A criminal investigation has been launched by the US following the release, on Sunday, of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic documents by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
On Monday, Eric Holder, the US Attorney General (photo, from aljazeera.net), said that there is an “active and ongoing criminal investigation,” adding that if he were found to have broken the law, Julian Assange, the website’s chief would be pursued.
“We are not in the position, as yet, to announce the result of that investigation,” he said.
He also said that the justice and defence departments were both probing the website.
“This is not saber-rattling,” Holder said when pressed by reporters over what action the US could take against WikiLeaks founder, who is believed to be based in Europe.
“To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law… they will be held responsible,” Holder said.
“To the extent there are gaps in our laws, we will move to close those gaps. It is not the case that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residency, is not a target or the subject of an investigation.”
Government agencies were ordered by the White House to tighten procedures for handling classified information after the mass leak.
The new procedures would ensure “that users do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively,” according to a directive from the Office of Management and Budget.
“The recent irresponsible disclosure by WikiLeaks has resulted in significant damage to our national security,” Jacob Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said.
“Any failure by agencies to safeguard classified information… is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
On Sunday, WikiLeaks began releasing a quarter of a million confidential US State Department cables, detailing diplomatic activities around the world.
Although the source has not been confirmed by US officials, suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a former army intelligence specialist arrested after the release of a video showing air strikes that killed reporters in Iraq.
The credibility of the information contained in the diplomatic memos was questioned a day after the release, by the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The memos say that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged the US to attack Iran in order to destroy its nuclear programme and prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.