The latest trove of documents released over the weekend by Wikileaks does contain a few pieces of information that illuminate important questions about American diplomacy. In particular, documents that suggest that diplomats may be crossing the line into low-level spycraft, and revelations about the degree of international concern about Iran's nuclear program do legitimately inform the international debate. In that way, they share some of the value of earlier releases of documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which described the real toll of those conflicts and called into question American strategy and the broader chances for success.
But to a disturbing degree, this latest release is rather like stealing the diary of the most popular girl in high school and posting it on the Internet. It serves no purpose other than embarrassing the State Department. Telling the world that American diplomats have noticed the voluptuous blond nurse who accompanies Libyan President Muammar el-Qadaffi, that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the alpha dog of his government, that Italian Prime Minister acts like Mr. Putin's European lapdog, or that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is unstable is interesting, and it probably won't drastically compromise national security, but it doesn't serve any noble cause either.
The philosophy of Wikileaks, such as it is, seems to be that all information should be freely, openly available and that there is no cause to hold any one secret to be any more deserving of protection than another. It is wrong, from this point of view, for any individual or group to act as a filter -- only the wisdom of the crowd can sort out what's important and what's not. That's a lovely idea, but we all probably figured out by middle school that the world doesn't actually work that way. Some secrets are harmful, but some are benign or even beneficial.
There may be no way to stop Wikileaks. The U.S. government can prosecute those who violate the law by releasing classified materials, but that is a dangerous road. As useless as some of the information revealed this time may be, there have been other cases -- most famously, the Pentagon Papers -- when the release of secrets has served a vital national interest. All we can do, as consumers of information, is to respond to the actions of Wikileaks with precisely the discretion and maturity that the group lacks -- and hope that the world leaders named in these diplomatic cables do the same.