WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
Bertil Ericson  /  AP
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Stockholm, Sweden, in August. He was placed on Interpol's wanted list Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/30/2010 9:28:05 PM ET 2010-12-01T02:28:05

The government scrambled Tuesday to prevent future spills of U.S. secrets like the embarrassing WikiLeaks' disclosures, while officials pondered possible criminal prosecutions and Interpol in Europe sent out a "red notice" for nations to be on the lookout for the website's founder.

Interpol placed Julian Assange on its most-wanted list after Sweden issued an arrest warrant against him as part of a drawn-out rape probe — involving allegations Assange has denied. The Interpol alert is likely to make international travel more difficult for Assange, whose whereabouts are publicly unknown.

In Washington, the State Department severed its computer files from the government's classified network, officials said, as U.S. and world leaders tried to clean up from the leak that sent America's sensitive documents onto computer screens around the globe.

  1. Related content
    1. NYT: Cables offer dim view of Russia
    2. Newsweek: Cables show end of U.S. 'democracy agenda'
    3. State Department's best sources burned
    4. NYT: Memos show wary nuclear dance with Pakistan
    5. U.S. cable: Karzai intervened for drug traffickers
    6. The who, what and why of WikiLeaks
    7. More stories, videos about the documents

By temporarily pulling the plug, the U.S. significantly reduced the number of government employees who can read important diplomatic messages. It was an extraordinary hunkering down, prompted by the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of those messages this week by WikiLeaks, the self-styled whistleblower organization.

In an interview with Time magazine, Assange said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "should resign" if she ordered U.S. diplomats to engage in espionage.

Assange was replying to questions about the diplomatic cable release and was asked if Clinton's firing was an outcome he wanted.

"I don't think it would make much of a difference either way," Assange told Time. "But she should resign if it can be shown that she was responsible for ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. Yes, she should resign over that."

The issuance by Interpol was expected after a Swedish court in mid-November approved a motion to have Assange brought in for questioning.

Assange, who is reportedly hiding in the U.K., is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. He has denied the allegations, which stem from his encounters with two women during a visit to Sweden in August.

The documents revealed that the U.S. is still confounded about North Korea's nuclear military ambitions, that Iran is believed to have received advanced missiles capable of targeting Western Europe and that the State Department asked its diplomats to collect DNA samples and other personal information about foreign leaders.

Other revelations were dribbling out as news organizations poured over the trove of leaked diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies:

The Guardian
In the run-up to the 2010 U.K. election, head of the Bank of England Mervyn King was critical of top Conservatives David Cameron, now prime minister, and George Osborne, chancellor, for a lack of experience and said they thought about issues only in political terms. King urged them to draw up a detailed plan to reduce the deficit. U.S. ambassador to London Louis Susman authored the confidential cable.

Al-Jazeera
One cable raised the possibility that Western-backed Palestinian group Fatah, now in power in the occupied West Bank, knew Israel was planning an attack on the Gaza Strip before it launched its deadly offensive in December 2008. The three-week conflict resulted in more than 1,400 Palestinian deaths and left vast swathes of Gaza destroyed.

According to the cable, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a congressional delegation that his country had asked Fatah and Egypt whether "they were willing to assume control of Gaza" after Israel defeated Hamas in the operation.

Barak said he received no positive response, but said the advanced knowledge of the Gaza attack could prove embarrassing to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

The Telegraph
The British government assured it would "protect US interests" in the U.K.'s inquiry into the Iraq War.

A cable sent by Ellen Tauscher, a U.S. under secretary for arms control, said a British defense official, Jon Day, promised that the U.K. had "put measures in place to protect your (U.S.) interests." A U.K. peace group, Stop the War Coalition, said the cable was evidence of a "cover-up" in the inquiry.

Reassuring world leaders
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley sought to reassure the world that U.S. diplomats were not spies, even as he sidestepped questions about why they were asked to provide DNA samples, iris scans, credit card numbers, fingerprints and other deeply personal information about leaders at the United Nations and in foreign capitals.

Diplomats in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion, for instance, were asked in a secret March 2008 cable to provide "biometric data, to include fingerprints, facial images, iris scans, and DNA" for numerous prominent politicians. They were also asked to send "identities information" on terrorist suspects, including "fingerprints, arrest photos, DNA and iris scans."

In Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo the requests included information about political, military and intelligence leaders.

"Data should include e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans," the cable said.

Every year, the intelligence community asks the State Department for help collecting routine information such as biographical data and other "open source" data. DNA, fingerprint and other information was included in the request because, in some countries, foreigners must provide that information to the U.S. before entering an embassy or military base, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The possibility that American diplomats pressed for more than "open source" information has drawn criticism at the U.N. and in other diplomatic circles over whether U.S. information-gathering blurred the line between diplomacy and espionage.

"What worries me is the mixing of diplomatic tasks with downright espionage. You cross a border ... if diplomats are encouraged to gather personal information about some people," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

Crowley said a few diplomatic cables don't change the role of U.S. diplomats.

"Our diplomats are diplomats. Our diplomats are not intelligence assets," he repeatedly told reporters. "They can collect information. If they collect information that is useful, we share it across the government."

WikiLeaks has not said how it obtained the documents, but the government's prime suspect is an Army Pfc., Bradley Manning, who is being held in a maximum-security military brig on charges of leaking other classified documents to WikiLeaks. Authorities believe Manning defeated Pentagon security systems simply by bringing a homemade music CD to work, erasing the music, and downloading troves of government secrets onto it.Crowley, at the State Department, showed disdain for Assange.

"I believe he has been described as an anarchist," he said. "His actions seem to substantiate that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Who gave WikiLeaks confidential documents?

  1. Closed captioning of: Who gave WikiLeaks confidential documents?

    >> just who is army first class bradley manning , the man suspected of leaking all of these documents? jim miklaszewski has that part of the story.

    >> reporter: even as a kid, friends describe bradley manning as a computer geek who held strong opinions and wasn't afraid to express them. but at first glance, he appears the most unlikely suspect. with a youthful smile looking barely old enough to even be in the military, 23-year-old army pfc bradley manning is at the center of the worldwide wikileaks storm. he's in custody charged with providing wikileaks with this classified video, a u.s. helicopter gun ship attack in baghdad that killed a number of iraqi civilians. but the more serious charges accuse manning of leaking tens of thousands of state department cables. but how is that possible? as an intelligence agent in baghdad, manning downloaded classified files on to a cd while pretending to be listening to lady gaga . he then uploaded the documents on to his personal computer . why would he possibly do it? ginger thompson profiled manning and found that as a young man he was an outcast who tried desperately to fit in.

    >> as a young kid, he was teased all the time in elementary school for being a geek. when he was in high school , he got beat up often because kids figureded out that he was gay.

    >> reporter: his father a career soldier reportedly kicked manning out of their house in crescent, oklahoma. friends say manning joined the army to impress his father. but once in the military, he quickly became a target.

    >> as a gay man in the military, he was outcast and he was, you know, teased and harassed.

    >> reporter: thompson says manning retreated into the cyber world where he became an accomplished actor and in the middle of the iraq war became more and more politically motivated.

    >> i think he was driven more than anything by his desire to do something important.

    >> reporter: neither bradley 's family or his lawyers are talking. he's being held under maximum security at the quantico marine base outside of washington where military officials say he's in good spirits and spends most of his day reading books and following news about this story. now the military is preparing to hold a hearing to determine if he's actually mentally competent to stand trial and he could face additional charges. if convicted on any of these charges, he could spend the rest of his life in a military prison .

Interactive: WikiLeaks timeline

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,