This may be a minority opinion in the blogosphere, but here goes.
I want to see whoever sent a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks go to jail. Our government cannot operate in a dangerous world like this. I’m not just talking about fighting wars and killing terrorists here. I’m talking about the equally important art of quiet diplomacy, which requires candid conversations about sensitive matters within our government, and even more sensitive conversations with foreign officials, intelligence sources, human-rights activists, and countless others with whom a private word is often incredibly valuable.
A free press operates within a generally-implicit, but real tradition of checks and balances under which the government grants journalists broad lattitude to publish leaks and classified information, while journalists exercise some corresponding discretion in weighing the public’s right to know and the government’s legitimate interests in secret-keeping.
WikiLeaks, in particular, has shown troubling disregard for the legal, historical, and political context of this relationship. Dumping huge quantities of virtually unfiltered classified information onto the web that may (though this is a topic of legitimate dispute) endanger specific individuals is wrong and perhaps illegal.
I fear that the end result of episodes like this will be threefold: (1) Our diplomats and soldiers in the field will increasingly self-censor their opinions and operational views out of fear that someone will splash sensitive candid material across the internet. (2) Foreign officials, journalists, informants, and activists will be more reluctant to hold sensitive conversations with American officials, and (3) the American public will become much less supportive of responsible journalists exercising their first amendment rights after witnessing episodes such as this one.
I don’t know the motives of the leaker or leakers who provided this information. Perhaps they were disgusted by the carnage, the official wrongdoing, and the blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps they had more personal motives. Perhaps they acted out of a combination of reasons. Whatever the motive, this was wrong. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. My gut reaction is that whoever did this needs to serve real time behind bars.
P.S. The incompetence of our computer security is equally breathtaking. The keystone cops aspect of this entire affair is rather depressing.