November 30th, 2010
11:45 AM ET

Letters to the President: #680 'Shhh…It’s a secret.'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The Justice Department is looking into those leaked diplomatic documents that wound up on the web. I once spent a week investigating a mysterious leak in the back of a closet. I never found the source, and it just went away. Go figure. Here is today’s letter.

Dear Mr. President,

Here is my first rule of keeping a secret: If someone knows you have one, you’ve already lost half the battle. Second rule: Complete transparency, while admirable in theory, creates havoc…especially in diplomatic circles. (This is one I really did not want to believe for a long time. Then I turned twelve.)

So you can imagine my take on this whole WikiLeaks release of classified diplomatic documents. In one fell swoop, friends and foes alike have learned intimate details about how we spy on the world, how we stand ready to use our military power, and possibly even some of our nation’s most closely guarded chili recipes.

I guess if you are a hard core “throw open the windows, let the sun shine in” type this is just wonderful. The more we know about all the inner workings of our government, the more we can hold people accountable, the more we can make sure they are serving our interests, the more, the more, the more.

On the other hand, plenty of folks don’t see it that way. I’m guessing you are one of them, judging from your attorney general’s plan to pursue a criminal investigation into the leaks. (Here’s a riddle…what’s this? Clip clop, clip clop, clip clop. Creeeeeek. That’s the sound of a horse running off, while a barn door is being closed.)

I can sympathize with your frustration, because there does seem to be an imbalance. Let’s see…some middling Al Qaeda boss finds that a colleague revealed his plans to go out for mussels Saturday night to Ali (“Whom I just can’t stand!”) and now Ali has to go, too. That’s the last vacation at Tora Bora for the leaker, if you know what I mean.

Here…some angry ideologue with access scoops up all the classified papers he can cram into the trunk of his Taurus; some other folks post them on the web for all the world to see, and, depending on the content, I’m not sure the leaker will even go to jail. Which brings me to my third rule of secrets: If there is no real punishment for anyone who gives them away, there is also precious little reason for other potential leakers to ever think twice.

Maybe all of this with the leaks will work out fine. But I can’t help but wonder if there are genuine dangers in the release of these documents: Old angers could be reignited, new suspicions might be raised. It’s like telling a friend that you think he is really packing on the weight. Yes, it’s honest, but the results may not be a gracious, “Oh thanks!”

So let’s review. Rules one and two? We’re pretty much down the pipes on those as far as this leak goes. Rule three? The jury is out and pondering that imponderable question: How free can free societies be without endangering the very freedom they enjoy?

Call if you can. I can keep a secret.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Ann Blasick

    As someone with a mechanical engineering background who now works as an internship advisor at Georgia Tech, I couldn't agree with this post more! I am proud to say that Georgia Tech (as well as many other U.S. colleges and universities) is educating some phenomenal young engineers, but we need more young people to get excited about engineering. I believe the first step is helping middle and high school students AND teachers to understand what engineering is all about. As long as engineering is a vague, abstract word to teachers and teenagers, how can we expect graduating seniors to want to study engineering in college?

    November 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  2. Ronnie

    Sorry Tom – but Assange and Co. are my heroes!
    Nobody else is doing anything at ALL! And Yes, I believe in openness/transparency/etc.I just draw the line on anyone seeing me in the bathroom!

    November 30, 2010 at 3:36 pm |