Friday, November 26, 2010

Does Anybody Even Know What A Cable Is Anymore?

I'm not sure I recall the last time I got a telegram, but I think it was when my father died. More than 40 years ago. A telegram is not quite the same as a cable, in that the telegram is sent by telegraph and the cablegram is sent by cable, duh, but they used to be very similar, in fact indistinguishable by the recipient. The method of travel, whether over telegraph wires or undersea cable, was the main difference.

Shortly, we are breathlessly informed, WikiLeaks will release up to 3 million diplomatic cables (which I assume are really emails), at least some of which will likely contain messages uncomplimentary of allied governments and personnel. Oh. Dear.

My memory of history may be faulty, but I seem to recall something like this happening a long time ago and the release of uncomplimentary information was a prelude to war. That's all we need.

Apparently, though who can say, the Government has been busy notifying embassies and presidential palaces to be warned of the coming dump and be prepared for some unkind things reported. It sounds like the State Department knows pretty much which cables will be the most troublesome and has made every effort to let the other governments know in advance what was said and by whom.

But still, there is a palpable collective breath-holding while awaiting the release.

"This could be bad." Indeed.

If it is, it will be the first time for a WikiLeaks Leak. And so I won't be surprised if it is, and I won't be surprised if it isn't.

In fact, nothing that WikiLeaks has leaked so far has been of particular world-shaking importance, and despite what Daniel Ellsberg says, the importance of WikiLeaks' Leakage has always been somewhat less than advertised.

Of course that could change.

I was discussing the situation with a close friend, and I mentioned that it seemed very strange to me that such a low level military intelligence grunt would have free access to so much supposedly "secret" information, particularly something as potentially froughtful as diplomatic cables, which shouldn't be in military intelligence files at all. I still wonder how that happened. The ability to protect diplomatic communications has always been a fundamental aspect of government -- for hundreds if not thousands of years. When that communications security is breached, very bad things can happen. And they often do.

Military field reports, for the most part, don't need to be classified, at least not for more than a short time, and with only a few strategic redactions on release. The field reports that WikiLeaks Leaked were standard communications and reports from the field. They were not sensational nor did they reveal "secrets" that weren't already mostly known of at least in outline if not detail. But then, that's the nature of these reports.

Diplomatic cables are something else altogether, and the fact that Bradley Manning, if he's the leaker, had access to any of them at all, let alone to millions of them, is nothing short of a monumental governmental malpractice. This could be very dangerous for all kinds of people.

On the other hand, maybe not. We'll see.

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