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State Department refuses to negotiate with WikiLeaks

The State Department wrote Saturday to the leaders of the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks, telling them the U.S. government won’t negotiate ahead of the expected release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents. The State Department’s top legal advisor Harold Koh wrote Saturday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney Jennifer Robinson in response ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The State Department wrote Saturday to the leaders of the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks, telling them the U.S. government won't negotiate ahead of the expected release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents.

The State Department's top legal advisor Harold Koh wrote Saturday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney Jennifer Robinson in response to a letter WikiLeaks sent the same day to U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis Susman. The State Department rejected WikiLeaks' request for the names of individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" due to the release of the sensitive documents.

"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. 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. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials," Koh wrote.

The State Department wrote Saturday to the leaders of the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks, telling them the U.S. government won’t negotiate ahead of the expected release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents.

The State Department’s top legal advisor Harold Koh wrote Saturday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney Jennifer Robinson in response to a letter WikiLeaks sent the same day to U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis Susman. The State Department rejected WikiLeaks’ request for the names of individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" due to the release of the sensitive documents.

"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. 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. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials," Koh wrote.

He said that if WikiLeaks was genuinely interested in protecting those individuals, they should stop publishing secret materials, return them to the U.S. government, and erase them from their databases.

The State Department has learned through conversations with The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel that WikiLeaks has given them access to approximately 250,000 documents for publication. The release could come as early as Sunday.

The release would place lives at risk, according to the State Department, including the lives of "journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security."

Full letter text after the jump:

Dear Ms. Robinson and Mr. Assange:

I am writing in response to your 26 November 2010 letter to U.S. Ambassador Louis B. Susman regarding your intention to again publish on your WikiLeaks site what you claim to be classified U.S. Government documents.

As you know, if any of the materials you intend to publish were provided by any government officials, or any intermediary without proper authorization, they were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action. As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing.

It is our understanding from conversations with representatives from The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, that WikiLeaks also has provided approximately 250,000 documents to each of them for publication, furthering the illegal dissemination of classified documents.

Publication of documents of this nature at a minimum would:

* Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals — from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security;

* Place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security; and,

* Place at risk on-going cooperation between countries – partners, allies and common stakeholders — to confront common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.

In your letter, you say you want — consistent with your goal of "maximum disclosure" — information regarding individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" because of your actions.

Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. 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. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials. If you are genuinely interested in seeking to stop the damage from your actions, you should: 1) ensure WikiLeaks ceases publishing any and all such materials; 2) ensure WikiLeaks returns any and all classified U.S. Government material in its possession; and 3) remove and destroy all records of this material from WikiLeaks’ databases.

Sincerely,

(The letter is signed by Harold Hongju Koh, legal adviser to the State Department)

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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