My ethical principle regarding leaks is based mainly on the principle of utility: a leak is morally justified when it will bring about more happiness for humanity and wrong when it will bring about more unhappiness. Naturally, this general principle might need to be tweaked in specific circumstances.
In the case of leaking information to the world, the main avenue of moral justification seems to be that the leak reveals misdeeds or illegalities. People who commit misdeeds would seem to have little moral claim to secrecy and the rest of the world would seem to have the right to know about so injustices so that they might be rectified or, at the very least, exposed to the light of day.
If Wikileaks had merely leaked information relating to morally questionable acts or illegalities, then I would have regarded such leaks as morally acceptable and even laudable. However, the folks at Wikileaks have crossed a moral line by publishing a cable providing a list of resources and assets “whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States.”
While some of the potential targets are obvious (dams, telecommunication systems, strategic areas, etc.), the leaked information provides rather specific details that would be rather useful to anyone interested in attacking the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries where these potential targets are located.
This information does not, obviously enough, seem to reveal to the world misdeeds, illegalities or injustices that need to be exposed to the light of day. As such, this leak cannot be morally justified on these grounds.
The leak does, however, provide useful information to those who might wish to attack democratic countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
It might be argued that the leak is acceptable because the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies do bad things. As such, they are being justly punished by revealing critical information to their enemies and potential enemies.
However, this is easy enough to counter.
The main opponents of the West include various terrorists groups as well as rather undemocratic countries such as North Korea and Iran. As such, Wikileaks would seem to be aiding organizations and countries that seem to be morally inferior to the West. Obviously, the Western nations are not moral angels, but they seem to be objectively better than Al Qaeda and North Korea, for example. Compare, to use a specific example, the rights of women in the West with the treatment of women by groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. As another example, consider the individual liberties in the United Kingdom versus those in North Korea. As a final example, compare the relative openness of the United States with the secrecy of China. Making attacks on the West easier does not aid a morally superior side (which could justify the leak). Rather, it aids a morally worse side. As such, the leak is morally unacceptable.
In a previous post, I noted that I had questions about the wisdom and moral authority of the folks at Wikleak. This latest release has answered those questions. I no longer have any doubts about their lack of wisdom and moral authority.