Julian Assange continues to be the subject of Australian intelligence reports more than a year after the WikiLeaks website published thousands of leaked US military and diplomatic documents.
In a recent freedom of information decision, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to Fairfax Media the existence of at least two intelligence reports concerning WikiLeaks and Mr Assange from Australia’s embassy to the US in February and March this year.
The secret Washington embassy cables, one running to 10 pages, have been withheld from release because they are “intelligence agency documents”.
Yesterday, the Herald reported that Australia’s ambassador to the US, the former Labor leader Kim Beazley, had made high-level representations seeking advance warning of any US moves to extradite Mr Assange on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining secret US information.
On Thursday, Ecuador granted Mr Assange political asylum at its London embassy on the grounds that, if extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations, he would be at risk of further extradition to the US. British police are outside the embassy, ready to arrest Mr Assange if he leaves the building.
The Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, yesterday continued to deny any knowledge of any intention by Washington to prosecute Mr Assange.
In June, Senator Carr told the ABC Insiders program: “I’ve received no hint that they’ve got a plan to extradite [Mr Assange] … I would expect that the US would not want to touch this.”
But, as the Herald revealed yesterday, Australia’s Washington embassy reported in February that “the US investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr Assange has been ongoing for more than a year”. A spokesman for Senator Carr acknowledged yesterday that WikiLeaks could be linked to that investigation but insisted that did not mean the US was intent on extraditing Mr Assange.
While visiting the Solomon Islands, Senator Carr confirmed to the ABC that Australia was monitoring the US military prosecution of Private Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked classified information to WikiLeaks.
Australia’s intelligence agencies are represented in Washington and liaise closely with their American counterparts. Other freedom of information decisions have revealed Australian intelligence interest in WikiLeaks and Mr Assange. In December 2010, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, received a “top secret” ASIO briefing on WikiLeaks that was accompanied by media talking points concerning ”WikiLeaks release of ASIO-derived information.”
The deputy secretary at Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gillian Bird, consulted with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service when preparing a briefing about WikiLeaks for the former foreign minister Kevin Rudd in December 2010. The entire brief has been withheld on national security grounds. Other diplomatic cables relating to WikiLeaks and Mr Assange sent from the Washington embassy in late 2010 and 2011 have also been withheld.