Wikileaks has come back to take another sizable bite out of US Government credibility, leaking a quarter of a million sensitive diplomatic cables on its pages with the promise of many more to come.
Overwhelmingly, what is in the Wikileaks embassy database are mundane and embarrassing comments and analyses of foreign officials, the riskier bits having been ‘redacted’ by its own staff and that of newspapers publishing extracts.
Occasionally, the cables offer small fragments of evidence for more serious matters such as possible official Chinese involvement in the claimed hacking of Google last year.
What is clear is that the suspected (but still unconfirmed) leaking by a single lowly intelligence officer in Iraq to a small website has resulted in the most powerful military and government on earth looking alarmingly panicked.
The rise of Wikileaks to the top of US Government ‘to do’ list started in graphic fashion with the March posting of a video that shows a US helicopter apparently gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq, and gathered pace over the summer with the site’s Afghan diary revelations.
The site had previously gained a degree of fame, and in some quarters notoriety, by posting images culled from Sarah Palin’s email account during her Vice Presidential candidacy. Almost three years ago, Wikileaks annoyed the German Police by publishing documents that showed that law enforcement was using Trojans to spy on criminals using Skype. The site has form.
The vulnerability of the US to such leaking is this: it uses IT more extensively any other country and it has since the 2001 attacks on New York made an issue out of the need for intelligence officers to share information. Without such relative openness, and without consolidated systems into which shared data is accumulated, the actions of Bradley Manning in allegedly leaking the data would have been far smaller in scale.
Intelligence officer Manning was arrested in July and stands accused of being connected to some or all of the leaks. He is the big loser from all of this. The effects of his actions are now clear across the front pages of the world’s newspapers and his best defence might be to claim public interest.
Not long after, Wikileaks founder, Julian assange, was accused of rape in Sweden and a warrant issued for his arrest, accusations which some saw as having been manufactured to discredit the site's activities.
Very few people will ever bother to read the leaks in detail (the number downloading one spreadsheet from The Guardian website is 24,000 and counting), but the damage has been done. Whether the US has had some of its important secrets revealed is open to debate, but the country intelligence and diplomatic services have unquestionably been made to look like aspiring Big Brothers in clown garb.