WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said Sunday that an announcement by the Taliban that they were going through classified military dispatches from Afghanistan posted by the website WikiLeaks "basically proves the point" that the disclosures put at risk the lives of Afghans who had aided American forces.
"Growing up in the intelligence business, protecting your sources is sacrosanct," said Gates, a former director of the CIA. He said that while it was up to the Justice Department to investigate who supplied the documents to the website, run by Julian Assange, an Australian activist who is an outspoken opponent of American and NATO involvement in Afghanistan, he had been "mortified, appalled" at Assange's willingness to make public documents that listed the names of individual Afghans.
"There's also a moral culpability," he told Christiane Amanpour, in her debut as the host of ABC's "This Week." "And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks. They have put this out without any regard whatsoever for the consequences."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who heads the Armed Services Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the Pentagon was assessing the disclosure's impact on operational security in Afghanistan.
"There quite clearly was damage," Levin said.
The New York Times, The Guardian in London and Der Spiegel in Germany published excerpts of the leaked documents, but excluded those that identified individuals or compromised operations. At the request of American officials, The Times also agreed to forward a request by the administration urging WikiLeaks not to post any documents that would put informants in jeopardy.
As the authorities continued their investigation into the source of the leaks, a Seattle-based software developer who has volunteered for WikiLeaks said he was detained at Newark Liberty International Airport on Thursday and questioned for three hours. The developer, Jacob Appelbaum, 27, said in an interview that as he was returning from an overseas trip, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and from the Army's criminal investigation division asked him about Assange.
Appelbaum, an American citizen, said the agents also seized his laptop computer and three cell phones. The laptop was later returned, but the phones were not, he said. Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, would not comment.
Appelbaum's account came as Gates and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, renewed their condemnation of the leak. Both noted that the Taliban had announced they were reviewing the website for names of those who helped the United States.
Two civilians interviewed in recent weeks by the Army's criminal division said that investigators were focusing in part on a group of friends who know Pfc. Bradley Manning, a leading suspect in the leak. Investigators, the civilians said, apparently believe that the friends, who include students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University, might have connections to WikiLeaks.
Appelbaum said Sunday that he was not involved with that group. He also said he never met or communicated with Manning, who has been charged in a separate case with disclosing a classified video of an American helicopter attack in Iraq.
Appelbaum said the agents at Newark Airport refused him access to a lawyer and threatened to detain him for similar questioning whenever he re-entered the country after traveling abroad, which he said he did twice a month for a day job as an online software developer.
"They questioned my ability to re-enter the U.S. even though I'm a U.S. citizen," he said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas. "It's very troubling to think that every time I cross the border, I'd get this treatment."
Appelbaum, who develops software for the Tor Project, a software system that allows people to talk anonymously to each other online, filled in for Assange at a conference last month, apparently because Assange did not want to enter the Untied States.
"It seems the only reason they're bothering me is that Julian is beyond their reach," Appelbaum said.
Appelbaum said he had been a volunteer for WikiLeaks for several months, but was not involved in reviewing information submitted to it. Investigators, however, appear to be examining whether Assange was assisted by others in obtaining the documents.