Philip Dorling – May 28, 2012
THE WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange remains the target of a US government criminal investigation and the subject of US-Australian intelligence exchanges, Australian diplomatic cables obtained by the Herald reveal.
Australian diplomats have closely monitored the US Department of Justice investigation into WikiLeaks over the past 18 months. The embassy in Washington reported ”a broad range of possible charges are under consideration, including espionage and conspiracy”.
The diplomats dismiss Mr Assange’s claims that the US investigation is politically motivated retribution for WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked US military and diplomatic reports. They instead highlight US prosecutors’ claims that the alleged leaker, 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, fears extradition to Stockholm will facilitate his ultimate extradition to the US.
Despite extensive redactions, the Australian diplomatic cables released under freedom of information show the US and Australian governments continued high-level exchanges on WikiLeaks last year.
The Australian embassy in Washington provided Canberra with regular updates, including reporting on Justice Department efforts aimed at ”casting the net beyond Assange to see if any intermediaries had been involved in communications between Assange and Manning”.
An embassy representative attended all seven days of Private Manning’s pre-court martial hearing for last December. Much of the embassy’s reporting has been redacted on grounds that its release would damage Australia’s diplomatic relations.
There have been continuing US-Australian intelligence exchanges on WikiLeaks. Two embassy cables were withheld from release as ”intelligence agency documents” that are exempt from FOI legislation. The chairman of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, Labor MP Anthony Byrne, also held discussions with senior US intelligence in January last year, covering a range of topics that included ”cyber security, particularly in light of the recent breaches of diplomatic cables from the US (WikiLeaks) and dissemination of sensitive information by the international media”.
The Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, said on the ABC’s Q&A program last month that the government had made representations to the US government that any effort to extradite Mr Assange should be conducted through ”all of the proper processes”.
The released embassy cables do not contain any references to representations made by Australian diplomats to US officials concerning ”proper” extradition processes, only a request in 2010 that Australia be forewarned so as to better manage the public relations and media aspects.
The cables do reveal Mr Assange’s complaints about numerous death threats were regarded by the embassy as part of a media campaign ”to set the scene for a possible political exception to extradition”.