Philip Dorling – May 28, 2012
WIKILEAKS publisher Julian Assange remains the target of a major US government criminal investigation and the subject of continuing US-Australian intelligence exchanges, Australian diplomatic cables obtained by The Age reveal.
Australian diplomats have closely monitored the US Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks over the past 18 months with the embassy in Washington reporting that “a broad range of possible charges are under consideration, including espionage and conspiracy”.
Australian diplomats are dismissive of Mr Assange’s claims the US investigation is retribution for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked US military and diplomatic reports. Instead they have highlighted US prosecutors’ claims that alleged US Army leaker private Bradley Manning dealt directly with Mr Assange and “data-mined” secret US databases “guided by WikiLeaks list of ‘Most Wanted’ leaks”.
Mr Assange will learn on Wednesday the British Supreme Court’s decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden to be questioned about sexual assault allegations.
Mr Assange, who has not been charged with any offence in Sweden, fears extradition to Stockholm will facilitate his ultimate extradition to the US. He has also expressed concern that a successful appeal against extradition to Sweden will prompt the US to immediately seek his extradition directly from Britain.
Despite extensive redactions, the most recent instalment of Australian diplomatic cables released under freedom of information to The Age, show the US and Australian Governments continued high-level exchanges on WikiLeaks through last year.
The political sensitivity of the discussions is reflected in the “secret” and “exclusive” classification of a number of the cables, indicating a strictly limited distribution within the Australian government.
The embassy in Washington provided Canberra with regular updates, including reporting on the issuing of subpoenas to compel WikiLeaks associates to appear before a grand jury in Virginia and US Justice Department efforts to access Twitter and other internet accounts as “casting the net beyond Assange to see if any intermediaries had been involved in communications between Assange and Manning”.
An Australian embassy representative attended the pre-court-martial hearing for private Manning in December. The embassy also obtained “confidences or legal commentary” from private law firms “on aspects surrounding WikiLeaks and/or the positions of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning”. An embassy report that month noted that “by virtue of the secret nature of grand jury investigations”, details of the investigation “cannot be confirmed on the record legally”. Further reporting has been redacted on grounds that its release would damage Australia’s diplomatic relations.
Last month, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the Australian government had made representations to the US government that any effort to extradite Mr Assange should be conducted through “all of the proper processes”.
“We have made our views very clearly known to the Americans,” Ms Roxon told ABC television’s Q&A program.
The released Washington embassy cables, sent to Canberra between November 1, 2010, and January 31, 2012, do not contain any references to representations made by Australian diplomats to US officials concerning “proper” extradition processes; only a request in December 2010 that Australia be forewarned of any extradition moves so as to better manage the public relations and media aspects.
Ms Roxon’s office last week told The Age that since becoming Attorney-General in December last year, she had made representations concerning Mr Assange to US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and US Deputy Attorney-General James Cole.
But Ms Roxon’s spokesman declined to say when the representations were made and it appears the discussions with Ms Napolitano and Mr Cole took place this month, after the Attorney-General’s comments on the Q&A program.