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Everyone else was going to do it....

There are, no doubt, mixed views among us about the wikileaks of U.S. diplomatic correspondence. I'd be interested in hearing the pros and cons. A quick look at what the NYTimes has posted seems to confirm much that rattles around in the papers anyway. The one new thing I learned was that "apparently" North Korea has supplied Iran with medium-range missiles.While waiting to hear the pros and cons, I chuckle over the Times toing and froing about why and how they published what they published--by no means all of the material.Here is their justificatory paragraph: "Of course, most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides. WikiLeaks has shared the entire archive of secret cables with at least four European publications, has promised country-specific documents to many other news outlets, and has said it plans to ultimately post its trove online. For The Times to ignore this material would be to deny its own readers the careful reporting and thoughtful analysis they expect when this kind of information becomes public."http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/29editornote.html?hpAnd the front page story: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/29cables.html?hp

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I, for one, am happy to have such information as a way to make governments more accountable.I wonder what you think of the fact that the texts of the new missal translation into English, yet to be officially made public, are already available on https://wikispooks.com/wiki/Category:Roman_Catholic_Church along with a scathing report?

An empirical question: Will this make government more accountable?

A world where diplomats can only negotiate in the glare of publicity is a world where diplomacy is hobbled. Those who prize diplomacy over military actions should reflect on that.It will also be interesting to see whether Wikileaks is successful in publicizing diplomatic messages from nations with authoritarian governments. Is this another case that puts nations that are relatively more open at a disadvantage? To the extent that Wikileaks is understood as an agency of the "Left," it's a Left that has too much in common with the Tea Partiers for my taste.

There are always two sides to the argument and, in this case, lots of nuance. Yet, it reminds me of many statements repeatedly said during the release of the Pentagon Papers. The end result of that decision was to make transparent a series of ill-fated, unethical, and incorrect theories that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands in Southeast Asia.These leaked documents will not expose "Top Secret" correspondence. It will reveal many embarrassing comments, cables, etc. In retrospect, it may damage some US-World diplomatic relationships. In the long run, it may actually help by shedding light on the "hidden" communications, lies, bribes, decisions, etc. that fill the foreign relations departments of the world. Example - King Abdullah asking the US to bomb Iranian nuclear capacity. You could spin revealing this both ways - negative/positive. Wonder again in the long run if this helps increase Congressional oversight and education about foreign policy decisions.

According to the Telegraph, "A classified directive was issued to US diplomats under the name of the secretary of state in July last year, asking for forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications." Doesn't this confuse diplomacy with spying, and isn't it good that it is exposed so that next time governments will think twice before doing this?

IF secrets and spying are intrinsically evil, then it seems to me that those who secretly stole and outed the material while remaining anonymous are themselves guilty of the same fault.

Assange seems to have gone over the edge, though edge of what I'm not sure. His justifications for this "document dump" are pretty hilarious. Nothing really juicy in here, and he clearly hasn't the intellectual heft to sift through and make any sense of it. It reminds me of an adolescent walking up behind an old man on the street and pulling his pants down for all to see. Sure, it's not terribly attractive, but what would you expect, and what was the point?

Margaret -- No. The release of the Pentagon Papers, while laudable, certainly didn't prevent the war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Peter -- Your argument holds only if by "diplomacy" you mean duplicity. I would think that citizens of a democracy would demand that diplomatic negotiations be subject to the scrutiny of a free and democratic press. (Is that what you mean by "the glare of publicity"?) Diplomats need have no fear, though, as our current mainstream press is bought-and-paid-for, as well as lazy and incestuous with the powerful.

Whatever happened to "Eyes Only"? It's so 007.

Reports had it that the wikileak site was under attack; it would be ironic if the documents are only in the "free" press that has bent over backwards to tell us why they had to publish them.From the BBC: "So far, Wikileaks has only posted some 200 of the 251,287 messages it says it has obtained. However, the entire bundle of cables has been made available to five publications, including the New York Times and the UK's Guardian newspaper."

A decade or so ago, Daniel Moynihan wrote a book called "Secrets" (as I recall) in which he made a very good case for the silliness of the many categories and sub-categories into which documents stamped "secret" were divided. Will we find out from this dump that "secret," "top secret," "nearly secret," "not quite secret," etc. should probably be stamped "silly"--well not all: "Sarkozy is the president with no clothes."

Ann: I recently ran into that question. A teenager was spying on his parents. I said to him: "Don't do it". Then thought to myself: "Why not?" ... and was stumped!

Blessed are the liars and hypocrites, say I, because they protect the rest of us saints...

The Saudi view has certainly been voiced in news stories, albeit a bit more muted than "Bomb Iran!"

I think the big issue is how poor is our security that an army private can, over a six month period, copy and leak a couple hundred thousand pieces of sensitive correspondence. I absolutely believe it undermines our diplomatic efforts, if there had been a reasonable expectation of confidentiality which was then violated. While I think it is wrong that this stuff has been published, and I think the boy who leaked it should go to jail for a very long time, I think the error lies with the government; the press was just doing its job.

Nobody will be even a little bit shocked by anything that is found in the leaked documents. (King Fahd is more afraid of an Iranian bomb than of an Israeli bomb; anybody surprised?) But everybody will pretend to be shocked, and the newspapers will even pretend it is all news. Diplomacy is necessarily conducted by liars and hypocrites, because they're the only ones who can do the job with a straight face.

Ann: "IF secrets and spying are intrinsically evil". Don't see how they could be intrinsically evil. Aren't these cases of, "it depends"; that would make them good or bad depending on circumstances. Keeping a secret is sometimes an important component of solid social relations. Spying may not always be duplicitous, but an act of courage... Paul Revere's famous ride depended on someone spying on the British, no?

Paul Revere screwed up the secret-keeping thing, got busted on his way out of town, and spent the night of the "eighteenth of April in seventy-five" in jail. Somebody else did the horse-riding and alarum-raising part.I do realize that's not the point, of course.

Ms S. --My question about secrecy and spying being evil was half rhetorical. I have mixed feeling about it, and my feelings are only feelings. I've never heard of anyone faulting the British for cracking the Enigma code by using a computer. So what's the difference between that and personal spying, so to speak? In fact, I love spy stories, with John LeCarre' a favorite writer, and the only non-fiction fun book I"ve bought this year is about the great English ploy of loading a corpse with somebody else's papers and a lot of disinformation and planting it (horrid phrase) on a beach in Spain where the Germans would find it. You want dark, there's dark, and it too helped to make D-Day a success. A bloody, bloody success, but think what D-Day would have been without Alan Turing and the fake diplomat. So two new questions about exceptions: Are there exceptions to the old rule that one must never, ever lie? Why or why not? Two hundred words or less. (It's the why questions that throw us.)Aquinas formulates the rule on a teleological basis -- speech is for telling the truth, so lying is always wrong. But I think he begged the question. Sometimes speech is for lying. (And isn't that ugly and dark.) Maybe there really is something to the ethical notion that sometimes the ideal *must not* be chosen. Maybe it's because the ideal applies only in semi-ideal circumstances. In other words what is "ideal" varies with circumstance. Or something like that.

Yes great novel full of duplicity: Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre.Whatever Aquinas may have said about speech is for truth-telling, I recall our second grade casuistry class which went back and forth about when it was okay to lie (to save someone's life) and not (lying to your mother; not sure we disccussed fathers). Why okay? Some things are no business of other people (though staying silent is an option). Some things other people do not need to know (or have a right to know). In fact, I think I came away from second grade with a fairly broad understanding of circumstance in which it might be okay to lie--and sometimes mandatory.

Much as I love Aquinas, I think he over-values means to ends. He agrees that means have value-in-themselves only in relation to ends (which have intrinsic value). However, he fails to see that some means, some tools, can have more than one end and those end-values can vary with circumstances. So his ethics is just too simple in some ways.

"North Korea has supplied Iran with medium-range missiles."Like GW Bush said: Iraq, Iran, North Korea: Axis of Evil. At least he took one of them out.

The story about North Korea said "apparently"--and next question: will they work? I still think GW Bush overdid it--in fact, at a time when Iran was "apparently" being very helpful in Afghanistan (I read it: "In the Graveyard of Empires").

The ultimate hypocrisy of the New York Times is revealed in their different approaches to the Wikileaks (publish) and Climategate (don't publish) emails. Note the NYT justification for not publishing Climategate is not based on debatable authenticity, but on privacy, so their decision to publish the extremely private Wikileaks emails speaks for itself:"The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won't be posted here."--New York Times, on the Climategate emails, Nov. 20, 2009"The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. . . . The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."--New York Times, on the WikiLeaks documents, Nov. 29, 2010

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.