WikiLeaks has long claimed that it is taking measures to protect the men and women whose identities may be exposed in leaked documents for the first time. These people include spies, sources, and the like who never thought their names would appear on the Internet in a leaked State Department document. But now, from Spiegel, one of the media outlets that has cooperated with WikiLeaks in exposing America’s secrets, we learn:

In the end, all the efforts at confidentiality came to naught. Everyone who knows a bit about computers can now have a look into the 250,000 US diplomatic dispatches that WikiLeaks made available to select news outlets late last year. All of them. What's more, they are the unedited, unredacted versions complete with the names of US diplomats' informants -- sensitive names from Iran, China, Afghanistan, the Arab world and elsewhere. …

It is possible that intelligence agencies in a number of countries have already gained access to the data. "Any autocratic security service worth its salt" would have already done so, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley told news agency AP on Wednesday. Intelligence agencies that haven't already gotten their hands on the data "will have it in short order," he added.

By Wednesday evening Crowley's prediction was confirmed. The "Cablegate" cables are now completely public. For many people in totalitarian states this could prove life-threatening. …

Time will tell just what impact these disclosures really have. But you can bet that would-be “informants” (as Spiegel calls them) are probably going to think twice before sharing sensitive information with State Department officials in foreign countries. After all, there are no guarantees that their identities will be protected.

What’s truly rich about this story is that it begins with a screw up by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Assange put the unredacted cables on a server to share with David Leigh, a journalist at the left-wing Guardian (UK) newspaper. Assange gave Leigh a secret password that he could use to access the cables. The journalist thought the password was only temporary (it wasn’t) and so he decided to publish it in his book, Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.

Meanwhile, Assange forgot to remove the cables from the server, which housed the cables in a hidden dataset that was then unwittingly downloaded by a soon-to-be disgruntled WikiLeaks employee. After some investigative work, online enthusiasts pieced together the dataset and the password. Long story short: the cables are now freely available online. And WikiLeaks is blaming the Guardian, while the Guardian is blaming WikiLeaks.

Apparently the U.S. government isn’t the only organization that has a hard time keeping the State Department’s cables secret. This chapter of the WikiLeaks story would be comical if lives weren't potentially on the line.

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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