Leaks diminish U.S. effectiveness

Sunday, December 12, 2010; 8:15 PM

Anne Applebaum's Dec. 7 op-ed, "Beware the WikiHype," correctly observed that the breach of national security by WikiLeaks isn't revolutionary, but she was wrong to suggest that it is not a gigantic problem.

U.S. diplomats around the world are having to spend time on rear-guard "management" of the leaks' impacts rather than discussing real political, security, economic and other problems.

Many diplomats in Europe will not be deterred from talking with us confidentially, but others will clam up. "Stovepiping" of information flows will return to the U.S. government, undermining the ability of policymakers and analysts to see and think laterally across diverse issues and problems. WikiLeaks' releases also are adding to regional problems and rivalries, playing into some countries' domestic politics in ways not anticipated by the leaked cables' authors.

U.S. diplomats may face scrutiny over reporting and analysis they may be only vaguely associated with, or they may be rejected by other countries because, in confidential reporting to their own capital, they dared to express criticism or report distasteful information. Surely there are risks to U.S. cipher codes as well.

With American power and the effectiveness of coercive strategies declining in relative terms, we need agile diplomacy.

These leaks harm that diplomacy, and for some time America's effectiveness in a dangerous world will be diminished.

Those are real consequences.

Ross Wilson, Washington

The writer is director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States and a former U.S. ambassador.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company