THE WikiLeaks release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables on Sunday has infuriated Washington, and at least one US lawmaker has called for the prosecution of Julian Assange, the Australian founder of the whistle-blower website.
US Republican congressman Peter King, the ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee, urged the US attorney general to prosecute Assange for espionage.
The latest release “manifests Mr Assange’s purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
He went on to urge the State Department to designate WikiLeaks a “Foreign Terrorist Organisation”, saying it “posed a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States”, in a statement from his office.
The White House called the release a “reckless and dangerous action” in a statement released after the first batch of cables was published by US and European newspapers.
“To be clear – such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the release a “reckless action which jeopardises lives” and rejected Assange’s claims to be acting in the public interest.
“This is not an academic exercise about freedom of information and it is not akin to the release of the Pentagon Papers, which involved an analysis aimed at saving American lives and exposing Government deception,” he added, referring to a secret history of the Vietnam War leaked in 1971.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the US was mulling criminal charges against Mr Assange, saying only that it was assisting the Pentagon in its “ongoing investigation” into the disclosure.
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee said the release was “an embarrassment to the Obama administration and represents a critical failure by the Pentagon and intelligence community”.