Gates: Warnings of WikiLeaks fallout overblown
The Obama administration has warned WikiLeaks that the group's release of a huge cache of U.S. diplomatic cables could threaten the lives of "countless innocent individuals" and ruin relations with allies.
But count Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates as a skeptic that the fallout will be so dire. At a press conference Tuesday, he reminded reporters that the U.S. government's habit of leaking secrets about other countries is as old as the republic, and that predictions of doom rarely pan out.
"Let me just offer some perspective of somebody whose been at this for a long time," said Gates, a former director of the CIA. "Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time."
Gates then reached back more than 200 years to quote the second president, John Adams, bemoaning the same problem: "How can a government go on, publishing all their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel."
Gates followed that up with another example, this time reaching back 35 years to his own career as a spook.
"When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again," he said. "Those fears all proved unfounded."
"Now I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought," Gates added. "The fact is governments deal with the United States because it is in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
"Some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, it's been said before, the indispensable nation."
And that won't change or stop, Gates said, even if it means a temporary period of deep chagrin for U.S. leaders.
"Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest."
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