Wikileaks and the Chilling Effect on Diplomatic Communication

From Tunku Varadarajan article at the Daily Beast:

This is “something of a disaster for U.S. diplomacy,” Charles Hill, a professor at Yale and a former U.S. diplomat, told me in an email. “Not because of what’s revealed–everyone knows all diplomatic services do and say such things–but because it has been revealed in a way that indicates the U.S. has lost its ability or willingness to keep such material closely held. So foreigners will tell us less and we will write less down and less substance will be conveyed to Washington. An earlier phase of this came in the late 1980s when it became clear –I was involved–that notes of internal Washington meetings could not be protected from release. So people stopped keeping notes. The result has been that the official record has withered, as has history’s knowledge of what happened. Now that loss is extended to foreign meetings.”

This to me is the key point that has been lost in all of the controversy over whether there were any major revelations from this batch of leaked documents that would endanger America’s relationships around the world. The key revelation isn’t the substance of what’s in the cables, but the fact that America has such lax security when it comes to protecting these communications in the first place. In the wake of this scandal, were I a foreign diplomat, I’d be a little extra cautious about what I share with my U.S. counterparts, for fear that it could end up in the next batch of leaked documents. And that’s a bigger problem than anything that’s in the current cables themselves.