Tuesday, February 21, 2012

wikileaks postscript: the u.s. government is more secretive than ever...,

NYTimes | The publication of so many confidences and indiscretions did not bring U.S. foreign policy to a halt. But it did, at least temporarily, complicate the lives of U.S. diplomats. American officials say that foreign counterparts are sometimes more squeamish about speaking candidly, and that it is harder to recruit and retain informants around the world.

As raw material for journalists, the cache of secrets has had a phenomenal afterlife. It’s been 10 months since The Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the other partners in this project filed their last major extracts from the files. And still, literally every day, stories based on the trove appear somewhere in the world, either because local news organizations are catching up with morsels of scandal that did not attract major newsrooms, or because new events cast the cables in a more interesting light. Notably, State Department dispatches reporting on the dissolute lifestyles of Mideast autocrats provided a little extra kindling for the bonfires of the Arab Spring.

But the idea that this was the opening of a floodgate has proved exactly wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the breach, several news organizations (including this one) considered creating secure online drop-boxes for would-be leakers, imagining that new digital Deep Throats would arise. But it now seems clear that the WikiLeaks breach was one of a kind — and that even lesser leaks are harder than ever to come by.

Steven Aftergood, who monitors secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, said that since WikiLeaks the government has elevated the “insider threat” as a priority, and tightened access to classified material. Nudged by an irate Congress, the intelligence agencies are at work on an electronic auditing program that would make illicit transfer of secrets much more difficult and make tracking the leaker much easier.

“A lot of attention has been focused on WikiLeaks and its colorful proprietors,” Aftergood told me. “But the real action, it turns out, is not at the publisher level; it’s at the source level. And there aren’t a lot of sources as prolific or as reckless as Bradley Manning allegedly was.”

For good reason. The Obama administration has been much more aggressive than its predecessors in pursuing and punishing leakers. The latest case, the arrest last month of John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. terrorist-hunter accused of telling journalists the names of colleagues who participated in the waterboarding of Qaeda suspects, is symptomatic of the crackdown. It is this administration’s sixth criminal case against an official for confiding to the media, more than all previous presidents combined. The message is chilling for those entrusted with keeping legitimate secrets and for whistleblowers or officials who want the public to understand how our national security is or is not protected.

Here’s the paradox the documentaries have overlooked so far: The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is more secretive than ever.