The Wikileaks papers have created a frenzy that cannot be sustained once the initial thrill and mystery of the leak has been solved. The story now seems to be who did the leaking, and if it is indeed 22 year old Bradley Manning - who is a suspected of earlier leaks to wiki -- how the heavens did he have such such access?
The man the documents were leaked to, Julian Assange, says he is a journalist -- but he really gave up that right when he foremost described himself as an activist. (Nothing in his past indicates a journalism background -- he has long been an activist and hacker). But attacking him for passing himself off as a journalist (as several commentators have done this week) is on this occasion, a little beside the point. Assange knew the limitations of releasing the documents through wikileaks and went straight to The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times, believing, rightly, that they would hit higher and heavier than he ever could.
Does the problem lie then, in the breathless way the documents were delivered to the world by these esteemed publications? Or in the way other analysts and journalists struggled to find their own relevance by rummaging around trying to find any news in the documents -- which of course they could not have read in their entirety?
I have no particular access to any intelligence documents now, but I have seen plenty of leaked material over my career and I know that 'leaked' adds a patina of mystery and capital-I Importance to documents that is sometimes not deserved. The scale and minutiae that appears to be in these papers is monumental -- not for the content necessarily, but for the sheer volume.
The major 'revelations' -- Pakistan's security service, the ISI is friendly with the Taliban (the enemy of my enemy -- India -- is my friend), civilian casualties in Afghanistan are high, the Karzai government is corrupt, and that specialist training for forces to attack insurgents is ongoing - are not news to journalists who report on the war regularly. As Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate "If any of this startles you, then welcome to the world of reading newspapers. Today's must be the first one you've read."
Anyone who follows what is going on in the Afghan theater knows it is a multifaceted and complicated arena. The old saying "only stupid people never change their mind" holds true in war in triplicate. Every day General David Petraeus -- and before him Stanley McChrystal -- makes a million decisions and probably change his mind, thoughts and mind set while still trying to stay on course and hold steady. There are arm chair generals, liberals, neo-cons and old mutliateralist GOP stalwarts like Richard Haass (who in his recent article in Newsweek pretty much suggested that the US - and therefore NATO/ISAF - cut and run) freely offering their opinions, lobbying and pressuring and creating their own fog of war.
So the question remains -- what is the value of the 76,000 documents? Can they be disseminated in a meaningful way? How? While commentators initially filled air time with "oh gosh" commentary, in the past few days cooler heads have prevailed, and it seems the blizzard of documents that have created a storm of excitement, may add up to a thrilling, but merely temporary diversion from the disastrous war in Afghanistan.