Ensign blocks, then releases, Iceland nominee on Wikileaks


Luis Arreaga is on his way to Iceland as the new ambassador from the United States. But only after he said the right things in a meeting yesterday with Sen. John Ensign.

Ensign, R-Nev., clamped a hold on Arreaga's Senate confirmation on Thursday, and removed it only after a face-to-face in the senator's office.

The reason? Ensign wanted to make sure the nominee shared his concern about Iceland being a haven for Wikileaks and its director Julian Assange.

The Nevadan wants the Obama administration to pressure Iceland to crack down on the Wikileaks.org network that posts troves of classified or otherwise unobtainable material gathered by whistleblowers or through leakers.

Time Magazine has said Wikileaks "could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." The official government is not so thrilled.

In April, Wikileaks released video showing civilians being killed in a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq. It made international headlines last month in posting 90,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan that has caused a furor at the Pentagon and among hawks on Capitol Hill.

Ensign argued the Afghanistan leaks, which Wikileaks shared first with the New York Times, the Guardian newspaper in London and Der Spiegel in Germany, has damaged U.S. and NATO prosecution of the war.

"We need Iceland's cooperation," Ensign said. "This is a NATO country that has this Wikileaks organization operating through it with the Iceland government looking the other way. We can't have one of our NATO allies empowering the giving away of our national security secrets."

The Defense Department says the leaked documents contain names of Afghan collaborators whose lives are now in danger. Ensign and others say it will now become more difficult for U.S. soldiers to cultivate contacts in the war zones.

"We will have less cooperation with the Afghanis," Ensign maintained. "That means less security for our folks if the Afghanis know they can't count on us because we are going to be giving our their names. We are very concerned about this."

Wikileaks reportedly operates through computer servers in a number of countries to minimize the threat of a shutdown, and Assange is said to travel around frequently. He was in Washington earlier this year and gives occasional interviews.

"This guy has threatened the national security and safety of our country and the safety of our troops," Ensign said. "He should be prosecuted and everybody associated with him should be prosecuted."

Federal authorities in June arrested an Army intelligence analyst, Private First Class Bradley Manning, on suspicion of leaking combat videos and classified records to Wikileaks. The Pentagon this week also threatened to "compel" Wikileaks to hand over other documents it possesses.

According to Ensign, Arreaga said the Obama administration shared his concern and he would get to work on it once he arrives in Reykjavik.

"He sounded like he was coming from the same place I was, and that this is a top priority," Ensign said. The Nevadan removed his hold and Arreaga was confirmed several hours later.