Interpol on Wednesday issued a global arrest warrant for the shadowy founder of WikiLeaks, as the chaos from its massive dump of secret U.S. cables spread from governments to financial markets.
The United States suspended the military's access to some sensitive U.S. diplomatic correspondence in a bid to stop new leaks, as the leaders of France and Pakistan were the latest to be stung by cables obtained by the website.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian computer hacker, is wanted in Sweden for questioning over the alleged rape and molestation of two women. Assange has denied the charges.
Interpol, which is based in Lyon, France, said early Wednesday local time that it had alerted all member states to arrest Assange if he is spotted. He spends much of his time in Britain and Sweden.
Assange is said to lead a spy-like life of rarely sleeping in the same place twice. Ecuador's left-leaning government initially offered Assange residency, but President Rafael Correa backtracked Tuesday.
A fresh "megaleak"
In one of a series of defiant media interviews, Assange boasted that he was ready with a fresh "megaleak" that could take down a major bank, leading Bank of America shares to tumble more than three percent Tuesday on speculation.
Assange, a former computer hacker now at the centre of a global controversy, told Forbes magazine that the bank leak would "give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume."
On Sunday, his website and a group of media outlets released the first batch of a quarter million U.S. diplomatic cables -- most of which date from between 2007 and February 2010.
The trove revealed secret details and indiscreet asides on some of the world's most tense international issues.
In another interview conducted from an undisclosed location over a Skype Internet phone, Assange told Time magazine that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should resign over a cable that appeared to show the United States ordered diplomats to spy on foreign officials, particularly at the United Nations.
One cable that went out in July 2009 sought technical details about the communications systems used by top U.N. officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys.
Another cable signed by Clinton sought "biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats" from U.S. diplomats at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York.
"Steps are being made...."
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that Clinton did not draft the documents and that her name was affixed systematically to many cables out of Washington.
Crowley said the State Department had temporarily suspended the Pentagon's access to some of its correspondence, halting a trend to greater information sharing within the U.S. government launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"Steps are being made ... to correct weaknesses in the system that have become evident because of this leak," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, who characterized Assange as an "anarchist."
Clinton has sought to limit the damage from the embarrassing disclosures, telling reporters Monday that the release "was not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community."
WikiLeaks and U.S. authorities have not fully explained how the 250,000 sensitive cables managed to go public. But suspicion has fallen on Bradley Manning, a disgruntled 23-year-old ex-Army intelligence analyst.
The Pentagon has faced questions on how it entrusted so much sensitive data to the low-ranking soldier, who was arrested in May after WikiLeaks released a video showing a 2007 U.S. Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed civilian reporters.
The latest revelations include U.S. accounts that Pakistan's army chief has mused about mounting a coup against President Asif Ali Zardari and that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was so pro-U.S. he considered sending troops to Iraq.
"Properly handling" the leak
China has called on the United States to "properly handle" the leak after cables indicated that Beijing was frustrated with longtime ally North Korea and may accept its collapse and absorption by the U.S.-backed South.
The head of Russia's foreign intelligence, Mikhail Fradkov, said that WikiLeaks "released a treasure trove of analytical material" and made clear that his service will make use of it.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu poked fun at a leaked memo's description of him as "exceptionally dangerous," saying that he sees only a smiling face in the mirror.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also tried to play down the leak, telling reporters that some reactions have been "significantly overwrought."
"Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy, I think fairly modest," said Gates, a former CIA director and intelligence analyst.
But Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate who is popular with many U.S. conservatives, denounced what she called the Obama administration's "incompetence."
"Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle WikiLeaks?" she wrote on Facebook, asking if the United States had requested that NATO and the European Union disrupt the website.
Palin called for the United States to treat WikiLeaks like a terrorist organization by freezing the assets of people working for it.
WikiLeaks had in October released nearly 400,000 classified U.S. files on the Iraq war, which Assange said showed 15,000 more Iraqi civilian deaths had occurred than thought.