Wikileaks controversy: Criminal investigation underway into leak of classified diplomatic documents
Published 30/11/2010 | 15:38
President Obama is considering taking legal action against Wikileaks following the disclosure of more than a quarter of a million classified US diplomatic cables.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said the administration is considering several steps and confirmed that a criminal investigation is under way into how the documents were made public.
He added that President Obama was briefed on the size and scope of the document leak by national security aides last week. It would be an understatement to say the president was "not pleased" to hear that the information would be released, Mr Gibbs said.
Eric Holder, the US attorney general said: "We have an active, ongoing criminal investigation with regard to this matter. We are not in the position, as yet, to announce the result of that investigation.
"This is not saber-rattling," Holder said when pressed over what action the United States could take against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39, an Australian hacker believed to be based in Europe.
"To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law... they will be held responsible. To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps. It is not the case that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residency, is not a target or the subject of an investigation."
Hillary Clinton said on Monday that the release by WikiLeaks of confidential US documents is "an attack on the international community", stating that she was determined to hold to account those who "stole" the documents.
The US Secretary of State said she "deeply regrets" the release and attempted to reassure US allies around the world.
"I will not comment on or confirm what are alleged to be stolen State Department cables," Mrs Clinton said.
"But I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats' personal assessments and observations.
"I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington," Mrs Clinton added. "Our policy is a matter of public record as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.
"I would also add that to the American people and to our friends and partners, I want you to know that we are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information," she said.
American politicians have reacted with fury at WikiLeaks, calling on the group to be designated a "Foreign Terrorist Organisation" and calling on President Barack Obama to pursue a prosecution.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and also a Democrat, branded the leaks a "reckless action which jeopardises lives by exposing raw, contemporaneous intelligence".
Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent, described the leaking as "an attack on the national security of the United States" and an "outrageous, reckless, and despicable action" that would leave those responsible with "blood on their hands".
Representative Peter King of New York, a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, called on Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to designate WikiLeaks a "Foreign Terrorist Organisation" outlawed in the US.
"WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. I strongly urge you to work within the Administration to use every offensive capability of the U.S. government to prevent further damaging releases by WikiLeaks," he said in a statement.
Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, a Republican, told Fox News: "People who do this are low on the food chain as far as I'm concerned. If you can prosecute them, let's try."
His Democratic colleague Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri agreed with him and said she hoped "we can find out where this is coming from and go after them with the force of law". She added that "the people who do these document leaks need to do a gut check about their patriotism".
The Pentagon blasted WikiLeaks for its "reckless" dump of classified documents and said it was taking steps to bolster security of classified U.S. military networks.
Minutes after the documents were published, the White House issued a statement trying to play down the contents of the documents.
"By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions."
But it made clear the documents were authentic and damaging. "Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.