Welcome to the world of cyberspace, which in very little time has extended a great service to humanity, and to the business sector, with the provision of vast amounts of information at the press of a button. However, despite the service it offers, there are also side effects and scandals, as can be seen in the ongoing publication of secret U.S. documents. The most recent leak consists of thousands of memos exchanged between US embassies and the State Department, which will inevitably cause considerable harm to international diplomatic relations.
Was this leak down to the online recklessness of a 23-year soldier, who served in Baghdad, as stated by US reports? Or was it a calculated operation with political objectives, as expressed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his statement yesterday? This issue will raise much speculation, argument, and conspiracy theories, as have previous political trends and stances related to major events over the past 10 years, particularly following the September 11th attacks.
Logical thinking would suggest that recklessness is the most probable cause for the leaked information, as it is really difficult to imagine that the US sought to achieve political goals by embarrassing itself and undermining its diplomatic credibility, amongst its allies and friends, through uncovering the contents of its secret talks. Similarly, it is inconceivable that the U.S. would seek to undermine its own credibility in the face of its opponents, by letting them view the secret cables exchanged between diplomats, if we assume that all information leaked was correct.
We all commit mistakes in the electronic world, even in simple tasks related to our daily lives. How many times have we sent a text message to the wrong person, when we press the wrong number in our mobile’s address book? How many times have we sent an e-mail to the wrong person, when we pressed the wrong button on the keyboard? Similarly, printing mistakes occasionally occur in the media for the same reason.
The electronic era has offered us enormous possibilities: millions of documents in an endless cyberspace, unlimited opportunities for social interaction and knowledge, all at a speed unprecedented in human history. However, along with such possibilities, confidential information can now also be leaked in an unprecedented manner. The collection of US State Department memos, of which nearly a quarter of a million were leaked, were saved on an inch-long flash memory stick. Had these documents been in paper form, they would have firstly needed to be stolen, and subsequently leaked, with dozens of trucks to transport them, and an army of hundreds of analysts to sort them out and read them. Therefore, in the past, the theft of confidential documents, and their subsequent leakage, was very limited.
According to reports, this international diplomatic crisis was caused by a 23 year old US intelligence analyst, who was serving in the US army in Baghdad. He was able to access these cables via an information networking system, which was developed after the September 11th attacks with the aim of accelerating the exchange of information between different US agencies.
It is likely that these U.S. agencies will now seek to improve and protect their electronic systems, which hold such secret correspondence. They will also seek to strengthen controls over who has access to these documents, in order to avoid such an embarrassment in the future. However, it is also likely that those seeking to uncover confidential information will also intensify their efforts, as there is no such thing as total security in the world of cyberspace and electronic communication. The financial and banking sector provides evidence to that effect, as it has fought an endless war against electronic attacks and online fraud, particularly involving credit cards. On numerous occasions, bank account data and personal information has been stolen or illegally accessed, in spite of all the electronic defences used by financial corporations.
In brief, these are the side effects of electronic communication, a form of communication which we now cannot live without, due to its great benefits. Thus, we must co-exist with the side effects, and expect the term ‘Wikileaking’ to be widespread in the future. It will enter the dictionary alongside ‘faxing’ and ‘Facebooking’, as a modern phenomenon of the electronic age.