In their essay “The End of Hypocrisy” (November/December 2013), Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore argue that the biggest threat from leakers of classified information such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is that “they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.” According to Farrell and Finnemore, the more than 750,000 diplomatic cables and incident reports leaked by Manning and the highly classified material disclosed by Snowden have provided “documented confirmation . . . of what the United States is actually doing and why.” Thus, the country will find itself “less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words . . . and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.”
The Manning and Snowden leaks do shed light on U.S. foreign policy, sometimes in an unflattering way. But they certainly do not prove that Washington acts hypocritically. Indeed, the most compelling revelation from Manning’s leaks is the remarkable consistency between what the United States says in private and does in public. Of the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables leaked by Manning, very few show wide gaps between the actions and words of U.S. officials. What hypocrisy the cables reveal is more often that of other governments, including, for example, U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia, which privately implored Washington to attack Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions while publicly opposing such a strike.
Snowden’s leaks do pose a number of dilemmas for U.S. policymakers, but they don’t really expose American duplicity. As Farrell and Finnemore note, before Snowden’s disclosures, “most experts already assumed that the United States conducted cyberattacks against China, bugged European institutions, and monitored global Internet communications.” And Farrell and Finnemore offer no evidence that the United States has denied such activities. Indeed, as the National Security Agency’s website plainly states, the agency “collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.” So where is the hypocrisy? One could argue that