WikiLeaks: Challenging Attitudes to Transparency


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).

4 thoughts on “WikiLeaks: Challenging Attitudes to Transparency

  1. Insightful – one thing that occurs to me is that the multitude of communication media available to us all make it incredibly easy to avoid ‘difficult’ or ‘honest’ conversations. So we email, text or IM, in fact anything to avoid a productive duplex conversation. IMHO we are getting worse, not better, at leadership and communication.

    As for Wikileaks we now know that some people thought (amongst other startling revelations) that George Osborne and David Cameron were inexperienced…. no shit sherlock. As the author says – there is nothing remotely earth shattering here – just some one who doesnt want to play the game and no, remarkably, is branded a sex pest. Well I never

    1. Rich – I endorse your comments.

      Your perspective on communications and technology is especially interesting. So-called enabling technology (everything from email to groupware & social media) has exponentially increased our ability to fire off vast volumes of often very abbreviated and ambiguous messages. Like mortar shells, we only have a very approximate idea of what happens when they land.

      We have been seduced into thinking that this = communication. It doesn’t: we’ve lost the ability to identify instances where nuance and subtlety require face-to-face, or at least verbal, interaction. And for those of us who regard these modes of communication as a chore (sadly, this includes too many people in leadership positions) it has provided a ready made excuse to actually avoid interaction.

      I will be posting a longer comment on technology & communication in the next few days.

      Thanks very much for your feedback.

      spincop

  2. Attack is the best defence. The US Govt has only itself to blame. It circulated these cables to a distribution list of 3 million, it is claimed. It also prior argued that full transparency makes government accountable. What did it expect? Now it has egg on its face. It reminds me of organisations that create awful internal bureaucracies and then blame the government for imposing bureaucracy, hoping to divert responsibility elsewhere. This is shadow-side behaviour. Leaders need to rise above these word games and examine what they are doing in the first place that gives rise to them. By exercising crude power (e.g. on companies to boycott Wikileaks) makes you look less powerful. As Gordon Brown’s memoir says, the more powerful Fred Goodwin became the more he complained and undermined his power.

    1. Appreciated Bill – I find myself in warm agreement with your stance.

      I am increasingly impatient with organisational posturing and pretence around transparency, openness and honesty (and indeed other ubiquitously quoted, inherently ‘good’ values).

      This pretence can be seen in public and private organisations, from national governments to global corporations. These motherhood values are advertised as being part of the organization’s DNA. When someone applies the values too literally however (and exposes a little hypocrisy, for example) the organization’s reaction is to pull the iron fist from the velvet glove and attempt to crush the ‘dissident’.

      Before someone accuses me of being a ‘bleeding heart’, I’m reconciled to iron fist-type organizations being successful and even necessary in some contexts. What I cannot be reconciled to is the systematic cloaking of intentions and the careful disguising of true organizational character.

      Thanks again for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s