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Guy W. Farmer: An overheated response to WikiLeaks

Guy W. Farmer
For the Nevada Appeal

I read thousands of classified cables (messages) and wrote several hundred of them myself during my diplomatic career, and that’s why I’m following the most recent WikiLeaks document dump of State Department cables with great interest.

Frankly, I think this alleged “scandal” is more of a tempest in a teapot although, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, it does have serious national security implications. I question the feverish media reaction to this batch of cables, however, because from what I’ve seen and read, these reports are mostly low-level diplomatic traffic, classified “confidential” rather than “secret” or “top secret.”

During my time in the Foreign Service we often used the “confidential” classification for routine diplomatic correspondence between our embassies and Washington, D.C. Those cables were usually classified because they might be embarrassing if revealed to the public, as are the WikiLeaks cables. For example, as the American Embassy public affairs officer (PAO) in Canberra, Australia, I would have been embarrassed if my candid opinions about ex-Vice President Al Gore or U.S. Information Agency (USIA) Director Dr. Joseph Duffey had been made public. I might have lost my job but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Although some “experts” described the WikiLeaks document dump as a diplomatic disaster, others said it was a net positive for U.S. diplomats and the State Department.

“The cables show an American diplomatic establishment that is pretty good at analysis,” wrote respected Time magazine columnist Farid Zakaria. “The WikiLeaks documents . . . show Washington pursuing privately pretty much the policies it articulated publicly.” Zakaria blamed “Washington’s absurd data-sharing policy” for the damaging leaks, and I agree.

The national security fallout from the leaked cables is a serious issue. Secretary Clinton said the Obama administration is taking “aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information” and Atty. Gen. Eric Holder threatened to prosecute the leakers as he did earlier this year during the first two document dumps. So far, however, no espionage charges have been filed against elusive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Australian who already faces rape charges in Sweden. The only person in custody in this matter is Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, a disgruntled soldier.

I also agree with Reno’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Warren Lerude, who told me that “no responsible journalist would publish detailed top secret information that could result in harm to our troops,” while adding that the WikiLeaks controversy reveals sloppy handling of classified documents by American diplomats and soldiers.

It’s our government’s job to keep the secrets and that’s what the Obama administration should emphasize as the WikiLeaks scandal goes forward. But let’s not overreact.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, spent 28 years in the U.S. Foreign Service