Larry Mantle |

What portion of a government's diplomatic strategy should be public information?




I think this is one of the most important questions to ask in response to WikiLeaks’ release of more than 250,000 cables from state department employees sent to superiors in Washington, DC.  Supporters of the move say it’s essential for the federal government to be almost completely open – with the exception of information that could be directly harmful to national security.  WikiLeaks supporters say such openness, whether volunteered or accomplished against the government’s will, can lead to more responsible behavior.

However, I wonder how practical that is.  Most of us operate at different levels of openness, depending on a specific goal.  Few of us purchasing a home would disclose to the buyer how high we would eventually be willing to go as part of our first offer.  Similarly, it’s hard to know how the federal government would operate without assurances that confidentiality exists in diplomatic contacts and negotiations.

I assume there are many things governmental leaders know and discuss that aren’t publicly shared, even though the information my not directly affect national security.  I’m presuming they relate to national strategies for benefiting U. S. interests around the world.  Without question, government can, and probably does, abuse that secrecy.  However, as a matter of policy, where would you draw the line?

The position of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seems to be that everything a government employee says or writes belongs to the public, with a narrow exception for national security.  That assertion is one we haven’t really debated in this country.  If the U. S. government is going to make almost all of its state department communications public, it would be a major departure from historic practice. 

This is a debate we can certainly have.  Do you agree with Assange’s view of what the public should be able to access?  Can a government function with such transparency?  If so, how should this information be consistently provided to the public?  If not, how should WikiLeaks be dealt with?