WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is warning online whistleblower WikiLeaks that its expected imminent release of classified State Department documents will put "countless" lives at risk, threaten global counterterorism operations and jeopardize U.S. relations with its allies.
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 telling him publication of the documents would be illegal and demanding that 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.
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.