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How the US government – and you – should assess secrets in the WikiLeaks age

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Stricter controls also need to be applied to who can gain access to sensitive information. A candid telegram from the US embassy in Rome to help prepare Washington leaders to meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should not have gone to the US military in Baghdad. Filters, electronic and manual, can prevent such misdirection.

WikiLeaks: The five strangest far

Personnel security is also important. A Washington Post article this September reported that the sergeant in Baghdad who supervised Manning “was so concerned about the soldier’s mental health” that he disabled his weapon, according to Manning’s attorney. Yet the private continued analyzing intelligence. If true, sound personnel security policies were not being enforced. Manning should have been removed from sensitive work, pending a professional evaluation.

US diplomats are even more important

Beyond better controls on information and access, there’s a second lesson to be learned from the WikiLeaks revelations. Those who see US diplomats overseas as less relevant – given modern communications and information flows – are wrong. The disclosures show the unique value of embassy reporting and analysis, and of sustained personal engagement with foreign leaders in their own environments.

The US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, for instance, is better able to have frequent, candid interchanges with Saudi leaders on a range of US interests than are leaders in faraway Washington who occasionally visit or telephone.

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