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Julian Assange (Associated Press/Photo by Lennart Preiss)

'Irresponsible'

Foreign Policy | A former foreign service officer talks about WikiLeaks' impact on the diplomatic world

WASHINGTON-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a press conference Monday to condemn the leak of 250,000 diplomatic cables as an "attack on the international community." The House Republican in line to chair the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Pete King, urged Clinton to designate the website responsible, WikiLeaks, as a foreign terrorist organization. Attorney General Eric Holder has started a criminal investigation against WikiLeaks' head, Julian Assange, according to The Washington Post. (The International Criminal Police Organization has also issued a warrant for Assange's arrest on suspicion of rape and sexual harassment in Sweden.)

The cables revealed gossipy items-like an officer calling French President Nicholas Sarkozy "thin-skinned" and an "emperor with no clothes"-and then more serious intelligence-like the United States' failed efforts to secure enriched uranium from Pakistan.

Mary Manjikian, a former foreign service officer and now a professor at Regent University's Robertson School of Government, outlined the long-term consequences for diplomacy: "Every time an analyst sits down to write a piece of analysis, they have to think to themselves, 'Would I lose my job if this ends up on the front page of The Washington Post?' They'll have to censor themselves."

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Manjikian imagines foreign service officers will turn to phone calls to have candid conversations so there is no written record. "It's going to be a tragedy for historians," she said. "Imagine if we had no records of the Cuban missile crisis."

The State Department receives 5,000 to 6,000 such cables a day, according to Manjikian, who used to write three or four cables a day herself. She called the leaked cables "a very, very small sample," and said she could picture the people that probably wrote the more headline-grabbing ones.

The officer who described Russian President Vladimir Putin as an "alpha dog," for example? "That seemed to me like a junior foreign service officer who was trying to be controversial, who was trying to get noticed. For each of those cables, I think there was a story attached to it."

That is her biggest critique of Assange-that the cables are private conversations released out of context. She called him "irresponsible" and said the U.S. government should "make an example of him."

Manjikian added, "If he gets away with this, in the future anything is possible. The journalistic norms have changed. The other danger is going to be that our allies are not going to share information with us."

Clinton criticized the leaks in grave terms Monday, saying they unveiled names of human rights activists under oppressive governments and sensitive intelligence information.

"There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends," Clinton said. "There have been examples in history in which official conduct has been made public in the name of exposing wrongdoings or misdeeds. This is not one of those cases. In contrast, what is being put on display in this cache of documents is the fact that American diplomats are doing the work we expect them to do."

U.S. agencies are reviewing the security of classified information, and the Obama administration has told agencies to limit the use of USB drives. One man, Brad Manning, an Army intelligence specialist, is allegedly responsible for downloading all the files onto a CD. Manning has been in military detention since May.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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