Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who is scheduled to become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Monday that WikiLeaks should be designated a terrorist organization for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret and classified government documents.
“The benefit of that is, we would be able to seize their assets and we would be able to stop anyone from helping them in any way,” King said, appearing on MSNBC.
King also hinted at getting WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, extradited for prosecution in the U.S. Naming WikiLeaks a terrorist group would help the U.S. government, he said, “as far as trying to get them extradited, trying to get them to take action against them.”
“Either we’re serious about this or we’re not. I know people may think this is a bit of a stretch, but I analogize it as the RICO statute, where they had a pretty narrow definition of criminal enterprise in the beginning, but now that’s been expanded quite a bit to deal with contemporary problems,” King said.
“If we’re going to live in this world, this technological world, where information can be disseminated so quickly, we have to be serious, take firm strong action against those who are putting American lives at risk, because this will put people’s lives at risk.”
Joe Scarborough, the co-host of “Morning Joe” and a former Republican congressman from Florida, was dubious.
“I think you may be overstepping a good deal,” he said. “Isn’t your first job to call government agencies … in front of your committee and say, ‘How did this happen?’ … You know you can’t designate them a terror outfit?”
“I don’t think we should write it off that quickly and say we can’t do it. They are assisting in terrorist activity. The information they are giving is being used by al Qaeda, it’s being used by our enemies,” he said, adding that foreign intelligence agencies will be able to identify sources for intelligence from the more than 251,000 cables being released by WikiLeaks in batches.
King wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday urging him to charge Assange under the Espionage Act and a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to designated WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization.
Holder said Monday that there is an “active, ongoing criminal investigation” into the WikiLeaks release.
“We are not in a position as yet to announce the result of that investigation, but the investigation is ongoing,” Holder said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “WikiLeaks and people that disseminate information to people like this are criminals, first and foremost, and I think that needs to be clear.”
King’s rhetoric is the latest example of outrage – most of it from conservatives – against the international nonprofit that earlier this year released hundreds of thousands of classified government and military documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The documents appear to have come from one source: U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, who was arrested in May and is currently being held at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, and faces a long prison sentence.
Later in the day Monday, former Clinton era Secretary of Defense William Cohen said he supported Holder’s criminal investigation and said the U.S. government should seek to have WikiLeaks’ leaders extradited “to bring them back to face a trial here.”
On Sunday, as the first diplomatic cables began to dribble out, Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia who has since left the organization, sent a public message to WikiLeaks on Twitter.
“Speaking as Wikipedia’s co-founder, I consider you enemies of the U.S. — not just the government, but the people,” Sanger wrote.
He added: “What you’ve been doing to us is breathtakingly irresponsible and can’t be excused with pieties of free speech and openness.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the release by WikiLeaks “treasonous.”
Assange, who is Australian, is facing possible prosecution in his country of origin if he returns there. The government in Canberra is exploring the possibility of filing charges against Assange.
In October, conservative columnist asked in a column: “Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?”
WikiLeaks gave an explanation for its actions in publishing the diplomatic cables Sunday that showed what appeared to be a strong anti-U.S. motivation.
“The cables show the extent of U.S. spying on its allies and the U.N.; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in ‘client states’; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for U.S. corporations; and the measures U.S. diplomats take to advance those who have access to them,” WikiLeaks wrote.
This document release reveals the contradictions between the U.S.’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors — and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington — the country’s first president — could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the U.S. government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.
In its mission statement, however, WikiLeaks says its “primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.”
“But we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations,” WikiLeaks says. “We aim for maximum political impact.”
This article has been updated throughout the day.