WASHINGTON - The Obama administration moved forcefully yesterday to contain damage from the release of more than a quarter-million classified diplomatic files, branding the action as illegal and an attack on the United States and raising the prospect of a prosecution against online whistle-blower WikiLeaks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the Obama administration was taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. would not rule out taking action against WikiLeaks. Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration would prosecute if violations of federal law are found in a current criminal investigation of the incident.
Gibbs said President Barack Obama was briefed on the impending massive leak last week and was "not pleased" about the breach of classified documents. "This is a serious violation of the law," Gibbs said. "This is a serious threat to individuals that both carry out and assist in our foreign policy."
The White House yesterday ordered a review of how all agencies can better safeguard sensitive information. Clinton said steps were already being taken to tighten oversight of diplomatic files. That action would follow a similar move by the Pentagon after leaks of military files.
The U.S. documents contained raw comments normally muffled by diplomatic politesse: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pressing the U.S. to "cut off the head of the snake" by taking action against Iran's nuclear program. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described as "feckless" and "vain." German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed as "risk averse and rarely creative."
"This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests," Clinton said in her first comments since the weekend leaks. "It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange alleged that the administration was trying to cover up evidence of serious "human rights abuse and other criminal behavior" by the U.S. government.