2. What’s the Damage?
Let’s consider the WikiLeaks case a little more closely. Most of the material leaked is not truly eye-opening. Commentators tend to agree that the shock value of the material is not primarily a function of revelation. To use a simple analogy, if person A runs person B down in private but is respectful to person B in public, that is not startling news. The news value comes when person A’s disparaging and, hitherto covert, remarks are published.
As a colleague once said:
“People have started stabbing one another in the front”.
The main casualty of the WikiLeaks episode so far is the US government’s careful orchestration of international perception and opinion. Nothing substantive has really changed, except that opinions are no longer acceptably masked for public consumption.
Even Sir David Manning, Britain’s ex-ambassador to Washington, acknowledges that:
“So far the cables are politically and personally embarrassing, sometimes seriously so, rather than severely damaging from the perspective of secret intelligence or operational security.” (The Times, page 4, 30 November 2010).