Image: Julian Assange
Luke Macgregor  /  Reuters file
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange listens during a news conference in London, Oct. 23, 2010.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 12/14/2010 6:49:58 PM ET 2010-12-14T23:49:58

The U.S. Air Force has blocked employees from visiting media websites carrying leaked WikiLeaks documents, including The New York Times and the Guardian, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Major Toni Tones, a spokeswoman at Air Force Space Command in Colorado, said the command had blocked employees whose computers are connected to the Air Force network from accessing at least 25 websites that have posted WikiLeaks documents. No complete list of websites was immediately available.

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The Air Force "routinely blocks Air Force network access to websites hosting inappropriate materials or malware (malicious software) and this includes any website that hosts classified materials and those that are released by WikiLeaks," she said.

The Air Force move comes as the U.S. government seeks to minimize the damage from WikiLeaks' release of 250,000 State Department cables through media outlets and on its own website.

The cables released last month, which reveal blunt, sometimes derisive depictions of foreign governments and leaders, have been an embarrassment for Washington.

Past releases this year by WikiLeaks contained sensitive information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Washington said compromised national security and put people at risk.

Info still classified
The Pentagon had already prohibited its employees from viewing WikiLeaks documents online, no matter how widely they are published, but it has not blocked access to websites that post leaked cables.

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Pentagon officials have instructed employees they "shouldn't access the WikiLeaks site because the information there is still considered classified," said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Pentagon and military officials told NBC News that in an effort to keep classified documents released by WikiLeaks off unclassified Air Force computers has the potential to block access to any website. Enforcing that, however, becomes another matter, the officials said.

For websites that may post a relatively small number of classified documents as part of a WikiLeaks-related story, someone who may have accessed the story on an unclassified computer may have to notify cyber-security personnel to "scrub" that computer to remove the classified material, NBC News reported.

Pentagon officials say this has happened before when WikiLeaks first released the classified Afghanistan documents. The Air Force, Navy and Marines then blocked access to WikiLeaks, and websites that had posted substantial numbers of the documents.

Those bans were eventually lifted and Pentagon officials say it's unclear how long the Air Force prohibition will remain in place.

Several federal agencies have acted to cut off the reading of the WikiLeaks websites by federal employees. The Library of Congress (where Congressional Research Service analysts work) and NASA, for example, have blocked access to the WikiLeaks websites from employee computers.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a strongly worded memo to all employees and contractors telling them that not only may they not “download or attempt to download” any of the classified WikiLeaks memos onto their computers, they also may not “discuss the content” of such “potentially classified” documents “with persons who would not otherwise be authorized access.”

Reuters and NBC News contributed to this report.

Video: Bail for WikiLeaks' Assange set at $315,000

  1. Closed captioning of: Bail for WikiLeaks' Assange set at $315,000

    >> his way to the microphone coming out of the courtroom where that decision about bail was made. tell us what's going on.

    >> chris, i was sitting inside that courtroom literally right next to the glass and this window defendant's box where julian assange was seated. his head was up and he was listening intently throughout the course of this. after the judge made it very clear that bail would be set at 200,000 pounds, roughly $320,000. that assange would be forced to surrender his passport and stay at a wealthy britain's man's home, he is the head of the front line club here. it is a british club , an exclusive club set up largely for foreign and domestic international correspondents. this is an estate that is said to be on 600 acres with ten bedrooms. assange will have to check in with police once every evening. he will have to be with electronic monitoring and also within the property during two four-hour periods during lunch and then overnight. i literally was sitting right next to julian assange and we made eye contact . we made eye contact immediately after the judge said that and as his attorneys and his supporters in the room came over to him, he gave a smile and a thumbs up. this is great british theater instd this courthouse for was the course of, what was that, more than an hour and 40 minutes in total before julian assange finally left, he was wearing a suit and why this is significant, as soon as that money is handed over, chris. julian assange the controversial and complicated figure could very easily walk out the front doors of this courthouse.

    >> peter alexander , keep up the great work. we'll check back with you later on. thank you, peter.

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