How Governments, Terrorists, and Corporations Will React to WikiLeaks

by Bing West

Placing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables on the Internet constitutes a massive betrayal of America. A nation must safeguard its military and diplomatic secrets if it is to be trusted in the international system. Whoever provided the material to WikiLeaks should be prosecuted under the death sentence, regardless of his or her alleged motivations or mental worries. Traitors always feel aggrieved.

Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups read the Internet avidly, so it is likely that, by now, some individuals who cooperated with America have fled for their lives, or been murdered. (Capital punishment is a deterrent to betrayal.) As for the founder of WikiLeaks, surely the U.S. government has the power and the motivation to, without physical or illegal methods, make life miserable for him, regardless of where he is.

Individual news organizations have reached different decisions on whether to publish these materials. The New York Times declared, “Most of these documents will be made public regardless of what the Times decides … the more important reason to publish is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions. … The Times has taken care to exclude information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.”

It is certainly true that the Times went to great lengths to avoid spotlighting any vulnerable individual. But the greater truth, of course, is that those materials were splashed across the world via the Internet.

On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal refused to play along.

“We didn’t want to agree to a set of pre-conditions related to the disclosure of the Wikileaks documents without even being given a broad understanding of what these documents contained,” a spokeswoman for the paper said. CNN also declined to make an agreement with WikiLeaks.

There will be copycats: if not to WikiLeaks, then elsewhere on the Internet. Every government, totalitarian or democratic, has to be shuddering at the precedent established by this massive, deliberate leak. Imagine the consternation now reigning in Cuba, Iran, China, and Russia.

The likely global effect of WikiLeaks is the erection of massive firewalls and the rigorous compartmentalization of computer traffic inside governments and corporations worldwide. This will come at a cost: impeding of the exchange of information will create more bureaucracy and more sluggish, less coordinated responses.

— Bing West is author of The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan.

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