If in my diplomatic history I ever had to make an urgent report for a higher up, the memo might have read like the following:
These lines seek to present a first reflection, hurried and based in limited information, of the importance of the documents leaked by Wikileaks. The moderators of these communications have insisted on it and encouraged a debate, but that is not the object of this memo. They have not lingered over its significance, nor do they have a reason to do so from a historical perspective. Diplomatic traffic is used to opening itself to consultation after periods of closure that, in general, oscillates between 25 and 30 years. Frequently they are longer for sensitive subjects relating to national security and the protection of its sources. Periods of 50 to 75 years are usual. What this means is that the leak has drastically and dramatically cut short these periods of consultation. It is, then, a historical event.
As a second consideration, it is not infrequent that governments themselves open segments of their diplomatic traffic in the context of official investigations or because it is convenient to the interests of the state. The numerous reports brought about by the North American legislature have contributed to the knowledge of the organization, systems, methods, and functioning norms of American diplomacy, sometimes against the wishes of the executive branch. The experts and institutions of investigation have always found in them a genuine mine. In other countries, diplomatic documentation has been put before the anticipated periods for diverse reasons, such as helping commissions of parliamentary investigation or wanting to clarify or justify their own position. Without approaching the publication of “white papers” in situations of emergency or a rupture in relations, remember that the information provided in the context of investigations of important events like the Srebrenica Massacre left the government of The Hague in a bad place.
In the present case, the diplomatic traffic has come to light against the wishes of the North American government. Even if this is not the first time that this has occurred, the leak does not have precedents for its volume and its temporal and spatial coverage. For this reason as well, it is a historical event.
In order to adequately appraise the documentation, it would be necessary, from a technical point of view, to rely on the original texts. The summaries, excellent though they be, are no substitute.
The origin of the leak determines that a very high percentage of traffic proceeds from the missions and flows toward central services. The instructions of these services appear to refer to information requests or to orienting them to their diplomatic priorities. From the historical eye, the result is insufficient. Working on sources now declassified, the investigator pays attention both to the reports of the terrain as well as to its evaluation by these service centers. Ultimately, what counts is its usefulness in the decision-making process. Such a gap considerably limits the significance of the leak.
The appreciation of its importance is submitted to the usual cautions. The information of the missions is essential to said process. And yet, it illustrates the line by which the North American diplomats move over the terrain, both in friendly countries and in difficult circumstances. Depending on the situations and the countries, they notice petitions for a type of information that is not easy to obtain by normal diplomatic means. It is plausible that in such cases the missions recur to the specialized personal that, with diplomatic cover or without it, tries to procure it.
And yet the leak represents an inestimable opportunity to go in-depth into the direct knowledge of the phobias, partiality, and ethnocentrism that permeates all diplomatic information, in this case in North America. Its value will be so much more elevated, considering the analysis permits extracting conclusions about situations in which we do not have information as direct as that of our friends. In various countries and in the pertinent organisms of investigation, it is plausible that hundreds of analysts enrich their own information thanks to exhaustive study of the leaked documents.
Undoubtedly, an exhibition so massive and resounding of the North American cables will have some impact on the public opinion of the affected countries. Yet, if the authors of the leak think that with it they can achieve lasting effects, the bureaucrats that subscribe to it cannot avoid thinking that therein lies a fundamental conceptual and methodological error. The North Americans will close the possibilities of leakage, modify their control systems at whatever cost and continue working as if nothing happened. From the point of view of the public opinion, the leaking of the practices of North American banks and speculators would probably have the greatest impact. This would contribute to delegitimizing the belief in the optimal results of the financial actors’ most widely deregulated behavior possible. According to news in the press, it appears that Wikileaks thinks to point itself in such a direction.