The anti-government secrecy site Wikileaks is embracing a peculiar new role: Excitedly publishing already-available declassified government information. The site's embattled honcho, Julian Assange, announced the release this morning of its much-anticipated "Project K," which turned out to be the "Kissinger Cables"—1.7 million diplomatic communiques covering the period from 1973 to 1976.
Historically interesting, to be sure, but hardly of the same moment as Wikileaks' previous hauls from Iraq and Afghanistan. (BREAKING: While planning the overthrow of Allende and the prolonging of war in Vietnam, Henry Kissinger sometimes joked about doing illegal, unconstitutional things!) "The period of the 1970s in diplomacy is referred to as the 'big bang,'" Assange said in Monday's announcement, defending the release.
What's more, the Kissinger cables have already been available to the public for years—reviewed and released by two government agencies, and saved as accessible PDFs in the National Archives, as Wikileaks concedes in its press release. Is the group going soft, depending now on the beneficence of official government declassifiers instead of whistleblowers and leakers?
Wikileaks has merged the Kissinger files with its previous Cablegate dump to provide what it's calling the Public Library of US Diplomacy, or PlusD—a fully searchable database of 34 years' worth of American statecraft secrets (and, obviously, not-so-secrets). That's an unquestionably valuable service—which is why a bevy of institutions like George Washington University's National Security Archive already do something similar.
Assange and Co. could be sitting on a valuable infrastructure, if they can find leakers to fill PlusD out with documentation from the US's other 203 years of diplomacy. Perhaps that's their hope in today's release: If you build it, they will come. That's a fine dictum for attracting Bradley Mannings, but it does little to attract the worldwide news consumers Wikileaks really wants. They subscribe to a different dictum: If you oversell what you've built, they will leave.