WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing organization dedicated to disclosing secretive government documents, is complaining of a leak of its own.
Thursday, the organization accused a British newspaper, the Guardian, of letting slip passwords that give Internet users access to thousands of unredacted cables from U.S. diplomats, a breach that exposes the diplomats' sources and informants and potentially puts them in jeopardy.
The Guardian denied the accusation, saying it "utterly rejects" statements by WikiLeaks' director, Julian Assange, that it was responsible for providing access to the unedited cables or the passwords that unlock them.
The episode is another breach in a relationship between the Guardian and Assange that already was strained, despite their collaboration on an earlier release of caches of government documents.
The Guardian was one of several media outlets WikiLeaks released classified U.S. government documents to last year. Now, however, WikiLeaks says it has started "pre-litigation" action against the Guardian and an unidentified German national for allegedly breaking a non-disclosure agreement governing the secret documents WikiLeaks controlled.
WikiLeaks said in an editorial posted on its website that passwords to a computer containing the raw diplomatic documents are in a book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, written by Guardian reporter David Leigh and published by the Guardian in February.
Ian Katz, the Guardian's deputy editor, denied any wrongdoing by the paper. He said it appeared that WikiLeaks had been "careless" with the documents. He said the Guardian first became concerned months ago as WikiLeaks cables began popping up in news outlets that appeared to be getting them from third parties.
Leigh says Assange originally told him a password but added that the website connected to it was temporary and would disappear within a few hours. "There was no way that that password could have enabled anyone to access anything . . . If I give you a password, it doesn't mean anything unless you know where to go to look for the file where the password is supposedly attached," Leigh said.
The U.S. government remains concerned about WikiLeaks disclosures.
The State Department has confirmed that WikiLeaks said it intends to release all the unredacted cables in its possession.
U.S. officials declined to say whether the new disclosures prompted personnel changes or new procedures to ensure the safety of people mentioned in the raw documents.
"We have made clear our views and concerns about illegally disclosed classified information and the continuing risk to individuals and national security that such releases cause," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"WikiLeaks has, however, ignored our requests not to release or disseminate any U.S. documents it may possess and has continued its well-established pattern of irresponsible, reckless and frankly dangerous actions."