The Atlantic

Leaks Are Changing How Diplomats Talk

In the era of WikiLeaks, hostile-state cyberwarfare, and leaks such as the Darroch incident, the diplomatic cable’s primacy is being threatened, changing the way foreign policy is being conducted.
Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters

“Every one is agreed that he is a man of his word,” the British diplomatic telegram reads, referring to the American president, “and the only man who counts in the Administration,” before going on to outline how the White House has “by its own mistakes, got itself into a difficult position” and that if London could “do any thing to help the President, he will be most appreciative.”

The message is not, however, one sent by Kim Darroch, the outgoing British ambassador to Washington, D.C., nor any recent predecessor. It was dispatched by William Tyrrell, a senior official in Britain’s Foreign Office, on November 14, 1913, shortly after meeting with President Woodrow Wilson. The cable, now held at Britain’s National Archives, symbolizes a markedly different moment in Anglo-American relations, which in the century since has seen the United States supplant Britain as the preeminent world power.

Yet the message also carries a different symbolism—one housed in the mode of communication being used, not dissimilar to that which led to Darroch’s eventual resignation. The Tyrrell message hearkens back to an era in which diplomats

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