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Republicans slam White House over WikiLeaks response

Washington's debate over WikiLeaks takes a partisan turn, with senior Republicans accusing Obama administration of not taking the threat seriously.

Congressional Republicans are starting to condemn the Obama administration for not doing enough to curb WikiLeaks.

In a calculated affront to official Washington, WikiLeaks is dribbling out hundreds of thousands of confidential State Department cables at a leisurely pace, effectively ensuring that new embarrassing disclosures will appear every day.

There's no "sense of urgency" from Attorney General Eric Holder to stop this, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said today. Holder told reporters yesterday that an investigation that's been in progress since the summer is still "ongoing," but would not elaborate.

"To me this was a catastrophic event--and he was talking about it almost in a casual way considering how important the event was," King said on Fox News. "Eric Holder, who was so quick to sue Arizona over the immigration law, who began investigations of the CIA interrogators, just seems to be treating this as another case."

"I've seen no evidence of anything substantial at all" that's been done to cut off the flow of U.S. donations to WikiLeaks or indict editor Julian Assange on conspiracy to commit espionage, King said. As CNET previously reported, King wrote a letter on Sunday asking Holder to "criminally charge WikiLeaks activist Julian Assange under the Espionage Act" for conspiracy to disclose classified information. (Assange, an Australian citizen, is giving interviews from an undisclosed location, presumably in the United Kingdom.)

King also asked the State Department to formally declare WikiLeaks a terrorist organization, a move that would make it a crime for U.S.-based programmers to aid the group and also cut off any donations from the United States. (WikiLeaks accepts PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard donations.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) offered similar criticisms of the Obama administration, claiming that Democrats have been too slow to respond to the new threat posed by WikiLeaks' slow drip of disclosures.

"We're at war," Graham said yesterday. "I hope Eric Holder, who's a good man, will start showing some leadership here and get our laws in line with being at war."

And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, has said in a Facebook post that "the latest round" of leaks "raises serious questions about the Obama administration's incompetent handling of this whole fiasco."

As CNET reported earlier today, the White House told federal agencies this week to review who can access classified material and limit use of USB memory sticks on classified computers. "But why did the White House not publish these orders after the first leak back in July?" Palin wrote. "What explains this strange lack of urgency on their part?"

Even before this week's release, the Washington Times and a former Bush administration official proposed as the first public target for a U.S. government cyberattack, a Republican senator proposed a law targeting Wikileaks, and conservative commentators have called for Assange to be arrested.

Now the rhetoric--and suggestions for how to dispose of Assange--have increased. A columnist has posted an article titled: "5 Reasons The CIA Should Have Already Killed Julian Assange." And Tony Shaffer of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, told Fox News that he would like to see military action against Assange: "I would look at this very much as a military issue. With potentially military action against him and his organization."

James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the problem was that there were insufficient controls in place at the time the classified files were sent to WikiLeaks. "Broad access is good, but the part that has to accompany this is tighter internal controls," Lewis says. "The technology is there to let the network alert you when somebody attaches a storage device, somebody puts in a disk, or somebody downloads a zillion files. Information sharing and access has to be accompanied by internal controls. The U.S. should have done both simultaneously."

For its part, the administration defends itself by saying that, in the last week, the State Department severed the connection between its database of diplomatic cables and an unspecified classified network.

"We're not going to let what WikiLeaks has done undermine the global cooperation that is vitally important to resolving regional and global security challenges," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today. He referred questions about the investigation to the Justice Department.

But Crowley did rule out more aggressive action against WikiLeaks. When asked "is any action going to be taken that could involve" an "extra-legal process such as renditions or a one-way trip for Assange to Guantanamo Bay, Crowley replied: "No."