Updated at 3:58 p.m. on November 29.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today promised "aggressive steps" to hold responsible anyone involved in the release of more than 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, which the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks published on Sunday.
Although she would not confirm that the leaked cables were authentic, Clinton told reporters at the State Department that "specific actions" will be taken at the State and Defense departments "to protect State Department information so that this kind of breach cannot and does not ever happen again."
Earlier today, the Obama administration ordered that special teams composed of counterintelligence, security, and information-assurance experts be created within each department or agency that handles classified information. An Office of Management and Budget memo stated that the intention was in part to ensure that workers do not have more access than they need for their jobs. A 23-year-old Army private is suspected of downloading tens of thousands of the confidential files onto recordable CDs.
For its part, the Justice Department has an "active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks,Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference earlier today. Anyone found to have violated U.S. law in connection with the leaks will be prosecuted, he said, because the latest release endangers U.S. diplomats and intelligence assets—as well as American relationships with other governments.
Clinton appeared to portray the disclosure of the cables in contradictory ways, calling them an attack on international relations while downplaying their significance. She stressed that although the U.S. "deeply regrets" the disclosure of any information intended to be confidential, "our official foreign policy is not set through these messages but here in Washington."
There is "nothing laudable" about leaking information that endangers innocent lives, she said.
Clinton will travel to Central Asia and the Middle East this week, where she is slated to continue her discussions with foreign dignitaries—some of whom are feature in the leaked cables. Clinton said she is "confident that the partnerships that the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge."
In discussions she has already held with her foreign counterparts, Clinton said that some indicated that the WikiLeaks release won't affect relations with the U.S. "At least one of my counterparts said to me, 'Well, don't worry about it; you should see what we say about you,' " she said.
"Candid" field reporting is an imperative, Clinton said, in order to inform decision-making in Washington.
Some of the cables include wording indicating that the State Department asked U.S. diplomats to conduct spylike operations on their foreign counterparts. Documents revealed that diplomats were instructed to gather personal details, such as credit-card account numbers, frequent-flier numbers, and biometric data—all of which had State playing damage control.
"Our diplomats don’t break the law," department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters after Clinton's remarks.
He added that the State Department does not plan to alter how diplomats operate: "We're not going to change what we do"
But the department has already made changes to how its sensitive information is stored and shared.
"We will learn from this experience," Crowley said. "We've already made adjustments in the access we provide to our reporting documents. But we will not change how we do diplomacy around the world."
Crowley noted that an emphasis was placed on greater information-sharing among government agencies after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He said there is a tension between sharing sensitive information and protecting it.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is expected to chair the House Homeland Security Committee in the next Congress, has asked the State Department to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization.
In response, Crowley said that the department is treating the cables' release as a crime, but he added that "unauthorized disclosure of information in and of itself is not a terrorist act."
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