Regarding the WikiLeaks affair, I wish to associate myself publicly with the wise comments (posts below) of the Senators from the University of Chicago and UCLA. Let me give a concrete example of why they are correct about the value of secret government communication.
A few months ago, I had the honor to meet Lord Trimble, after he had given a candid account of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning work helping negotiate an end to the Troubles. He maintained that the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement would not have happened had not the groundwork been laid through secret communications between the subset of IRA leaders who wanted peace and Prime Minister Major. Had those communications been dumped onto the Internet by WikiLeaks, the IRA members concerned would almost certainly have been murdered, and the peace-seeking members of PM Major’s administration would have been eviscerated in the press and had their careers ruined (possibly bringing down the government in the process). That would have killed the Irish peace process for at least a generation — what IRA member or British politician would dare to re-open “secret” communication once the likelihood of public exposure was made so plain?
Some of the pro-leak comments I am seeing around the web seem to stem from an (not entirely unhealthy) instinctive suspicion of the motives of powerful government actors. But those actors don’t just communicate to their peers in other governments, they communicate with quite vulnerable people, for example, pro-democracy groups in Iran, human rights activists in Burma and dissident nuclear scientists in North Korea. Siding with Wikileaks is not therefore logically equivalent to opposing concentrated power and central government authority…in some cases it can effectively mean sentencing grassroots activists either to persecution or complete exclusion from diplomatic contact.