WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House ordered tighter security on Monday to prevent leaks like the release of more than 250,000 State Department cables that have embarrassed the U.S. government and some of its allies.
Sunday’s release of documents obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks exposed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy in recent years, including candid assessments of world leaders and disclosures on issues such as Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
U.S. authorities also were conducting a criminal investigation of the leak of classified documents, which WikiLeaks provided to five media groups that published reports on them, the Justice Department said on Monday.
Among the revelations was that Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear program. The documents cited him as saying: “cut off the head of the snake,” according to the Guardian newspaper of Britain.
The New York Times also reported impolitic comments about foreign leaders, including a description of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s head of state, as playing “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin’s Batman.”
The White House, which harshly condemned the release and said the disclosures may endanger U.S. informants abroad, ordered government agencies to tighten procedures for handling classified information.
The new procedures would ensure “that users do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively,” and would put restrictions on the handling of classified material, according to a directive from the White House Office of Management and Budget released on Monday.
The leaked documents, the majority of which are from 2007 or later, also disclose U.S. allegations that China’s Politburo directed an intrusion into Google’s computer systems, part of a broader coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by Chinese government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws, the Times reported.
Among other disclosures in the newspaper were suspicions Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe and U.S. concerns Iran is using those as “building blocks” for longer-range missiles.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Tehran’s relations with its neighbors would not be harmed by WikiLeaks’ revelations of deep Arab suspicions of Iranian motives, saying Washington organized the leak to pursue political objectives.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the WikiLeaks disclosure of U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program vindicated his stance that Iran was the chief threat to peace in the region.
The United States suspects Iran is using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its atomic program is solely to generate power.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said there is an active criminal investigation into the leak and that anyone found responsible will be prosecuted.
“To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law and who has put at risk the assets and the people that I have described, they will be held responsible, they will be held accountable,” Holder said.
Before Sunday, WikiLeaks had made public nearly 500,000 classified U.S. files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. investigation into the source of those leaks has focused on Bradley Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is under arrest, charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Reporting by Ross Colvin and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem and Robin Pomeroy in Tehran; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.