Wikileaks fallout grinds onward

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have "had a good laugh" after seeing himself described as "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader" in leaked State Department cables, but he could be the only one.

The Office of Management and Budget was likely not laughing when it issued a Nov. 28 memo (.pdf) calling the leaks a "significant damage to our national security" and ordering agencies to start an immediate review of classified information safeguards.

OMB, with the National Archives and Records Administration's Information Security Oversight Office and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will stand up a process to evaluate and assist agencies in their review, said OMB Director Jacob Lew in the memo.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed hacktivist going by the handle of "th3j35t3r" (leet for "The Jester") has claimed on his blog and through Twitter to be a responsible party behind the denial of service attacks (link goes to an Arbor Networks analysis) on Wikileaks, the organization behind the leaks' distribution. In response to the DOS attacks, Wikileaks has reportedly turned to Amazon Web Services for hosting services.

Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Nov. 30 that the departments of Justice and Defense are conducting "an active, ongoing criminal investigation," on Wikileaks head Julian Assange. Asked how the United States could prosecute Assange, who is an Australian citizen, Holder replied "Let me be very clear. It is not saber rattling." The person suspected of being the primary source of this leak and others, Pfc. Bradley Manning, has been under military arrest since late May. The National Journal's Marc Ambinder details how Manning was able to access so many files here.  

Calls for Assange prosecution under the Espionage Act have come from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the putative head of the Homeland Security Committee come January. King also called on the State Department to classify Wikileaks as a foreign terrorist organization, on par with al Qaeda and Hamas.

Assange's whereabouts are unknown, although Interpol issued a red notice for him in connection with rape charges in Sweden. The notice is not an arrest warrant (since Interpol lacks police powers), but it does allow a national warrant to be circulated worldwide in the hopes of an extradition. Assange and his lawyer have maintained his innocence.

In an interview with Time, conducted via Skype, Assange called on Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to resign, "if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations."

Among the main revelations of the leaked cables is that diplomats apparently were asked to gather credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers, frequent-flyer account numbers, and even biometric information of foreign diplomats.

In a Nov. 30 daily press briefing, State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said its officers are not spies.

"Our diplomats are not intelligence assets," he said. "They can collect information. If they collect information that is useful, we share it across the government, as we've been talking about with respect to documents generated by the Department of State. But we--please do not infer from one document that this fundamentally changes the role--nothing has changed based on a document that has been issued through the Department for a number of years."

Finally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come up with likely the most original interpretation of the leaked cables. "Some part of the American government produced these documents," he said, according to The New York Times.

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