McCULLOUGH: WikiLeaks' harm will be extensive

I’m a journalist, so I’m curious by nature. I like to know stuff before anyone else knows it. So, yes, I’ve been to the WikiLeaks website.

I skimmed a few of those cables released this week. Some are boring and some are fascinating. And many are — or were — classified, so that journalist’s thrill of looking at secret information was strong. I also have to admit a certain satisfaction in the “gotcha.” The government has been reading e-mails and tapping other communications for years since 9/11, often without warrants. A little turnabout seemed fair.

But in addition to being a journalist, I also consider myself a patriot, and I quickly found the tittilating feeling of looking at something I’m not supposed to see outweighed by the feeling of guilt — for looking at something I’m not supposed to see.

Many folks think we need this kind of light in the dark corner of U.S. foreign relations, and to a certain extent I agree with them. It’s in everyone’s best interest to expose wrongdoing and abuses of power. But the longterm effects of some of this information being leaked to the public will likely outweigh the good.

But wait, some will say. Some of this stuff is just embarrassing, not life or death stuff. It’ll blow over.

Wanna bet? What happens six months or a year from now when we need another country’s assistance on a matter of national importance? How likely is a leader to help us after we’ve called him an idiot or a womanizer or a crook?

Furthermore, some of this information, once exposed, will change the game significantly. For example, we now know, according to a cable discussing Egypt, that other nations in the Middle East are terrified of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. How do you think that kind of thing will play with ol’ can’t-spell-his-name in Iran? Did that guy need any more ego boosts or inspiration?

I also have my doubts about the motives of Julian Assange, the man responsible for sharing these documents with the world. Is his goal really just to reveal “suppressed and censored injustices,” as is stated on the website? Or is he, too, getting a boost from all the attention? I can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t get a kick out of watching the United States squirm. And he is a former computer hacker and under investigation for sex crimes, so his fans’ claims of his noble intentions must be taken with a grain of salt.

Finally, what about the stuff that’s not just embarrassing but truly a risk to lives? Already information on informants in Afghanistan and elsewhere is out for the terrorists to see. How much retaliation will result from the leaks? And who might be in jeopardy in the future, when Assange decides to release that one critical piece of information the enemy was missing?

We always need to hold government to a high standard, and a certain transparency is necessary to prevent abuse or outright tyranny. But a nation must also be able to keep certain things secret for the security of itself and its allies. Those who would impair that ability should be treated as enemies of the state.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.