The latest cable release by Wikileaks reported by the world's news sources indicates that the Vatican, and in particular Pope Benedict, impeded the investigation of sex abuse by priests in Ireland. Am I surprised? No, not really. Is this not something that was suspected all along? And what exactly will be the result of this revelation? Does anyone actually believe the Vatican will now come out from hiding behind it's shield of sovereign immunity? The cable release goes on to expose the equally non-surprising tidbit of news that the Vatican had some concerns about alienating the Archbishop of Canterbury when it opened the door to some Anglicans to rejoin the Catholic Church. Well, all I can say is "ho-hum".
I must admit that in the days leading up to the Wikileaks releases I was fully anticipating to see information of monumental proportions, some of which may have changed governments and caused a certain degree of diplomatic chaos. While I generally am at odds with conspiracy theorists, I guess there has been some part of me that feared perhaps there WAS some sort of "secret" order of things, particularly as to nations' governance. Surely, these 250,000 documents would contain some eye-opening clues.
Having followed closely the media reports of the leaks as well as some of the original documents, I'm beginning to arrive at a markedly different conclusion. The majority of the disclosures as of right now do not expose anything that could be construed as being really new. Aside from embarrasing statements by nearly all of the world's diplomatic regiment, and a blow by blow description of the "who said what and when", I'm not seeing much "substance" to any of it. Even in cases where there were no prior concrete evidence, there were certainly a great deal of suspicions or speculations already in existence as to some degree of malfeasance or complicity involving nations, corporations and powerful individuals. Courtroom prosecutors and defense attorneys appear to be the biggest potential beneficiaries of what has been exposed to date. I don't see there being much more than a 72 hour news cycle for most of the individual stories coming out of all this.
The singular exception may be the sheer volume and nature of cables related to how the whole of the Arabic world views Iran. There are some surprising statements by nearly all of the leaders and diplomats of these countries, in particular, those of Saudi Arabia. No big news here that these nations have an ongoing concern about Iran. But when King Abdullah gives encouragement to the U.S. to strike Iran to "cut off the head of the snake", this should do more than raise eyebrows. However, even in this case there were plenty of signals ahead of time. While Iran's president has spouted much vitriole in his rantings against Israel, the real harbingers of Iranian power, the Ayatollah and the mullahs, have been publicly clear for years that the immediate aim of their "fatwa" was to consolidate Islam and it's oil-rich nations either directly or indirectly under the power of Iran.
Overall, though, I just don't see the big deal. Is it going to change the world knowing that nations use their diplomats periodically as spies? Or that we and others sometimes use covert activities to further our respective interests? Or that a Saudi prince held "underground" wild parties? What about large sums of money that sometimes change hands in mysterious ways? Or corporations that try to influence elections? And did we really believe that diplomats are always polite and considerate towards others? I just don't think we can delude ourselves into believing these were truths we didn't already know. Unless there is something special in Assange's threatened "poison pill" or in the yet to be released banking documents, this whole thing could end up being perceived as a real dud.
There are in my mind some much larger and more important questions that loom as a result of this "WikiMania".
First and foremost there are serious questions about national security. How can a Private First Class in the military become an intelligence analyst with access to these documents in the first place? Keep in mind Private Manning just a couple of years prior had been working in a pizza parlor. He evidently smuggled the documents out on a disc labeled "Lady Gaga", hand-written no less. (I suppose there should be no shock in this matter. Drug cartels seem to have minimal trouble building elaborate multi-million dollar tunnels under our borders.) What does this say about our ability to protect ourselves from our real enemies?
And then there is the disturbing situation of internet hackers. Both the cyber-world supporters and critics of Wikileaks along with a group of internet whiz kids interested only in general mayhem have been able to take down websites almost at will. More cause for alarm comes from experts who are admitting little can be done to stop them. I find it both maddening and ironic that these self-described "hactivists", while extolling the inalienable virtues of free speech, have appointed themselves the sole arbiters as to which webpages can be viewed. With so much of our daily lives, communication and commerce so interwoven and dependent on the internet the prospect of an all-out "cyber war" is frightening indeed.
In the end, though, the subject of real debate for the forseeable future will be the argument over the balance between the public's right to know and the individual or institutional need for privacy. At what point does transparency trump privacy? Or vice versa? How does the First Amendment come into play? With the exceptions of child pornography and thievery there are very few regulations of the internet and even in those cases regulation is only marginally effective. Is it even technically possible to regulate the net if we wanted to? Or have we created the ultimate tool of anarchy? Hopefully we won't be eventually faced with some sort of Orwellian solution where we are forced to relinquish our most precious rights to avoid the chaos engendered by a few megalomaniacs. Greater minds than my own will have to sort this one out