The Diplomatic Fallout From Leaked Documents

For more on the diplomatic fallout from the leaked State Department cables, NPR's Guy Raz talks to Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and former chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea.

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GUY RAZ, host:

For more on the diplomatic fallout, we turn now to Christopher Hill, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and previously chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea. Ambassador Hill, welcome.

Ambassador CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former U.S. Ambassador, Iraq): Thank you very much.

RAZ: How damaging do you believe these leaks are?

Amb. HILL: Well this is very damaging, especially to individual embassies involved. I mean, after all, not unlike in the news business, embassy officers are out there every day talking to different people, getting them to give their views on things and often the people really need anonymity. And to have their names now, or the situations in which they were giving information now spread out over the international airwaves is quite problematic. And I think problematic for future conduct of diplomacy.

RAZ: You served, obviously, as an ambassador to many nations during your career at the State Department. What do you suspect the secretary of State is now saying to people like Hamid Karzai who was described as paranoid, or Vladmir Putin, who was called an alpha dog?

Amb. HILL: Well, I, on the latter comment, I'm a little puzzled by that because it strikes me as an attempt to put some humor into an otherwise humorless business. That is the business of sending in telegrams late in the afternoon so that Washington can get them when they wake up. But I suspect that she is having a full-time job right now talking to some of these leaders, explaining that these are comments taken out of context.

They hardly reflect how the embassy or the State Department officers speak about their foreign interlocutors and otherwise trying to engage in some damage control. But I don't envy her job these days.

RAZ: You say that Secretary Clinton will have to sort of explain that maybe some of these comments have been taken out of context. But I'm wondering if, in fact, they haven't been taken out of context, that these are actually pretty straightforward assessments by U.S. diplomats overseas.

Amb. HILL: Well, I think in certain circumstances, you're absolutely right. They haven't been taken out of context. And then I think it's just - would be an effort to apologize and say this does not reflect our overall view of the leader in question.

RAZ: And just hope for the best.

Amb. HILL: And hope for the best. Look, this happens in life as well as in diplomacy. You just - sometimes bad things happen. You have to deal with it. And I think she's doing some damage control in that regard. I think overall, you know, it will be more what the U.S. does with a country than what we discuss internally. And so I think we'll get through some of these bilateral relationships.

But I do worry about the business of diplomacy. I worry about what people are prepared to put in cables in the future. I really worry about some of the lateral transmission of this information to people who clearly had nothing to do with the actual substance - that they were allowed to read these things. So I think there needs to be a lot of tightening up. And I suspect that process has begun.

RAZ: It's thought that these cables were retrieved through the SIPRNET, which is a secure military network. Is the diplomatic community angry with the military for allowing this to happen?

Amb. HILL: Well, I wouldn't put in those terms. But I do believe there is a broader issue here. That is, in the wake of 9/11, there is a real concern that agencies weren't talking enough to each other. You recall the discussions about how the FBI knew things that the FAA did not know. And should there be a better means of sharing information?

And so I think it is fair to say that we may have gone too far. I can't speak to the guilt or innocence of this Private Manning, who was an analyst in Iraq, but apparently he was able to be reading, merrily reading cables from places like Seoul, Korea. That strikes me as having erred on the side of giving out too much information to people who didn't need that information to do their jobs.

RAZ: That's Christopher Hill. He's the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and now the dean at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Ambassador, thank you so much.

Amb. HILL: Thank you.

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