The release of documents via Wikileaks may create difficulties for groups trying to get the government to declassify documents. Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, tells anchor Marco Werman that anti-declassification sentiment is growing in Congress. Download MP3
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Marco Werman: Peter Kornbluh is a security analyst at the National Security Archive. That’s a nongovernmental, nonprofit group at George Washington University in Washington DC. Kornbluh says Wikileaks is different in three key ways from groups like his that work to declassify government secrets.
Peter Kornbluh: When my organization asks for documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and even documents that I have asked for that were written a month ago, it would take a year or two years, or if they were really secret documents, it might take five, seven years, or I might never get them at all. The difference with Wikileaks is that they’ve obtained a leak of documents that is huge in magnitude. I mean, incomprehensibly large, the amount of documents we’re talking about. Plus these documents on the State Department cover so many countries, so it’s a global story because so many countries are involved. And the third major factor is these documents are as recent as only nine or ten months ago. They’re contemporary documents, and we’ve never really had access to these kinds of documents so quickly after they were generated as we do now. So this is really an eye-opening set of information.
Marco Werman: What we’ve seen so far in these leaks doesn’t really kind of reflect the dirty tricks you might expect from this kind of leak in the diplomatic world. Most of it seems to be, honestly, high-level, diplomatic gossip and for the most part it shows how business works in U.S. diplomatic circles. From your perspective, might some of these revelations in fact reflect well on U.S. diplomatic efforts?
Peter Kornbluh: I think when this archive is read in full and studied in full, we’re going to know a lot more about the efforts of the U.S. government through honest and legitimate diplomatic channels, to press the interests of the American public in the United States government forward. I think there’s going to be a set of documents, such as the documents on spying, on recruiting diplomats to spy on other diplomats at the United Nations, that are going to, obviously, generate a backlash, and hopefully stopping that kind of illegitimate type of operations, using U.S. State Department officials as covert operatives, so to speak. But what you have here is not CIA documents. They’re not, you know, strategic policy making documents. They are the day-to-day, diplomatic correspondence on the hard work of the State Department. And eventually the disruption to U.S. diplomacy, and kind of the uproar over the Wikileaks download will subside, and these records will become an extraordinary archive, accessible through computers and the Internet around the world, of learning about U.S. diplomacy and U.S. policy. There’ll be a lot of positive things that U.S. citizens and other citizens around the world, there’ll be a lot of myths exploded about the United States being the big, imperial power, doing this, that, and the other all by itself. Because the documents show that there are other countries that share U.S. goals in terms of Iran, for example, and stopping its nuclear program. And there will be just a lot of learning about the process and policy of the United States in the last few years.
Marco Werman: What do you think will be the long-term impact of Wikileaks releases for groups like yours that try to combat government secrecy?
Peter Kornbluh: I think there’s going to be several aspects of the impact. In the short term, there’s going to be a lot of screaming about Wikileaks and the need for new laws to penalize, sanction, and put the boot down on organizations like Wikileaks, so that their reactions can be deemed illegal. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail about the true principal of freedom of the press and the right to know, and we won’t end up with some type of state secrets laws like they have in other countries. But I think that once the turmoil and the disruption and the uproar of this ends, you’re going to have an extraordinary archive of material, contemporary documents that people will learn from, debate foreign policy from, and push the U.S. foreign policy establishment â€“ the State Department, this administration, the next administration, to conduct foreign policy in keeping with the principles of the American citizens and the values that we all have.
Marco Werman: Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. His most recent book is The Pinochet File â€“ A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Peter, thank you very much.
Peter Kornbluh: It’s my pleasure.
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