The Feds see “leaks,” I see the First Amendment at work

Absolutely everyone in the media is talking about’s publication of a stunning number of diplomatic cables from the far corners of the American diplomatic world.

There’s so much going on here, I don’t know where to begin. First, any student of American history has to be beside himself or herself with joy to have so much contemporaneous material available. No need to wait 30 years. History is here today. I’m reading and reading and reading…and learning and learning and learning.

The unauthorized distribution of these materials lays bare the conflict inside the government between the need to share information to make sure the left hand knows what the right is doing and the need for (at least some) secrecy. The Feds must have just put these things on a shared folder somewhere — it doesn’t sound to me like you needed to be a mega geek to download these files. Message to President Obama’s CIO: check out TrueCrypt.

Another thing going through my mind as I read the cables is, “Wow, we’re not as wimpy as I suspected we are.” I like it when I read we landed on the Chinese to pressure North Korea to behave or when we assert the Russian government is essentially a mafia state. Good for us!

But what worries me more than anything else is that the “embarrassment” of these cables being made public will create such a backlash inside the government that the First Amendment will be weakened. The obvious institutional response is to see the leaks as a “problem” and “criminal” rather than the First Amendment at work. That means Patriot Act-like legislation, rules and procedures to “tighten” access.

That will only have the perverse effect of further isolating the government from the body politic.






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