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Can WikiLeaks be stopped? Should it be stopped?

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It's always impressive to see an organization completely close ranks in response to a threat. And while this narrow form of solidarity is certainly understandable, it is hard to justify ethically. The latest WikiLeaks scandal is a case in point.

It's always impressive to see an organization completely close ranks in response to a threat. And while this narrow form of solidarity is certainly understandable, it is hard to justify ethically. The latest WikiLeaks scandal is a case in point.

The overwhelming majority of diplomatic offices around the world have either condemned the "wikileakers" officially or denounced them indirectly (in the spirit of "we don't discuss rumors and nonsense"). The rest did so privately. Diplomats of all countries fully realize that their ministry could easily find itself in the State Department's shoes. All diplomatic offices engage in the kind of frank and even loose talk found in these "secret" cables. The difference is one of degree, not kind.

WikiLeaks has not released anything top-secret in its latest document dump, but now diplomats will have to change their habits. They won't just request to speak off the record; now everything they write will be off the record too, just in case...

Diplomats have bad habits, just like specialists in any sphere. They are prone to coasting on their reputation, becoming ossified and putting on airs. In this sense, Wikileaks may even do them a service, shaking them out of their complacency. But some have a harder time than others.

Poor Hillary Clinton

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now touring Asian countries and meeting with many officials who are mentioned in the cables of her diplomats. She leads the U.S. delegation at the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Astana, Kazakhstan before traveling to Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Bahrain.

You have to feel for her. How embarrassing it must be to look into the eyes of people whom your diplomats described as having a weakness for drinking, extravagance, money, women, cars and the like (as some politicians from Central Asian republics were described). In Hillary's defense, it should be mentioned that many of these undiplomatic utterances were made before President Barack Obama appointed her secretary of state in 2008. However, as secretary of state, she owns the problem, and responding to it will be particularly difficult in the East - from the Arabian Peninsula to Japan - given the mentality there. Now she will have to restore "personal contact" with some politicians and accept that, in some cases, this will be impossible.

Spying on the United Nations was easier

Most likely, Hillary had nothing to do with the cables about collecting biometrical data on UN leaders and information on their accounts, credit cards, telephones, computer codes, habits, inclinations, appointments, sins, vices, hobbies, wives and lovers. Anyone who has some idea of how state departments, foreign offices and ministries cooperate with the CIA, KGB, MI6 and the like know how this happens. Intelligence services simply send a laundry list of information about a leader, which often airs a lot of dirty laundry. Foreign ministers usually have to sign off on such cables before they are dispatched, and this is what Hillary Clinton did in 2009. It is largely a meaningless routine - both the senders and recipients of these cables know that 90% of the orders cannot be executed.

However, maybe this renewed interest in UN leaders is a good thing. Under George W. Bush, Washington paid almost no attention to the UN. An attempt to find out who's who in the UN is likely a sign of a change in approach. To work with an organization seriously, one should know about its employees...

What can be done with WikiLeaks?

Even the mighty Pentagon, with all its cyber capabilities, and the U.S. National Security Agency, which is in charge of all electronic espionage and counter-espionage, can do very little with the Internet thugs from WikiLeaks.

It is impossible to stop WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange because it is not even clear yet what laws he has violated. How can the United States outlaw a site that is registered outside its territory and that was founded by an Australian citizen? Besides, shutting down a website for political reasons would unleash a storm on the Internet that would only make things worse.

Assange has already protected himself from the worst-case scenario - arrest, criminal proceedings or an attack on his site. He has set two new bombs on the Web - packages of information that can only be opened with a special code that he has. He has promised that if he is detained, attacked, or shut down he will immediately release this information, which will make all of the previous revelations seem like a silent film in comparison.

Some hotheads in the United States, like former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, demand that Assange and his gang be pursued like al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban leaders. However, law experts maintain that this is not possible. Others suggest dealing an unprecedented cyber blow on WikiLeaks with all the means at America's disposal. America has the might, but let's be realistic.

For the time being, the WikiLeaks site is being hosted in Sweden by the Swedish Internet service provider PRQ (in reality, the site is represented by numerous employees scattered over many countries). The Swedes have already announced that the site is not violating any laws. Sweden, like almost all other Western countries, views a cyber attack on a legal site as an attack on the entire country's electronic information space, with all the grave legal consequences this would entail.

Assange and potential copycats should be more concerned with a statement made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder was asked how the United States could prosecute Assange, who is an Australian citizen. He said that the Justice Department has "an active, ongoing criminal investigation with regard to this matter." Holder clarified what he meant: "Let me be very clear. It is not saber rattling. To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say . . . that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that's ongoing." He did not indicate that Assange is being investigated for possible violations of the 1917 Espionage Act.

Indeed, Assange has not committed espionage or transferred any information to a hostile state. Private First Class Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army who leaked the information to WikiLeaks, is the one facing a court-martial. But Holder hinted that nobody will go unpunished once the "gaps" are closed. Americans are very good at extending U.S. jurisdiction far beyond their borders, in defiance of international legal standards. The case of Russian businessman Viktor Bout is only the most recent example. Now would be a good time for Assange to start worrying.

WikiLeaks - a last chance to be heard

American diplomats have long complained that the White House does not listen to them and ignores their cables. Now they have finally received the attention they could have only dreamed of before. Now everything they said, wrote or overheard is taken very seriously.

The self-deprecating Brits have already advised their Foreign Office to take Assange's lead. As one British newspaper noted, instead of complaining that Downing Street ignores its major diplomatic ideas, the Foreign Office should send WikiLeaks 200,000 or 300,000 of its electronic cables for publication. That will be sure to get the ball rolling.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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