Is there any such thing as a secret in the Information Age?
The latest round of wicked behavior by Wikileaks — the release of 250,000 diplomatic cables and other documents — suggests that the ability to limit communications to just some people with “secret” or higher classifications may be as quaint a notion as the trenchcoat-clad spy.
Right now, there’s a great deal of huffing and puffing going on in reaction to the Wikileaks outrage — let me be clear, the deliberate and manipulative release of stolen government documents that compromises our national security interests is not only illegal, it is, quite simply, outrageous. This is no noble Pentagon Papers case; this is the work of an egotistical media hound, Julian Assange, a self-appointed arbiter of the fates of nations (and soon, banks).
But, stepping back from the immediate issue of Assange’s actions and the tawdry knowledge of what our diplomats really think about people like Libyan Dictator Muammar Qaddafi (how shocked are we to learn that he has a Ukranian girlfriend, seriously?) or the other third graders in the schoolyard (such is the tone of some of the comments), what is the real meaning of the very existence of something like Wikileaks today?
Wikileaks is the manifestation of the Internet Age, the harbinger of a future when all knowledge will be published continuously and with no filters from the moment a thought is conceived until that thought drifts off the screen into irrelevance, supplanted by new waves of thoughts. We are fast upon an age when any concept of control, secrecy, privacy or plain old discretion is hopelessly outre, outmoded, as quaint as the idea of a “Top Secret” stamp.
The future of intelligence work is not to uncover secrets, but rather, to discern truth in the cloud — the cloud of factoids and words and pictures and information that is growing so vast that no human agency seems able to absorb, analyze, understand and distill real knowledge from all those words.
For both national intelligence and corporate security both, we have to get over the idea of secrecy. We still need to consider ways to protect privacy, however, at least for the records and information related to individual persons, if not entire corporations. Already, both forms of records have suffered grave exposure to accidents and thieves, and we are naive to think that there will be an end to online identity piracy or the theft of corporate secrets, any more than we might think that Wikileaks is the work of one person whose eradication will make that cloud pass by.
Most of all, however, the essential question that most professionals must ask themselves today — how will it sound if reprinted on the front page of the New York Times or washingtonpost.com — must be a serious reality. The best defense against Wikileaks and similar efforts to expose secrets is to operate in the sunshine.
See Jack Shafer in Slate, “Why I Love Wikileaks”
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