WikiLeaks, Ramifications for History?

The most recent WikiLeaks disclosures, consisting of tens of thousands of reports and analyses made by US embassies and diplomatic missions around the world, may or may not lead to greater public scrutiny – and hence democratic accountability, as Mr Assange hopes – of the conduct of foreign policy.

The most vociferous criticism of the disclosures has come from those most embarrassed by them, although others charge that they have put the lives and security of confidants at risk. But historians and international-relations scholars have been contemplating the wider consequences of WikiLeaks, looking beyond the content of particular cables to consider the ramifications for their own craft and the future study of the early 21st century.

Some fear that the disclosures, rather than catalysing increased transparency, may constrain the future ability of scholars to understand how decisions were made.

Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University, Massachusetts, believes that the leaks will result in less being written down, with communications conducted more informally where possible.

“Governments do not respond to security breaches by surrendering themselves to the fates,” he said.

He predicted that the circulation of information through government will be tightened and narrowed, making it more difficult for academics to assess the inputs and contours of decision-making.

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Catching up on #Wikileaks #Cablegate

Is it justified? Should a newspaper disclose virtually all a nation’s secret diplomatic communication, illegally downloaded by one of its citizens? The reporting in the Guardian of the first of a selection of 250,000 US state department cables marks a recasting of modern diplomacy. Clearly, there is no longer such a thing as a safe electronic archive, whatever computing’s snake-oil salesmen claim. No organisation can treat digitised communication as confidential. An electronic secret is a contradiction in terms.

Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be “world policeman” – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global. Nonetheless, the Guardian had to consider two things in abetting disclosure, irrespective of what is anyway published by WikiLeaks. It could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk, nor reveal material that might compromise ongoing military operations or the location of special forces.

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Wikileaks

Wikileaks was mentioned on The Culture Show earlier tonight. It’s nothing to do with Wikipedia, but they, of course, have an entry on it: “Wikileaks is a website that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents, while attempting to preserve the anonymity and untraceability of its contributors. Within one year of its December 2006 launch, its database had grown to more than 1.2 million documents,[2] leading to many front-page newspaper articles and political reforms.”