The Obama administration is lashing out at WikiLeaks - the whistle-blower website - and its fugitive Australian founder, saying the massive document dump of confidential and embarrassingly candid U.S. diplomatic messages is dangerously criminal and an attack on civilization.
"It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity," an exasperated Hillary Clinton said. The Secretary of State added that most of America's friends understand the sometimes harsh and unflattering assessments as the reality of confidential diplomatic reporting.
WikiLeaks provided the documents to several news organizations, including The New York Times and the Guardian in London. New communications regarding the future of North Korea were made public Monday, and further embarrassing revelations are expected to follow all week as the news organizations publish extracts and WikiLeaks promises to eventually make most of the hundreds of thousands of messages public on its website.
Although some of the messages were marked "secret," none had higher U.S. classifications.
After a weekend making dozens of apologetic, damage-control calls to world leaders and foreign ministers - including one to Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon - Ms. Clinton managed to inject a note of levity into her otherwise tough denunciation of those who stole and published the 250,000 messages from U.S. embassies.
"One of my counterparts said to me, 'Well, don't worry about it, you should see what we say about you,'" Ms. Clinton said.
A few leaders - now publicly exposed, sometimes in the harshest of terms - rallied to the embarrassed U.S. administration.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, labelled as "driven by paranoia" in one diplomatic cable while others portrayed his brother in Kandahar as a corrupt drug baron, shrugged off the latest insults from the administration that has deployed more than 100,000 soldiers to prop up his regime.
"Such comments are not new," Mr. Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer, said. "It won't have any impact on the strategic relations between the US and Afghanistan," he added.
President Barack Obama ordered a government-wide crackdown to guard against further leaks.
"The President was, as an understatement, not pleased," spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "Stealing of classified information and its dissemination is a crime."
WikiLeaks, which had previously published hundreds of thousands of U.S. Defence Department documents exposing details of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, bills itself as a digital-era platform where governments can be held to account. But Ms. Clinton accused WikiLeaks of attacking, not defending, modern open, responsible government.
"There is nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing brave about sabotaging peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends," Ms. Clinton said before heading for Central Asia.
Although no one has been fingered in the theft of the 250,000 so-called diplomatic cables - a term dating to an era when telegraphic messages were sent by embassies linked to their governments by globe-girdling cables - a young U.S. army intelligence clerk is being held in connection with the two previously published tranches of documents. Army Private Bradley Manning was accused of spying and other crimes in connection with the earlier document dumps.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or other WikiLeaks staff could face charges if it can be demonstrated that they encouraged or participated in the theft.
"We have an active, ongoing, criminal investigation with regard to this matter," U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder said.
Mr. Assange, 39, is an international fugitive facing rape charges filed in Sweden. His current whereabouts is unknown.