WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force has blocked employees from visiting media websites carrying leaked WikiLeaks documents, including the New York Times and the Guardian.
Major Toni Tones, a spokeswoman at Air Force Space Command in Colorado, said it had blocked employees whose computers are connected to the Air Force network from accessing at least 25 websites that have posted WikiLeaks documents.
The Air Force “routinely blocks Air Force network access to websites hosting inappropriate materials or malware (malicious software) and this includes any website that hosts classified materials and those that are released by WikiLeaks,” she said.
The U.S. government is seeking to minimize the damage from WikiLeak’s release of 250,000 State Department cables through some media outlets and on its own website.
The cables released last month, which reveal blunt, sometimes derisive depictions of foreign governments and leaders, have been an embarrassment for Washington.
“It is unfortunate that the U.S. Air Force has chosen not to allow its personnel access to information that virtually everyone else in the world can access.” New York Times spokesman Robert Christie said in a statement.
A representative from the Guardian was not immediately available for comment.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of the block.
Past releases this year by WikiLeaks, which is a website that publishes leaked documents, contained sensitive information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Washington said compromised national security and put people at risk.
“It seems like a comical, clumsy attempt to deal with a real issue,” Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Research who covers the media, said of the Air Force move. “It is almost like something out of Dr. Strangelove.”
“Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is a 1964 satirical film about a U.S. Air Force general who ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.
“It’s really putting established publishers into the category of miscreants,” said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for digital journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.
The Pentagon had already prohibited its employees from viewing WikiLeaks documents online, but it has not blocked access to websites that post leaked cables.
Pentagon officials have instructed employees they “shouldn’t access the WikiLeaks site because the information there is still considered classified,” said Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.
Reporting by Missy Ryan in Washington and Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Chris Wilson