Hillary Clinton admits spending a lot of time on her latest trip to the Middle East apologizing for scandals caused by the release of cables acquired by WikiLeaks. While Clinton asserts that she will “affirmatively raise” the WikiLeaks issue to show the administration is actively dealing with it, she expects to be “answering concerns about WikiLeaks for the rest of my life.” (Clinton admits WikiLeaks will dominate the rest of her life, The Independent, Jan 12.) The pressure that Clinton feels is good for individual liberty.
When governments can’t trust each other to keep dirty secrets, they are likely to adjust their behavior. If they hesitate to conspire, then they will be less able to work together to impose the wills of political elites. If they restrict their own lines of communication, then they will be less effective at doing dirty deeds. If they restructure for efficiency, which will be extremely difficult for institutions laden with entrenched bureaucracy and cultures of privilege and rank, then they will probably be less of a burden on citizens and less profitable for political cronies.
If foreign governments don’t knuckle under to US power as easily, it means that it will be more difficult for the US to trade Guantanamo detainees for favors, shield CIA operatives from prosecution, and persuade foreign leaders to not publicly criticize US war policy — to name a few things revealed in the diplomatic cable releases.
WikiLeaks-type activity will affect the behavior of foreign governments even when they aren’t dealing with the US. The example WikiLeaks is making of the most powerful government in the world should make any leading politician uneasy. Once WikiLeaks and its emerging competitors strike other countries just as hard, the arrogance of governments will be shaken and anti-establishment movements be energized. If government cannot decisively win the information war against WikiLeaks, a culture of whistle-blowing may emerge as an effective check against government and corporate power.
WikiLeaks-type activity is bad for politicians, but good for honest folk. It decreases the power of elites, which gives individuals space to broaden their spheres of freedom. It helps make whistle-blowing safer and more effective, which reduces the risk of being required to check conscience or dignity at the door when entering the workplace. What the free world needs is not tighter control of information, but more leaks and more people disseminating leaks.