Philip Dorling – February 29, 2012
UNITED States prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to a confidential internal email obtained from a private US intelligence company, Stratfor.
In the email, sent to Stratfor intelligence analysts on January 26 last year, the company’s vice-president for intelligence, Fred Burton, responded to a media report concerning US investigations targeting WikiLeaks. He wrote: “We have a sealed indictment on Assange.”
Underlining the sensitivity of the information – apparently obtained from a US government source – he wrote “Pls protect” and “Not for Pub[lication]”.
Mr Burton is a well-known expert on security and counter-terrorism with close ties to US intelligence and law enforcement agencies. He is a former chief of counterterrorism in the US State Department diplomatic security service.
Stratfor, which is based in Austin, Texas, provides intelligence and analysis to corporate and government subscribers.
On Monday, WikiLeaks began the release of more than 5 million leaked Stratfor emails which it said showed “how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients”. The Age has access to the emails through an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks.
The news that US prosecutors drew up a secret indictment against Mr Assange more than 12 months ago comes as the WikiLeaks founder awaits a British Supreme Court decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden to be questioned in relation to sexual assault allegations.
Mr Assange, who has not been charged with any offence in Sweden, fears extradition to Stockholm will open the way for his extradition to the US on possible espionage or conspiracy charges over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked classified US reports.
US army private Bradley Manning was last week committed to face court martial for 22 alleged offences including ”aiding the enemy” by leaking classified US documents to WikiLeaks.
In December, The Age revealed the contents of Australian diplomatic cables that confirmed WikiLeaks was the target of a US Justice Department investigation ”unprecedented both in its scale and nature” and suggested that media reports that a secret grand jury had been convened in Alexandria, Virginia, were ”likely true”.
The Australian embassy in
Washington reported in December 2010 that the Justice Department was pursuing an ”active and vigorous inquiry into whether Julian Assange can be charged under US law, most likely the 1917 Espionage Act”.
The Stratfor emails show that WikiLeaks’ publication of US diplomatic cables triggered intense discussion within the “global intelligence” company.
Stratfor “senior watch officer” Chris Farnham, an Australian, advocated revoking Mr Assange’s Australian citizenship, adding: “I don’t care about the other leaks but the ones he has made that potentially damage Australian interests upset me.
”If I thought I could switch this dickhead off without getting done, I don’t think I’d have too much of a problem.”
However, Mr Farnham also referred to a conversation with a family friend who he said knew one of the Swedish women who have accused Mr Assange of sexual assault, and added that “there is absolutely nothing behind it other than prosecutors that are looking to make a name for themselves”.
While some Stratfor analysts decried what they saw as “clear anti-Americanism” on Mr Assange’s part, others welcomed the leaks and debated WikiLeaks’ longer term impact on secret diplomacy and intelligence.
Leaked Stratfor emails can be found at