There Are No Secrets in a WikiLeaks World

This rule is easy to remember and recite, but I am amazed at the number of people shocked when beans get spilled, lips loosened, and ships sunk. In this “new” information age, there are no secrets. From IT companies to hackers, we hear a familiar refrain, “Information wants to be free.”

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I would argue that secrets have never been truly secret, but rather, the means to discover and disseminate “confidential” information has advanced to a point that any idiot with a PC can “find” and share secrets. Rather than shock and outrage, we should take a reputation management lesson from these inevitable developments in technology. First, accept that there are no secrets. Second, adjust the manner in which we communicate to account for the lack of a veil of secrecy.

The recent WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables revealed little sensitive information of substance. From what I have read so far, most of the facts could be predicted or have appeared in media reports over the years. For example, it would be naive to think that South Korea and the United States would never discuss the possibility of Korean re-unification. In fact, as leading world powers, it would be irresponsible for these nations to avoid discussion of how best to handle that particular scenario. It is not the facts that were shocking.

If there is any indignation about the WikiLeaks information, it should center on the candor and language used in the cables when discussing nations, world leaders, and other issues of global importance. The crudeness of the messages signals a far greater problem for America’s reputation on the world stage. As the leading world power, it is reasonable to expect that our diplomatic corps would communicate with an honorable level of decorum – especially when addressing sensitive geopolitical issues. A lesser standard of conduct poses a grave threat to the nation’s reputation as a leader.

Here are a few cable gems that made me cringe:

I realize that the sausage-making that is diplomacy is messy and challenging, but our national reputation deserves better, more honorable words.

Attention to language and messages is important no matter how “secret” the information. Now armed with the knowledge that secrets are no more, communicators (read: all of us) should consider all communications as public. This serves as a good reputation insurance policy.

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2 Responses to There Are No Secrets in a WikiLeaks World

  1. Paul Gillin says:

    Great perspective. On the one hand, it’s disappointing that diplomats may feel that they can no longer communicate directly and honestly with each other for fear of disclosure. On the other, though, the WikiLeaks disclosures may bring a new level of deference and maturity to official communications. We are defined by the language we use. When we resort to frat-house euphemisms and juvenile humor, we cheapen the quality of interaction and ultimately the likelihood of success. There’s something to be said for civility, and maybe these leaks will raise the respect level a notch or two.

    • seanfindlen says:

      Paul – many thanks for your kind words and thoughtful comment.

      Hopefully, you are right and this sordid affair places our diplomats a bit more “en garde” with their communications. I don’t know if you happened to see Dana Milbank’s piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, but I did get a chuckle from this line:

      “But look on the bright side: The leaks have shown the world that somewhere within the U.S. diplomatic corps lurks literary genius.”

      You can find his full op-ed here:

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