Updated at 12:52 a.m. on November 29.
The latest WikiLeaks document dump, publishing the details of more than 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables, has members of Congress blaming both the whistle-blowing website and the U.S. government for somehow allowing it to happen.
Already this morning, the Obama administration has vowed to pursue a possible criminal prosecution of anyone responsible for leaking the documents and ordered government agencies to review their safeguards on classified information. Security teams of counterintelligence, security, and information assurance experts will be created within each department or agency that handles classified information, an Office of Management and Budget memo stated.
This measure is intended to ensure that workers do not have more access than they need for their jobs, the memo said. The prime suspect for the leak, a 23-year-old Army private, was arrested in May. He’s said to have downloaded tens of thousands of documents to CDs labeled “Lady Gaga.”
“The recent irresponsible disclosure by WikiLeaks has resulted in significant damage to our national security,” OMB director Jacob Lew said in the memo, adding that failures by agencies to safeguard information “will not be tolerated.”
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said on NBC's Today show that beyond the “obvious titillating facts” of the release, “foreign intelligence agencies -- our enemies -- are going to be going through [the documents] line by line.” King, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called for WikiLeaks to be classified as a foreign terrorist organization.
“The benefit of [classifying WikiLeaks as an FTO] is we would be able to seize their assets and we would be able to stop anyone from helping them in any way -- whether it's making contributions [or] giving free legal advice,” King said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Yet others, like Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the U.S. intelligence community for its failure to prevent such a release. It should be clear that WikiLeaks is “determined to undermine U.S. national security and damage our foreign relations,” Hoekstra said in a statement Sunday, and he added on CBS’s Early Show today that the release represents “a massive failure within the intelligence community, to create this kind of database with this much information in it and then provide access to it to hundreds of thousands of people across the government.”
“I think the real surprising thing here is that it never happened before,” he said.
Since August, the Pentagon has made changes in its policies for using flash drives or similar storage devices and for transferring classified material into unclassified computer systems, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said on Sunday in an Associated Press report.
The U.S. needs to get “serious” about these leaks quickly, King said on MSNBC, stressing a need for the government to take action against the disseminators -- in particular, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. King penned a letter on Sunday to Attorney General Eric Holder, urging him to criminally prosecute Assange.
Holder told reporters at a news conference today that anyone found to have violated U.S. law in the leaks will be prosecuted by the Justice Department as part of the “active, ongoing criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks. The latest release endangers U.S. diplomats and intelligence assets -- as well as American relationships with other governments, he said.
“This is not saber-rattling,” Holder said. "To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law, who put at risk the assets and the people I have described, they will be held responsible.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., described the leak in a statement as “an attack on our national security” and “an offense against our democracy and the principle of transparency.” He called for President Obama to shut down the site.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the release “a reckless action which jeopardizes lives.”
Katy O'Donnell, Rebecca Kaplan, and Althea Fung contributed