WikiLeaks – The US embassy cables

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By Will Spens

The continued release from WikiLeaks and several major newspapers including The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times of 251,287 leaked US embassy cables is causing a flood of headlines across the world. Last night at the Frontline Club author and broadcaster Tom Fenton chaired a heated discussion with an expert panel including WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson.

With Interpol having issued a red notice for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange his current location is being kept secret. Representing WikiLeaks was spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson. Asked whether Assange being in hiding was evidence of WikiLeaks’ own lack of transparency, Hrafnsson responded that ‘to equate Julian remaining in hiding with the lack of transparency seen from governments is completely unfounded’.

With him was James Ball, a data journalist who has been working with WikiLeaks since the Iraq War Logs were released. Asked what this new release means, Ball said that it was ‘an incredibly significant trove of material’ which could have real ‘geopolitical consequences’.  He went on to say that ‘secrecy in diplomacy should be the exception, not the norm’ and justified the release by saying that the public ‘can only make an informed vote if [they] know what is happening’.

Professor Colleen Graffy, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy held the view that the leaking of previously confidential cables will lead to ‘complications for communications for diplomats in future.’ If people were not able to speak freely to diplomats without fear of being exposed this would have a ‘chilling effect’ on the international community. She was also adamant that secrecy was essential for allowing sensitive, behind the scenes diplomacy to take place. ‘How many years is it going to put back reunification with Korea?’ was her impassioned response to the recently leaked revelation that China seems no longer to view North Korea as useful leverage on the world stage.

She was joined in much of her advocacy for diplomatic confidentiality by Sir Richard Dalton, a former UK Ambassador to both Libya and Iran. Asked whether he thought that the release would have repercussions for, or alter the foreign policy of the US, he responded that ‘the facts of diplomacy will remain the same as they always have’ but asserted ‘the material does not belong in the public domain’. He said that both the Afghan and Iraq War Logs were ‘perhaps a clearer case of public interest’ than confidential diplomatic cables, but then went on to say that once the material was released, it was always going to be printed and therefore the notion that WikiLeaks should be shouldering the blame is perhaps unnecessary.