Feds react to WikiLeaks

David Accomazzo | Boulder Weekly

The controversy surrounding the latest disclosure of secret and classified diplomatic cables, dubbed “cablegate” by some uninventive types in the media, has spawned a wide variety of responses.


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, herself an author of some of the most controversial (and embarrassing) cables, stands on one side, bellowing that the document disclosure “tears at the fabric” of international relations. Then there are others, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who downplay the effect the leaks will have on national security.

“I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a ‘meltdown,’ as a ‘game-changer,’ or so on, and I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. … Is it embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest,” Gates said at a press conference shortly after the cables were first released.

Despite the fact that many in the media, like Gates, also downplay the negative impact of the WikiLeaks cables, many government officials have stepped up rhetoric in the past few days, calling for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be charged with espionage, treason or worse.

In a release on his website, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., characterized the leaks as an attack on U.S. national security that endangers the lives of Americans. He also implored the president to use all legal means necessary to shut down WikiLeaks and, waxing philosophical, called the release an assault on the “principle of transparency.” Later, Lieberman attacked The New York Times for publishing the documents.

“To me The New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the justice department,” Lieberman told FOX News.

Lieberman wasn’t the only politician to take U.S. media outlets to task. Rep.-elect Allen West, a Florida Republican, said on a right-wing radio program that the news organizations publishing the leaked documents should be censored.

“There are different means by which you can be attacked,” West said, according to a transcript published on ThinkProgress.org. “I mean, it doesn’t have to be a bomb or an airplane flying into a building. … It could be through leaking of very sensitive, classified information. … And I think that we also should be censoring the American news agencies which enabled him to do this and also supported him and applauded him for the efforts. So that’s kind of aiding and abetting a serious crime.”

Mama Bear Sarah Palin took to Twitter and called WikiLeaks’ release “treasonous.” Her running mate and political surrogate father from 2008 was a bit more polite.

“I wish The New York Times had chosen not to [publish the leaked cables],” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told The Daily Beast.

Official response that goes beyond the opinions of Washington politicians has been a bit more muted, but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. As others have pointed out, if the justice department were moving to indict WikiLeaks’ pale-faced Australian founder, there would be no way for the American public to find out beforehand, since grand jury deliberations are secret. While Assange addresses allegations of sexual assault made against him by two Swedish women, he will have to wait for word from the American government as to whether or not they’ve constructed a legal argument that could be used to request his extradition from Sweden.

WikiLeaks claims it gave the cables to the State Department prior to publishing them so that the U.S. government could provide feedback as to which documents WikiLeaks should “look at with extra care,” and that the State Department refused to provide that information, instead insisting that none of the cables be released.

The State Department sent a letter, dated Nov.

27, to WikiLeaks, firmly stating the government’s desire to keep the WikiLeaks documents out of the public eye. The letter, published by Reuters, says that the documents were given to WikiLeaks in a violation of American law.

“As long as WikiLeaks holds such material,” the letter says, “the violation of the law is ongoing.”

The letter concludes: “If you are genuinely interested in seeking to stop the damage from your actions, you should: 1) ensure WikiLeaks ceases publishing any and all such materials; 2) ensure WikiLeaks returns any and all classified U.S. Government material in its possession; and 3) remove and destroy all records of this material from WikiLeaks’ databases.”

Much has been made about the use of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to take down websites of organizations that are anti-WikiLeaks. The DDoS attacks (which, on the scale of passionate activism techniques ranks just above changing your Facebook profile picture and many, many steps below hunger strikes) have been directed at WikiLeaks, too. Some suspect the government was behind the attacks, and there has been no word on this from the government so far, although a security expert interviewed by the Associated Press said the attackers were most likely “a bunch of geeks,” not the U.S. government.

The Twitter account of State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley acted as the voice for the state department for a few days, issuing statements to counteract accusations appearing on blogs and websites. One major tweet concerned the government’s role in PayPal’s decision to sever ties with WikiLeaks after PayPal. There had been some speculation of U.S. government involvement after a company vice president publicly referred to a letter from the government as reason for stopping WikiLeaks’ service.

“The U.S. government did not write to PayPal requesting any action regarding #WikiLeaks. Not true,” tweeted Crowley.

PayPal later clarified that the VP was referring to the letter written by the State Department to WikiLeaks, not a letter addressed specifically to PayPal.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com