Slate | The diplomatic cables leaked by Chelsea Manning have had a major political impact in several countries around the world. They may have helped tip an election in Peru, exposed official corruption in India, and while WikiLeaks’ role in fomenting the Arab Spring uprisings has been somewhat exaggerated—including by the organization itself—cables detailing the corruption and lavish lifestyles of the Ben Ali family in Tunisia certainly played a role in the early days of that country’s protests.
But as you might expect from documents written by U.S. diplomats themselves, the cables didn’t actually portray U.S. foreign policy in the worst light. While often catty and more blunt than U.S. officials would ever been in public, the cables didn’t tell us all that much about U.S. foreign policy that we didn’t already know. With the benefit of hindsight, even some State Department officials have conceded that the release of the cables was “embarrassing but not damaging."
I doubt we’ll be saying the same thing about the NSA leaks in a few months. The latest reports that the U.S. may have tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel have prompted an unusually blunt response from the German government.
As Reuters reported yesterday, the Merkel accusation, along with another recent report of U.S. mass surveillance on French telephone communications, is likely to dominate an upcoming summit of EU leaders in Brussels. (The Merkel surveillance itself may not have been contained in the Snowden files but it seems likely that the investigation by German intelligence and Der Spiegel that uncovered it was prompted by the recent reports of similar U.S. operations.)