Here’s a quickie, also from “History Punk”: at least one of WikiLeaks’ exposed diplomatic cables (75TEHRAN2069) was already previously released by none other than the State Department itself.
This highlights the small but notable fact that most of these cables would eventually have been declassified via the Mandatory Declassification Review Process (you can see the dates for when this review process is supposed to happen in the headers of several of the cables) or via FOIA. And, in turn, that raises questions about what WikiLeaks and its source were hoping to achieve by releasing the cables now — a huge discussion.
Distrust in the declassification/FOIA process? Perhaps, especially considering the fact that Obama has been measurably the most secretive president in US history. On the one hand, the process is there for good reason; on the other hand, it is indeed being undermined. The blogger Clay Shirky sums up the need for WikiLeaks in this regard very well:
Over the long haul, we will need new checks and balances for newly increased transparency — Wikileaks shouldn’t be able to operate as a law unto itself anymore than the US should be able to. In the short haul, though, Wikileaks is our Amsterdam. Whatever restrictions we eventually end up enacting, we need to keep Wikileaks alive today, while we work through the process democracies always go through to react to change.
But there’s the darker flipside, namely, that WikiLeaks wants to undress the international system now rather than later. But why? Ah, well, that all revolves around the question of WikiLeaks’ ideology, which I believe is tricky to pin down:
Essentially, WikiLeaks never really has the same agenda twice — despite what they themselves may say to the contrary. […] [N]o two WikiLeaks volunteers or affiliates seem to be alike. Consider this variety: from former WikiLeaks advisor John Young of Cryptome, an old school crypto-idealist, to former WikiLeaks political ally Birgitta Jonsdottir, a New Age neo-pagan feminist, to Assange himself, who is in my opinion very hard to pin down ideologically, perhaps because he is, as George Orwell once argued about Charles Dickens, not so much an ideologue as a very angry and talented post-bourgeoisie.
For another, there are and have been different motivating factors behind WikiLeaks’ origins and development, from Assange’s own vision of a conspiracy to fight conspiracies to Daniel Domsheit-Berg’s evidently purebred cypherpunk dislike of authority. And I’m only speaking about the figures we know by name. What about the anonymous Chinese dissidents whom Assange says helped start WikiLeaks? For all we know, they were liberals or Maoists.
Okay, but I’m not really saying anything new here that I, or legions of others, haven’t said in one iteration or another, so I’ll end things on that note.
Update, 17.02.2011: History Punk has another good post about the American Embassy in the Vatican that reveals what some diplomatic staffers consider to merit the “Secret” designation.