The Obama administration has barred federal employees not to view the secret cables and other classified U.S. documents leaked by WikiLeaks unless the workers have the required security clearance.

“Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority,” a notice said.

The notice was issued by the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of the White House, to department heads, urging them to distribute it to their staff.

The directive applies to both government computers and private devices that employees or contractors might have, as long as they are accessing the documents on non-classified government networks. It does not advise agencies to block WikiLeaks or other websites on government computer systems, a White House official said on Saturday.

However, it does not prohibit federal employees from reading news stories about the topic. But if they have

“accidentally” downloaded any of these documents, they are being told to notify their information security offices.

The Department of Defense, in its own directive to military personnel and contractors, says that simply viewing these documents, without proper authorisation, will violate rules even though they are accessible to the public at large on Internet sites.

“Viewing or downloading still classified documents from unclassified government computers creates a security violation,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

This is a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has left, the New York Times commented.

The effort, while understandable, seems entirely futile, the paper quoted Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit group that has combated government efforts to keep certain government documents secret.

“It just may be a little too late for the government to push these documents down the memory hole,” Mr Rotenberg said.

“This is Orwell thought police in the age of the Internet, as these are already so widely accessible on servers around the world.”

Separately, the Library of Congress has blocked access to the WikiLeaks website from their computers and instructed their employees not to read the documents published by the website, according to representatives of both agencies.

The whistle-blower WikiLeaks website last week published some 250,000 U.S. secret diplomatic cables, which could affect Washington’s ties with other nations.

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