mullen - AP - November 11 2010
U.S. Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen. Photo by AP
Text size

The United States and Israel were bracing themselves Sunday for the expected release of classified diplomatic cables by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks website, which the Obama administration warned would endanger lives and interests.

In a highly unusual step reflecting the administration's grave concerns about the ramifications of the move, the State Department late Saturday released a letter from its top lawyer to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, warning that publication of the documents would be illegal and demanding he stop it.

In the letter, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said the publication of some 250,000 secret diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks will place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals, place at risk on-going military operations, and place at risk on-going cooperation between countries.

The State Department said Koh's message was a response to a letter received on Friday by the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, from Assange and his lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. The department said that letter asked for information regarding individuals who may be 'at significant risk of harm' because of the release of the documents.

"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals," Koh wrote in reply. "You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger."

He said the U.S government would not deal with WikiLeaks at all in determining what may or may not released.

"We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. government classified materials," wrote Koh, who is considered to be one of the world's top experts in international law and was reportedly considered for a seat on the Supreme Court.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also urged WikiLeaks to stop its “extremely dangerous” release of documents, a transcript of a CNN interview set to air Sunday revealed.

WikiLeaks is expected to post the documents online on Sunday and Koh said the U.S. government had been told that The New York Times, the British newspaper the Guardian and the German news magazine Der Speigel had prior access to them.

WikiLeaks has said the release will be seven times the size of its October leak of 400,F0 Iraq war documents, already the biggest leak in U.S. intelligence history.

The U.S. says it has known for some time that WikiLeaks held the diplomatic cables. No one has been charged with passing them to the website, but suspicion focuses on U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst arrested in Iraq in June and charged over an earlier leak.