material in a doctrine of fairness, yet it leaks only that which it has and freely admits it all came from one source. Where is the fairness in that?

Having spent time at the U.N., I can assure the reader that some things are said in a very undiplomatic manner over lunch or cocktails — some of it pure letting off steam in heated negotiations. Humans do such things. Should we hold everyone, everywhere, accountable for their choice of words? In a free democracy that is anti-constitutional. Should we, therefore, take those words as policy gospel? Hardly.

Should we expect to see heated exchanges within domestic departments, describing firm allies in less than flattering terms? Sure, why not, Americans are vociferous and bombastic — but never foolish enough to want to insult by making such statements public, especially about friends and allies.

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In a small town, you can be in a really angry discussion with your good neighbor about the garbage in the afternoon, rant to your spouse, and then invite the neighbor to dinner the next day. Life is short.

People in the diplomatic and intelligence corps know this, here in America and abroad. The people who do not know this are the populace worldwide who will view the one-sided WikiLeaks documents as the only side of the discussion, anger without cause, without rebuke. And there is always rebuke aplenty.

If our allies want to show how scurrilous the WikiLeaks papers are, they should release some of their more colorful internal memos about us. Voices in the wind in the intelligence community, not doctrine. But that is how the media is playing it: as important hidden truth. That is a mistake and dangerously wrong.

A final note: A good man, Ambassador Negroponte, appointed and then fired by the Bush administration, was the first czar of the intelligence agencies. He was let go because he opposed the unrestricted sharing of agencies’ information, saying it increased the chances of a leak. Seems prophetic now.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.

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