There is little doubt the WikiLeaks cables have been a headache for U.S. officials in general, and diplomats in particular. To have private and very candid assessments of foreign leaders and reports on their activities aired in public is embarrassing. It’s like knowing someone is talking about you behind your back, and then finding out what they are actually saying.
How long the headache will last is rather unclear. It may be that WikiLeaks has already made public the juiciest tidbits. Certainly officials hope the worst is behind them. And some of the steam has run out of the story. The front page headlines of the day’s revelations are now in inner pages of the newspaper, if at all.
But only less than one percent of the 250,000 documents that have come into WikiLeaks’ possession have been released. There is always the possibility of some new revelation that grabs public interest, especially if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange decides to set off his so-called “nuclear option” – the release of some reportedly really sensitive documents – if he feels under increased pressure.
But it’s hard to tell if that will happen. Assange is a mercurial figure and his organization shadowy, so making any prediction of what will come next is close to guesswork.
At least some people have tried to take advantage of the reduced attention. Major Pakistani newspapers carried stories of purported American diplomats’ unflattering assessments of Indian leaders, as well as praise for Pakistan’s controversial Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI. But they were proven to be fakes, assumed to have been planted on a website by the ISI itself. The opportunities for planting disinformation seem to have multiplied in the digital age. If a story is on a website, it may be difficult to check or trace back.
The side story that is getting really interesting is the cyberwar being waged by Assange supporters against websites and organizations they perceive to have slighted WikiLeaks. An online vigilante group calling itself “Anonymous” has already temporarily disabled websites owned by companies like MasterCard and PayPal, both of which suspended payment services to WikiLeaks.
We don’t know what countermeasures the U.S. government is taking in the online conflict, although it probably can be assumed that it has already interposed itself in there somewhere. The National Security Agency, which deals in high-tech intelligence, is full of talented people and topflight computers perfectly capable of waging sophisticated cyberwar.