by Elise Crane
Aside from any “freedom of information” considerations or speculation about Assange’s motivations, this act shatters diplomatic trust that has been painstakingly built over time. As Ambassador Rugh said today in the public diplomacy seminar, this will hugely influence how our diplomatic partners see us; even our allies may become quite reluctant to disclose critical facts, even in a seemingly protected atmosphere, because we now appear incapable of controlling our own classified information. This incident will also reduce the seemingly useless facts that diplomats include in their cables; as Amb. Rugh said, these “useless facts” (such as al-Gaddafi’s “voluptuous blonde ‘nurse'”) sometimes prove to be useful indeed and their potential loss would be a detriment to U.S. diplomacy.
Although the majority of these cables are nothing groundbreaking, their disclosure will reverberate for years. It is not only disastrous for the general reputation of U.S. diplomacy (UN espionage… ?), but also for the information gathering function of the U.S. State Department, which I believe will be severely constrained, at least in the short term. Let’s hope Secretary Clinton can work some diplomatic magic in repairs the vast damage that has been done.