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Posted at 3:01 PM ET, 11/29/2010

One solution to WikiLeaks: classify less

By David Ignatius

The latest WikiLeaks furor seems likely to produce precisely the wrong outcomes: security controls on U.S. government information will increase; the candor of U.S. diplomatic discussions will decline; the pressure to say nice things about foreign leaders, as opposed to the truth, will grow.

It may sound like heresy, given the new Wiki-mania, but the United States could reduce the flap over leaks of classified information by limiting what it classifies -- and working harder to put more of the information gathered by the U.S. government online as a public resource. That shouldn't include an ambassador's candid assessment of the personality defects of the local prime minister, obviously, but it should encompass a lot of what's now routinely stamped "secret."

The U.S. government's ability to gather accurate information about the world is one of our national resources. It drives out rumor and deception and substitutes fact. I'd like to see a government version of Wikipedia, to be honest: A much bigger, broader expansion of the CIA Factbook, which has become a global standby for basic demographic and political information.

That applies even to the squirrely documents highlighted in the latest WikiLeaks dump. The references to Muammar Gadhafi's "voluptupous blonde" nurse from Ukraine are merely titillating gossip. But it's important to know that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and most other Arab states want the Iranian nuclear program stopped. It's useful to have that information on the public record.

Intelligence professionals say that there's a "tear-sheet version" of almost everything. That means a summary of the information, shorn of the sources and other damaging details, that can be clipped on the dotted line and handed to a foreign government official. That's what should have happened with these documents; the tear-sheet summary should have been disseminated long ago.

What's striking about the WikiLeaks material isn't the information -- in almost every case, the cables express pretty much what you would have guessed -- but that it's said openly, with names and titles attached. It's embarrassing to have it said out loud, for sure. But this seems closer to Michael Kinsley's famous definition of a "gaffe" ("when a politician tells the truth") than a national-security flap.

What worries me is that post-WikiLeaks, high-level dialogue will become even more arid, and security procedures even more onerous -- so that we squeeze out what little life is left in diplomacy. That would be the perverse accomplishment of the WikiLeaks disclosures: That nobody will talk to anybody about anything, for fear it might get leaked.

So, prosecute the Wiki-leakers, by all means, if there's evidence they have violated U.S. law. But let's not freeze the very process of dialogue we need to get out of out international troubles. We need more open flows of information, not a new clampdown.

By David Ignatius  | November 29, 2010; 3:01 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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I've got to admit, the exposure of all that honesty in the diplomatic arena causing such a fuss is a bit humorous. I guess honesty and diplomacy are incompatible.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | November 29, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I can not believe how casually mr. Ignatius takes the wikileak issue. The fact is we are confronted with a hostile foreigner who is profiting from and embarrassing this country because he expects no critical response as proven by mr, Ignatius. The perpetrator should be dealt with to the extreme for what he deserves.

Wiki-poop received information from an individual who committed an act of treason and espionage and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and executed.

National security should not be an event for political pandering regardless of stripe.

Posted by: izzyis1 | November 29, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

MSNBC says there's nothing there that they didn't already know, which they always say about sensational leaks But if that's the case, why don't they quit looking down on us peons, and share their information?

Posted by: llrllr | November 29, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Security clearance of classified is almost meaningless. Top scret is different matter and there are other clearances. Almost everyone has classified clearance. That is like going to the library and having a library card in order to take out a book. But than you can not check every book. Don't try to checkout the original declaration of Independance. It is not classified but....

Posted by: artg | November 29, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

This is the downside of making data bases interactive and spreading the classified info all over the place....a good hacker can get at this stuff with relative ease...its a dilemma and the price we pay for attempting to do connect the dots analysis....the State Dept was always notorious for having poor security practices, only slightly worse than the Pentagon....from which both Wikileaks dumps we go back to "need to know" if we can....

Posted by: JerryOlek | November 29, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Ignatius says:

“The U.S. government's ability to gather accurate information about the world is one of our national resources. It drives out rumor and deception and substitutes fact.”

Actually…it doesn’t. And that’s especially true when we know that our own military, intelligence, and political leaders obfuscate and lie. Furthermore, knowing that “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and most other Arab states want the Iranian nuclear program stopped” is not useful without knowing also what their motives are (likely selfish) or having some sort of enforceable agreement on their parts to recognize basic, decent human rights and stop oppressing their people. Without this, all you’ve gained is someone else on “your side” even though they don’t further our stated cause of creating a more righteous and just world. You’ve won the game and lost at the same time.

Unless the game is merely the accumulation of wealth and power.

Posted by: faithfulservant3 | November 29, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

An honest country with an honest government doesn't need secrets. Publish everything. Stop collecting information which could be used to blackmail countries and people.

Posted by: billwald | November 29, 2010 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Yes, all this talk of transparency is just that. What are we hiding? Why are we hiding?

Posted by: johng1 | November 29, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

Our country has always gone over the top re security. The most ludicrous example I have come across in my many years overseas is that the rolls of lavatory paper in US embassies are classified! Good security focusses on items that need secrecy; enveloping everything that can move defeats the object.

Posted by: profchart | November 30, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

You want a government version of Wikipedia? So, a grab bag of Pokemon trivia, hogtie bondage positions, and lists of amphibians who have appeared on Family Guy will help our country how?

Posted by: thekohser | November 30, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

"... the pressure to say nice things about foreign leaders, as opposed to the truth, will grow."

In the lightly classified and minimally restricted cables, probably yes. In face to face, no notes taken discussions, especially at higher levels, I am confident that continued gossiping will prevail -- so if any actual good was coming from the practice it will probably not be lost for being more guarded about it.

Posted by: Adam_Smith | November 30, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

David y9u are a genius. Good plan. We can also defeat terror by just imposing Sharia law. Yeah that's it just give up. No more classified material. Yeah punishing the law breakers is out of the question. Kind of on the same mind set of just give all the illegal aliens citizenship no matter how many laws they break.Problem solved. We can also stop rapes by just providing a rapist with hookers.

Posted by: harley2002 | November 30, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

usa- the assassins' nation seeks to divide & conquer all nations and all peoples. Regarding the leaks,
Well, USA-if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from the
T R U T H.
Be Set Free by admitting to ongoing & insufferable crimes against
H U M A N I T Y .
GERAL SOSBEE(956)536-3103

Posted by: 4711 | November 30, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Who's laughing now, David? Visa number 7400 6915 0700 4321 is itself meaningless -- unless you know that's the credit card number used by a terrorist organization to order bomb making material. Today's wiki leaking of the location where small pox vaccine is made wasn't a leak of classified data, but it don't think Wiki advance the cause of liberty. Nor do I see many North Korean, Russian, Syrian or Chinese documents going up on the web site. You've been duped by a self-promoter wrapping himself in the banner of liberty and freedom. Let's hope the medical facility that makes your insulin isn't on his list, too.

Posted by: ericnestor | December 6, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

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