Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Is WikiLeaks a Public Service

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th November, 2010

Hillary Clinton and the US State Department are in a state of shock this week, as more than 250,000 ‘secret’ US diplomatic communications provided to WikiLeaks — reportedly by a young American soldier working in Intelligence in Baghdad — are being systematically filleted and published in five leading Western newspapers, including the Guardian. Today’s crop provided a feast for anyone interested in the Middle East, the main revelation being just how (privately) anti-Iran several Gulf Arab rulers are — in fact, some suggested that military action against Tehran’s atomic aspirations might be a necessity. Other things revealed are much more mundane, even funny — though one suspects that some of the diplomats concerned, including in the vast (but soon to be evacuated) US Embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square, lack a sense of humour. Indeed, having met some of them on my regular rounds of the capital’s diplomatic circuit, I know they do. Future instalments of the WikiLeaks State Department trove will touch on things closer to home, such as what the Americans make of Prince Andrew and of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, and perhaps most interestingly, Britain’s new Coalition government and its leaders. But the question has to be asked: is all this unauthorised public communication of material that was meant to be classified (abeit available to about three million Americans who have access to ‘secret’ missives) a harm or a benefit to the common good? Will it cost lives, as Washington states? Or has it enhanced democratic accountability and indeed brought the public closer to the realities of international wheeling and dealing? I agree with Timothy Garton Ash, who argued in the Guardian today that the information revealed will be a huge boon to historians. But it is to journalists and politicians,  too. So even while WikiLeak’s mastermind, the Australian Julian Assange, is being pursued by the Swedish courts over alleged sexual misdemeanours, I say hats off to him and to WikiLeaks. And also to the Guardian, which has got itself a (British) scoop most other major newspapers would (metaphorically) kill for.

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