Welcome to “the State Department’s worst nightmare,” said Philip Shenon in TheDailyBeast.com. Authorities last week arrested Bradley Manning, 22, a disgruntled Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying classified information to the website WikiLeaks.org. Manning is thought to have leaked the controversial footage released in April showing a U.S. helicopter gunning down a crowd of men in Iraq, including two Reuters photojournalists. But that may be the least of it. WikiLeaks claims that Manning also provided 260,000 secret cables between U.S. diplomats detailing their contacts with—and personal impressions of—foreign leaders around the world. If made public, the cables could “do serious damage to national security.” Angry and worried U.S. officials are now reportedly searching for Julian Assange, the elusive Australian hacker who founded WikiLeaks and is now somewhere abroad with what may be a huge cache of diplomatic dynamite.
We have entered a new era, said L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal. Once upon a time, “people who wanted to leak confidential national-security documents had to find an interested journalist,” who then had to persuade his editors and publishers that the information was vital to the public interest. No longer. The Internet has made it possible for any disgruntled employee or government official to upload documents, photos, and top-secret material directly to the World Wide Web. “This means it’s impossible to protect secrets.” Governments can’t even prosecute those who disseminate them—as we’re seeing with Assange, whose servers are distributed throughout Sweden, Iceland, and other nations with whistle-blower–friendly legal systems. Our only option is to “learn to live with technology tools that we cannot control,” and accept that they have made us “less safe.”
That new reality “may test the limits of democracy,” said The Economist in an editorial. Even democratic governments need to keep some secrets. And in civil societies, libel and the invasion of privacy are crimes. Public opinion may be the only constraint, said Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker. If WikiLeaks abuses its newfound powers to publish anything and everything, the public could quickly turn on Assange and force him to “confront the paradox of his creation”: He strips others of their secrecy while jealously clinging to his own.