WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks

The world was riveted as WikiLeaks.org began dumping classified U.S. State Department cables onto the Internet.

Documents revealed thus far have ranged from embarrassing to inflammatory.

Carnegie Mellon University's Kiron Skinner has a unique view on the uproar. (Read Skinner's commentary on CNN.com for more on the repercussions for historians and what the data really means.)

"WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange and others argue that making these documents public creates an openness about the practices of the United States. Others argue that sources are compromised," began Skinner.

"More interesting, all sides agree that something significant has been revealed. That's not clear to me," said the associate professor and director of CMU's Center for International Relations and Politics.

Skinner has also served on a number of national security boards, including her current position on the Chief of Naval Operations' executive panel.

"Although WikiLeaks is, for many, a kind of fascinating window into the mechanism of diplomacy, I don't think the documents themselves constitute a direct threat to national security," Skinner commented on the current headlines.

"The threat is how they may be interpreted outside of their larger context, cherry-picked to support one claim or another," she added. "That seems to be what's taking place."

Skinner cautions against examining such original documents in a vacuum.

"I think the debate is not being informed by what I call the 'historian's craft' of looking at the documents very closely as original sources, comparing them to secondary sources, and so on," she said.

Offering examples like the release of the Vietnam War Pentagon Papers and the seizure and publication of U.S. embassy cables by Iranian terrorists in 1979, she sees the WikiLeaks documents as largely serving to bolster previously-held opinions.

"In terms of the direction of foreign policy, I don't think it's going to be a game-changer for relations with various allies and adversaries," she explained. "Diplomats from around the world understand what's being said in those documents."

As a scholar, however, she highlights a less-obvious problem, one that occurred after the Nixon Oval Office tapes were made public.

"Where it may be a game-changer is in making diplomats much more careful in committing their observations and analyses to paper," she noted. "That is very troubling for historians."


Related Links: CNN.com: 'WikiLeaks no favor to historians' | CNN.com: 'Leaked documents can't tell whole story' | Kiron Skinner | International Relations & Politics | Kiron's Bio