(Adds comments, details)
WASHINGTON Dec 6 U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder said on Monday the Obama administration was considering
using laws in addition to the U.S. Espionage Act to possibly
prosecute the release of sensitive government information by
"That is certainly something that might play a role, but
there are other statutes, other tools at our disposal," Holder
The Espionage Act dates back to 1917 and was focused on
making it illegal to obtain national defense information for
the purpose of harming the United States. Holder described the
law as "pretty old" and lawmakers are considering updating it
in the wake of the leak.
WikiLeaks has released to news outlets and on the Internet
hundreds of internal U.S. diplomatic messages, some of which
contained classified information that embarrassed the Obama
administration and foreign governments. [ID:nLDE6B51K4]
Some legal experts have said it would be difficult for the
Obama administration to prosecute WikiLeaks or its founder
Julian Assange, who is an Australian citizen, for espionage.
Other parts of U.S. law make it easier to prosecute people
for unauthorized disclosure of certain classified information.
Assange and WikiLeaks, however, could argue they are akin to a
news organization protected by the First Amendment of the U.S.
Holder also said that he authorized a number of unspecified
actions as part of the criminal probe the Justice Department is
conducting into the WikiLeaks matter.
"I authorized just last week a number of things to be done
so that we can get to the bottom of this and hold people
accountable," Holder said. He repeatedly refused to elaborate
whether that would include search warrants.
"I personally authorized a number of things last week and
that's an indication of the seriousness with which we take this
matter and the highest level of involvement at the Department
of Justice," he said.
He also declined to say whether the Obama administration
could try to shut down the WikiLeaks site. The organization has
had to switch to overseas web hosting services after Amazon.com
(AMZN.O) last week terminated their arrangement.
"I don't want to get into what our capabilities are,"
Holder said. "We are looking at all the things we can do to try
to stem the flow of this information."
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Paul Simao)