Video: Clinton to face criticized leaders

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    >>> now to washington and the release of hundreds of thousands of government documents obtained by wikileaks . andrea mitchell has details on this.

    >> reporter: citing significant damage to our national security t white house directed government agencies to start restricting government access to classified information , just as secretary clinton arrived for an overseas trip today. before leaving washington, hillary clinton said the u.s. deeply regrets the leaks and condemns the action.

    >> there's nothing great about sabotaging the peaceful relationships between nations on which our common security depends.

    >> reporter: clinton had already scheduled a meeting with one of the officials involved, the turkish foreign minister who described the cables as exceptionally dangerous. robert gibbs called the leaks criminal.

    >> the president was with an understatement not pleased with this information becoming public.

    >> reporter: pact the justice department says there is a criminal investigation underway.

    >> to the extent 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.

    >> reporter: many of the cables deal with the most critical hot spots around the world. some of the cables revealed that south korean officials sold a u.n. ambassador there that the counthe -- surprised the u.s. by north korea 's nuclear advances and military steps. journalist with wikileaks defends the document dump .

    >> there's lots of titles that have significance that cover issues folks really care about. that's got to be what starteded this story and that's what makes this a story of public interest .

    >> reporter: but current and foreign officials say the damage from the documents given to wikileaks by private first class bradley manning is enormous.

    >> we're going to be in trouble in the future by now having to go back and being more restrictive.

    >> reporter: sarah palin writes, how is it possible that a 22-year-old private first class could get unrestricted access to so much highly sensitive information and how is it possible that he could copy and distribute these files without anyone noticing that security was compromised? the justice department is looking into the possibility of legal action , experts say it will be very difficult to prosecute wikileaks without going after prominent news organizations that published the cables.

updated 11/29/2010 6:53:52 PM ET 2010-11-29T23:53:52

Striking back, the Obama administration branded the WikiLeaks release of more than a quarter-million sensitive files an attack on the United States Monday and raised the prospect of criminal prosecutions in connection with the exposure.

The Pentagon detailed new security safeguards, including restraints on small computer flash drives, to make it harder for any one person to copy and reveal so many secrets.

The young Army Pfc. suspected of stealing the diplomatic memos, many of them classified, and feeding them to WikiLeaks may have defeated Pentagon security systems using little more than a Lady Gaga CD and a portable computer memory stick.

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The soldier, Bradley Manning has not been charged in the latest release of internal U.S. government documents. But officials said he is the prime suspect partly because of his own description of how he pulled off a staggering heist of classified and restricted material.

"No one suspected a thing," Manning told a confidant afterward, according to a log of his computer chat published by "I didn't even have to hide anything."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the administration was taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."

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Attorney General Eric Holder said the government was mounting a criminal investigation, and the Pentagon was tightening access to information, including restricting the use of computer storage devices such as CDs and flash drives.

"This is not saber-rattling," Holder said. Anyone found to have broken American law "will be held responsible."

'Aggressive steps'
Holder said the latest disclosure, involving classified and sensitive State Department documents, jeopardized the security of the nation, its diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships with foreign governments.

A weary-looking Clinton agreed.

"I want you to know that we are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information," Clinton said. She spoke in between calls to foreign capitals to make amends for scathing and gossipy memos never meant for foreign eyes.

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Manning is charged in military court with taking other classified material later published by the online clearinghouse WikiLeaks. It is not clear whether others such as WikiLeaks executives might be charged separately in civilian courts.

Clinton said the State Department was adding security protections to prevent another breach. The Pentagon, embarrassed by the apparent ease with which secret documents were passed to WikiLeaks, had detailed some of its new precautions Sunday.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said it was possible that many people could be held accountable if they were found to have ignored security protocols or somehow enabled the download without authorization.

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A senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the criminal case against Manning is pending, said he was unaware of any firings or other discipline over the security conditions at Manning's post in Iraq.

'A perfect storm'
In his Internet chat, Manning described the conditions as lax to the point that he could bring a homemade music CD to work with him, erase the music and replace it with secrets. He told the computer hacker who would turn him in that he lip-synched along with pop singer Lady Gaga's hit "Telephone" while making off with "possibly the largest data spillage in American history." published a partial log of Manning's discussions with hacker R. Adrian Lamo in June.

"Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis," Manning wrote. "A perfect storm."

His motive, according to the chat logs: "I want people to see the truth ... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public."

By his own admission, Manning was apparently able to pull material from outside the Pentagon, including documents he had little obvious reason to see. He was arrested shortly after those chats last spring. He was moved in July to the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to await trial on the earlier charges and could face up to 52 years in a military prison if convicted.

There are no new charges, and none are likely at least until after a panel evaluates Manning's mental fitness early next year, said Lt. Col. Rob Manning, spokesman for the Military District of Washington. He is no relation to Bradley Manning.

Manning's civilian lawyer, David Combs, declined comment.

Lapan, the Pentagon spokesman, said the WikiLeaks experience has encouraged discussion within the military about how better to strike a balance between sharing information with those who need it and protecting it from disclosure.

So far, he said, Pentagon officials are not reviewing who has access to data but focusing instead on installing technical safeguards.

Clampdown on would-be leakers
Since summer, when WikiLeaks first published stolen war logs from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department has made it harder for one person acting alone to download material from a classified network and place it on an unclassified one.

Such transfers generally take two people now, what Pentagon officials call a "two-man carry." Users also leave clearer electronic footprints by entering a computer "kiosk," or central hub, en route to downloading the classified material.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the WikiLeaks case revealed vulnerable seams in the information-sharing systems used by multiple government agencies. Some of those joint systems were designed to answer another problem: the failure of government agencies to share what they knew before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"These efforts to give diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to greater amounts of data have had unintended consequences," Whitman said.

Agencies across the U.S. government have installed safeguards around the use of flash drives and computer network operations, said Navy Rear Adm. Michael Brown, the Department of Homeland Security's director for cybersecurity coordination.

Security issues
Like the Pentagon, Homeland Security has laid out policies to ensure that employees are using the networks correctly, that the classified and unclassified networks are properly identified, and that there are detailed procedures for moving information from one network to another.

Dale Meyerrose, former chief information officer for the U.S. intelligence community, said Monday that it will never be possible to completely stop such breaches.

"This is a personnel security issue, more than it is a technical issue," said Meyerrose, now a vice president at Harris Corp. "How can you prevent a pilot from flying the airplane into the ground? You can't. Anybody you give access to can become a disgruntled employee or an ideologue that goes bad."

One official in contact with U.S. military and diplomatic staff in Iraq said they already were seeing the effect of a tighter collar on information.

The State Department and other agencies are restricting access among the Army and nonmilitary agencies, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sharing of classified information.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden warned the latest leak will affect what other governments are willing to share with the U.S. as well as change the way U.S. officials share information among themselves.

"You're going to put a lot less in cables now," he said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: World leaders seen through U.S. eyes

  • Image: Obama and Afghan President Karzai
    Jim Young  /  Reuters
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai, seen here with President Barack Obama at the White House on May 12, was among the world leaders whose name came up in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

    Called the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy" by Italy's foreign minister, the leak of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables has revealed how some U.S. officials view certain world leaders. Below are some of those comments, along with initial reaction from abroad.

    Sources: Associated Press. Reuters and research

  • Dmitry Medvedev

    Image: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
    Sergei Chirikov  /  AFP - Getty Images

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was described as playing “Robin to (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin’s Batman.”

    A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Paris said U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates observed on Feb. 8, 2010, that "Russian democracy has disappeared and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services."

    Gates told his French counterpart that "President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than PM Putin, but there has been little real change," according to the document.

    According to a cable from Feb. 25, 2010, one of Washington's top diplomats, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, was told by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that Medvedev is surrounded by people he does not control.

    "Many high-ranking officials don't recognize (Medvedev) as a leader," Aliyev was quoted as saying in a cable. Aliyev said he had seen Medvedev taking decisions that needed further approval and that some were stymied by others, presumably in the prime ministerial office.

    Image: Putin

    "He said that there are signs of a strong confrontation between the teams of the two men, although not yet between Putin and Medvedev personally," the cable added.

    "We have a saying in Azeri, 'Two heads cannot be boiled in one pot'" (street slang suggesting that two leaders are spoiling for a fight)," Aliyev was quoted as saying.

    Another cable said Medvedev’s wife Svetlana “remains the subject of avid gossip,” suggesting the first lady had compiled a list of officials who should be made to “suffer” due to their alleged disloyalty to her husband.

    Medvedev's spokeswoman said "the Kremlin has found nothing interesting or worth comment" in the cables. Referring to the Batman and Robin description, she said that "fictional Hollywood heroes hardly deserve official comment."

    Putin's spokesman declined to comment, but a diplomatic source said that Russia "regrets" the release, adding: "Digging into diplomatic underwear is not a nice business."

  • Moammar Gadhafi

    Image:  Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi

    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was characterized as erratic and was said to rely heavily on his staff of four Ukrainian nurses, including a woman named Galyna Kolotnytska, who was described as being "a voluptuous blonde".

    Another cable told how Gadhafi "appears to have an intense dislike or fear of staying on upper floors, reportedly prefers not to fly over water, and seems to enjoy horse racing and flamenco dancing."

    The cable also read: "Some embassy contacts have claimed that Gadhafi and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumors, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses 'travel everywhere with the Leader.'"

  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Image: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was referred to as "Hitler" in one U.S. diplomatic cable. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt referred to Iran "as 'evil', an 'existential threat' and a power that 'is going to take us to war.'"

    Ahmadinejad said the leaked memos recounting Arab calls for the U.S. to launch a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities were intended to stir "mischief."

    "We don't give any value to these documents," Ahmadinejad told a news conference. "It's without legal value. Iran and regional states are friends. Such acts of mischief have no impact on relations between nations."

    He alleged the leaks were an "organized" effort by the U.S. to stir trouble between Iran and Arab neighbors.

  • Nicolas Sarkozy

    Image: Sarkozy

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy was described as an "emperor with no clothes."

    The French government issued a statement saying it was “very much in solidarity with the American administration.” Francois Baroin, spokesman for the French government, described WikiLeaks as a "threat against the authority of a democratic society."

  • Hamid Karzai

    Image: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai was said to be "an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to report even the most bizarre stories or plots against him."

    Other cables described U.S. officials' meetings with Karzai's half-brother, who heads a provincial council in southern Afghanistan. Ahmad Wali Karzai was depicted as an operator who doubts the value of elections and "is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker." The cable was dated October 2009 and signed off by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

    The secret messages from Kabul to Washington also allege that a former vice-president fled the country with over $50 million in cash, cables and media reports about the cache of documents say.

    "It won't have a noticeable effect on our broader strategic relationship with the U.S.," Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference in Kabul, referring to the WikiLeaks release. "There is not much in the documents to surprise us and we don't see anything substantive that will strain our relationship, but there is more still to come."

  • Kim Jong Il

    Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il

    North Korea's leader was described as a "flabby old chap" suffering trauma from a stroke.

  • Silvio Berlusconi

    Image: Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

    One cable from Rome to Washington described Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi as "physically and politically weak" and asserted that his "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest."

    Berlusconi was also seen as "vain and ineffective as a modern European leader."

    Numerous cables also raised questions about Berlusconi’s relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with one saying Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe.

    Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the leaks the "Sept. 11 of world diplomacy," in that everything that had once been accepted as normal has now changed.

    Berlusconi insisted he only throws elegant, dignified soirees at his villas. "I unfortunately have never in my life been to a wild party," he said laughing. "Maybe they're interesting. I've never been."

    Berlusconi said he didn't care to read what such diplomats had to report, saying "I don't look at what third-rate or fourth-rate officials say."

    Berlusconi has been accused of entertaining escorts and underage girls at his villas — allegations that have fueled a political crisis that has brought the government to a no-confidence vote in two weeks.

    He said once a month he hosts dinner parties at his homes because so many people want to see him. "At these dinners, everything that occurs is proper, elegant and dignified." Otherwise, guests wouldn't be allowed to take pictures, he added.

    Several beautiful young women have come forward over the past year detailing the dinner parties they attended at Berlusconi's villas in Rome, Milan and Sardinia and the gifts the premier allegedly gave them.

    The most recent, Nadia Macri, a 28-year-old self-described escort, has said Berlusconi paid her $13,000 — delivered in an envelope — for sexual favors after she was introduced to the premier by a television executive.

  • Angela Merkel

    Image: Merkel

    A U.S. diplomat described German Chancellor Angela Merkel as someone who “avoids risk and is seldom creative.”

    John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, told German broadcaster ZDF that the disclosures could have a "severe" impact. "If you now speak with an American diplomat, you have to be worried that it will appear in the newspaper the next day," he added.

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    Image: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
    Wael Hamzeh  /  EPA

    Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was described as governing with incompetent advisors who have "little understanding of politics beyond Ankara." They were also described as an "iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors."

    Diplomats at the embassy in Ankara also characterized Turkey as heading toward an Islamist future and not one that would become a member in the European Union.

  • Prince Andrew

    Image:  Prince Andrew, Duke of York
    Chris Jackson  /  Getty Images

    Tatiana Gfoeller, the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, reported that Prince Andrew spoke "cockily" at a 2008 brunch in that nation's capital with business people, leading a discussion that "verged on the rude".

    The prince, who is a special British trade representative, also attacked Britain's corruption investigators for what he called "idiocy".

    The prince, she added, "was referencing an investigation, subsequently closed, into alleged kickbacks a senior Saudi royal had received in exchange for the multi-year, lucrative BAE Systems contract to provide equipment and training to Saudi security forces."

    He went on to denounce Guardian reporters investigating bribery as "those [expletive] journalists … who poke their noses everywhere".

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