WikiLeaks' decision to release classified U.S. diplomatic files endangers U.S. diplomats, intelligence agents and democratic activists who seek America's help, the White House said Sunday.
Shortly before the statement from presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs, several news organizations posted stories on the Internet based on the hundreds of thousands of classified State Department documents that WikiLeaks had made available to them.
Gibbs said the diplomatic documents, known as cables, contained candid and often incomplete information that didn't express policy and didn't influence decisions.
Still, Gibbs said, such cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders and could "deeply impact" U.S. interests as well as those of allies and friends.
"To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," he said. "These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies."
Gibbs said President Barack Obama supports open and accountable government, but the press secretary called the WikiLeaks action "reckless and dangerous" and counter to that goal.
"By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals," Gibbs said. "We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."
On its web site, The New York Times said "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claimed the administration was trying to cover up alleged evidence of serious "human rights abuse and other criminal behavior" by the U.S. government.
The WikiLeaks web site was not accessible for a period on Sunday and the group claimed it was under a cyberattack.
Here's a roundup of other reactions:
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry:
"The release of classified information under these circumstances is a reckless action which jeopardizes lives by exposing raw, contemporaneous intelligence. This is not an academic exercise about freedom of information and it is not akin to the release of the Pentagon Papers, which involved an analysis aimed at saving American lives and exposing government deception. Instead, these sensitive cables contain candid assessments and analysis of ongoing matters and they should remain confidential to protect the ability of the government to conduct lawful business with the private candor that's vital to effective diplomacy."
U.S. Representative Peter T. King:
"WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. I strongly urge you to work within the Administration to use every offensive capability of the U.S. government to prevent further damaging releases by WikiLeaks."
British Foreign Office:
"We condemn any unauthorized release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK. [The cables] can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the U.S. have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the U.S. government. That will continue."
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy:
"It's hard to say what effect it will have, but it will at the very least be uncomfortable -- for my government, for those mentioned in the reports, and for me personally as American Ambassador to Germany." [From a letter to German newspapers.]
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter in a column:
"I cannot vouch for the authenticity of any one of these documents. But I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential. And we condemn it. Diplomats must engage in frank discussions with their colleagues, and they must be assured that these discussions will remain private."
U.S. ambassador to Britain Louis Susman:
"I am confident that our uniquely productive relationship with the United Kingdom will remain close and strong, focused on promoting our shared objectives and values."
Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the United States:
"This won't restrain dips' (diplomats) candor. But people will be looking at the security of electronic communication and archives. Paper would have been impossible to steal in these quantities."
Emile Hokayem, senior fellow, Middle East, International Institute for Strategic Studies:
"I'm not surprised by the fact that the Gulf is portrayed as a major source of funding extremist groups. It's clear money goes to extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But is there such a thing as an al Qaeda bank account? Probably a decent number of people are still doing it because they think it is a charity."
Prof. Michael Cox, associate fellow, Chatham House Think Tank:
"It's a great treasure trove for historians and students of international relations. It is a sign that in the information age, it is very difficult to keep anything secret. But as to whether it's going to cause the kind of seismic collapse of international relations that governments have been talking about, I somehow doubt.
Diplomats have always said rude things about each other in private, and everyone has always known that. Governments have a tendency to try to keep as much information as possible secret or classified, whether it really needs to be or not. The really secret information, I would suggest, is still pretty safe and probably won't end up on WikiLeaks.