U.S. poised to punish WikiLeaks as scandal threatens diplomacy

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Getty (Credit: Getty)

An explosive cache of confidential diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks sent the State Department scrambling to savage relations worldwide Monday as top officials branded the whistle-blowing group “criminals” and “terrorists.”

The Obama administration said it would not rule out legal action against WikiLeaks, the website that obtained more than a quarter-million cables and is releasing them in batches. This was the third dump, and the White House vowed to try to block further expected leaks.

“Open and transparent government is something the president believes is truly important, but the stealing of classified information and its dissemination is a crime,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Long Island Congressman Peter King took his condemnation even further and urged that WikiLeaks be declared a “foreign terrorist organization,” putting it in the same arena as al-Qaida. The Republican also wants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

“They are engaged in terrorist activity. What they’re doing is clearly aiding and abetting terrorist groups,” King, the incoming chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, told MyFox New York.

With fallout from the disclosure resonating from Russia to North Korea, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said U.S. international relations can “withstand this challenge.”

WikiLeak’s illegal disclosure, however, puts “people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries,” Clinton said. “It’s an attack on the international community.”

The question remained whether Americans are entitled to information about the inner workings of their government. Clinton’s reasons so far are too vague to justify quashing the documents, said Bob Steele, director of Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University.

“The key is to find a reasonable balance. The role of the journalist [the New York Times, the Guardian and others who published the cables] is to make sure what they reveal is significantly important to the public,” Steele said. “Government officials also have to own up. They can’t just say, ‘This threatens security. Period.’ Or ‘It endangers lives. Period.’”

Upon being offered the information from WikiLeaks, the Wall Street Journal and CNN declined it on ethical grounds, with the Journal saying it “didn’t want to agree to a set of pre-conditions” set by the renegade group.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass on Monday said in a statement that the leak doesn’t constitute a “national security crisis” but said diplomatic ties won’t be easily mended.

“It will cause more than a little near-term awkwardness and create some longer-term problems for the United States and its partners,” he wrote. “Foreign governments may think twice before sharing their secrets or even their candid judgment with American counterparts.”

Clinton quipped that an unnamed official told her not to worry about the leaks, saying, “You should see what we say about you.”

Tags: News , Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , WikiLeaks

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