WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has warned several hundred people worldwide it believes may be imperiled by WikiLeaks’ release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables and has so far helped a handful of them relocate to safer locations, the State Department said on Friday.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said those at risk could include civil society activists, journalists or government officials whose discussions with U.S. officials as recounted by WikiLeaks could anger foreign governments or other political forces.
“We are focused on people who have been identified in documents and assess whether there is a greater risk to them of violence, imprisonment or other serious harm, particularly in repressive societies around the world,” Crowley told reporters.
“We’ve identified several hundred people worldwide that we feel are at potential risk,” Crowley said. “In a small number of cases, we have assisted people moving from where they are to safer locations.” He did not say if any of the people involved had cited a specific threat.
Crowley declined to discuss specifics of the U.S. help for those involved but said U.S. officials were monitoring the situation. He added the United States had warned foreign governments not to seek reprisals against those named in WikiLeaks releases.
“In particular cases we have made it clear to governments that any adverse actions against individuals identified by WikiLeaks will affect future relations with those governments,” he said.
Crowley said the United States was not revealing the identities of those involved but that “in certain cases, the people who might be identified are already well known to us and well known to specific governments.”
The United States is examining whether criminal charges can be brought against WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange for helping to make public hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. documents.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has led the effort to mollify foreign governments, some of which have been deeply embarrassed by the publication of candid U.S. diplomatic assessments, and has accused WikiLeaks of acting without regard for the safety of those named in the cables.
Crowley said the State Department had formed a special team to assess the potential risks posed to individuals by the WikiLeaks releases, which have been made through a number of media organizations.
The White House, Pentagon and State Department have said they are tightening up procedures to ensure such disclosures do not occur again.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Peter Cooney