By Stephen C. Webster – Tuesday, February 28, 2012
AUSTIN, TEXAS — The U.S. Department of Justice is refusing to comment on whether it has prepared espionage charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, even after emails allegedly stolen from the Austin, Texas firm Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) and published Tuesday revealed that the company claims to have a sealed indictment against him.
In an email published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday morning, Stratfor vice president Fred Burton writes that his firm has “a sealed indictment on Assange,” and asks subordinates to “Pls protect” the document, which was labeled “Not for Pub[lication].” In another email, Burton suggests that authorities could “lock him up” by having Assange detained as a material witness.
Burton’s email was sent in response to a discussion about reports that U.S. prosecutors have not been able to hang the case against Pvt. Bradley Manning on any direct contact with Assange.
Speaking to Raw Story Tuesday morning, U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said that they cannot comment “on whether anyone has been charged in a sealed indictment.”
Stratfor was hacked in January by unknown individuals claiming to be part of the “Anonymous” movement, who allegedly gave more than 5 million of Stratfor’s emails to WikiLeaks. The site began publishing the stolen documents on Monday, claiming they revealed a private spy agency used by corporations and top government officials. Hackers at the time revealed a list of the firm’s clients, which includes companies like Apple, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Dow, the U.S. Defense Department, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marines and others.
While the U.S. Department of Justice has not confirmed the Assange indictment, it did convene a grand jury over a year ago to investigate charges related to the release of hundreds of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables allegedly given to WikiLeaks by Pvt. Manning.
It is not clear if Stratfor really has an indictment against Assange. The firm has refused to answer any questions raised by their stolen emails, and questions have arisen as to the validity of some of their intelligence. They have also suggested that some of the emails obtained by WikiLeaks could be fake.
Even Assange mocked their sometimes ineffectual analysis of world affairs, calling out the open source intelligence often used to beef up reports when that information wasn’t relevant or useful to Stratfor’s clients. The firm has been roundly ridiculed since their emails leaked, with some even chiding WikiLeaks for taking them so seriously, saying the company is “a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight.”
Other Stratfor emails that discuss WikiLeaks hint that sexual assault allegations against Assange might not be entirely legitimate. One message shows Stratfor President George Friedman joking that Assange’s citizenship in Australia cannot be revoked because he’s “a total dickhead.” He was replying to analyst Chris Farnham, who openly questioned the veracity of the charges and alleged that a “close family friend in Sweden who knows the girl that is pressing charges” against the WikiLeaks founder allegedly said “there is absolutely nothing behind it” aside from a pair of eager prosecutors.
Analyst Marko Papic responds that Assange “hates America more than OBL (Osama bin Laden),” then jokes that “nobody in the U.S. is mad about the cables” before suggesting that Stratfor could potentially benefit from the popularity of Internet leaks. “[S]hould we change our Stratfor motto now?” analyst Reva Bhalla asks. “Predictive, insightful intelligence…in a post-Cablegate world.”
Assange has been under house arrest in the U.K. pending an appeal of an extradition request by Swedish authorities. His attorney insists that he had consensual sex with two women and that one later claimed he did not use a condom despite her wishes, which is grounds for sexual assault charges in Sweden. Assange said Monday that sexual manipulation is a tool used by private spies around the world, implying that he too became the target of such advances, but leveling no direct charges at his accusers.
The WikiLeaks founder has been appealing a lower court’s ruling granting the extradition request, and the British Supreme Court heard his case earlier this month. If his appeal is denied, Assange may still bring the extradition to the European Court of Human rights.
He claims that the extradition request is politically motivated, and fears that if he’s in Swedish custody and espionage charges against him emerge in America, he could face a lengthy prison sentence. Assange is also planning to host a new talk show on the Russia Today news channel, to debut sometime later this year.