Saturday, September 10, 2011

Death by leaks: Thoughts on the WikiLeaks furor

People who expect to learn about the dirty little secrets of diplomacy will be underwhelmed by the material in the leaked cables on Taiwan

Much has been made in the past week of the hundreds of diplomatic cables concerning Taiwan that were among those released by WikiLeaks on Aug. 30, sparking a war of sorts among newspapers and TV stations to see which one can report most on the subject. Media organizations have been busy sifting through the 80 or so pages listing the Taiwan-related diplomatic cables to identify those that have the most news value. And judging by the Web hit counts, those efforts are not unwarranted.

The diplomatic cables’ appeal with the public stems from one characteristic alone: The great majority of them are classified (standard classification levels in Western government agencies are “unclassified,” “classified,” “secret” and “top secret,” with various means of narrowing the distribution list, such as “Top Secret, NATO/ISAF” or, for example, “UMBRA/ORCON for highly sensitive signals intelligence).

One need not be an intelligence specialist, however, to realize that there is very little in those cables that isn’t already public knowledge. Classified documents can give the reader the impression that he or she is getting a rare glimpse at what lies behind the curtain, but in reality, most such documents do little more than state the obvious.

My op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

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