The expected drop of classified documents from WikiLeaks occurred Sunday afternoon, producing stories in the New York Times and several foreign newspapers. The leaked documents include both national security matters and sensitive diplomatic information. For example, CNN reports one leaked cable revealed the Yemeni government was falsely taking credit for American action against al-Qaeda forces, to soothe unrest among elements of the local population that would have been upset with strikes conducted on their soil by the American military. Another included sensitive remarks by the American ambassador to Pakistan concerning efforts to remove enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. Yet another cable makes it clear American authorities have been aware of computer hacking efforts directed by the Chinese government for some time, but have not openly discussed their intelligence for diplomatic reasons.
It’s common to deplore the polite fictions of diplomacy, but they serve an important purpose. America’s allies, and opponents engaged in delicate negotiations, must be able to rely on confidential communications. Private negotiations tend to race ahead of public pronouncements. We have working relationships with governments that preside over hostile populations.
The effect of the WikiLeaks vandalism is to destabilize the governments on the other end of these diplomatic cables. The American government may suffer a degree of embarrassment, and a pinch of spice may be added to domestic political debates… but in some of these foreign nations, the information published by WikiLeaks could cause serious, even violent, unrest. This works to the advantage of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who gain their strength by radicalizing uneasy populations.
The White House response, delivered by spokesman Robert Gibbs, protested that the release of these documents would jeopardize “our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.” The people behind WikiLeaks understand this perfectly. They are not an impartial “peace” organization speaking truth to power. They are objectively pro-terrorist, because intelligence is a vital asset in any form of conflict, but especially asymmetrical warfare. WikiLeaks has no interest in exposing classified documents from al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or North Korea. They are working to create an environment in which only terrorists and rogue states can operate in secret, creating a fog of war that blankets only half the global battlefield. In earlier eras of warfare, an organization like this would be pursuing “peace” by forwarding Allied troop and supply movements to the enemy high command.
Many of the leaked documents include “raw” intelligence information, which is processed and vetted by agency supervisors before it is relayed to American policy-makers or the public. Exposing these communications in their raw state is like forcing a Windows computer to display nothing but binary code. It also makes intelligence assets and contacts in foreign services less willing to share sensitive information with American authorities in the future. A lot of foreign intelligence chiefs are going to be slamming their copies of the New York Times on their desks in heated discussions with their subordinates over the next few weeks.
Terror organizations and their state sponsors would pay a lot of money to produce an intelligence and propaganda operation that does what WikiLeaks does for them. The ability to interfere with diplomatic and security communications between uncomfortable allies in an unstable world is priceless to the global terror networks.
WikiLeaks has been complaining about a “denial of service” attack on its servers over the weekend, which would be nothing but an act of petty revenge if true. It will take more than annoying hacker mischief to shut down the WikiLeaks operation… but it’s now clear that Western authorities must shut it down somehow, or reconcile themselves to conducting the rest of the War On Terror wearing blindfolds, and leaving voice-mail messages for crucial intelligence contacts who will be increasingly reluctant to return their calls. It’s difficult to defeat a terrorist enemy that cheats on every law of warfare and human conduct. It will be nearly impossible if the civilized world is forced to play the game with all its cards face-up on the table.