WikiLeaks: the junk food of disclosures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:00am


The Hong Kong file in the latest slew of US State Department cables released by WikiLeaks over the weekend highlights both the blessing and curse of Julian Assange's phenomenon. Yes, there are juicy tidbits - among them the 12-year-old rumours peddled in a 'free-wheeling' lunch between consulate political officers and a 'veteran China reporter' on then-Vice President Hu Jintao's love life - but, frustratingly, tidbits is all they are.

Like so many WikiLeaks 'insights', the nature of routine diplomatic cable briefings from US diplomats world-wide means they are long on gossip and short on conclusive analysis or specifics over what decisions may have followed. Those, of course, remain secret and we are left to guess what if any impact the cables may have had.

The other problem is the sheer mind-numbing routine of the bulk of them - digests of newspaper editorials and checks on potentially sensitive exports. Hong Kong may have long had a role in international intrigue but, in terms of action in the past few years, it is hardly Berlin in the 1930s, according to the file. You could almost hear the plea for a new posting from the official who wrote the cable 'What's on Hong Kong's mind these days', which examined the aloofness of Hong Kong legislators and football gambling by police.

The WikiLeaks trove is dominated by State Department leaks and one is left to wonder what gems must be in the Pentagon and CIA's own internal reporting system. Inevitably, too, there is the problem of context. The cables are a fraction of a far meatier whole.

While free-market Hong Kong eagerly feeds on the trade of juicy details, WikiLeaks represents a kind of information junk food - filling but never quite sustaining.