Australia alert to US Wikileaks probe

Australian diplomats in Washington have continued to report to Canberra about an “ongoing criminal investigation” by United States authorities into WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

However US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Foreign Minister Bob Carr last night dismissed any suggestions the US may wish to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher as ludicrous” and “sheer fantasy”.

Diplomatic cables released to Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws today show that as recently as November last year the Australian Embassy in Washington highlighted references in US court proceedings to “ongoing US investigations into WikiLeaks/WikiLeak supporters”.

The Embassy, which has sent officers to report comprehensively on the pre-trial hearings in the court martial of US Army private Bradley Manning, highlighted a US military prosecution observation that “CID (the US Army Criminal Investigative Division) is still investigating WikiLeaks”.

The Embassy also drew attention to a ruling by a US Federal judge that disclosure of information about a Justice Department application to access the internet account records of three prominent WikiLeaks supporters “would damage an ongoing criminal

The Australian Embassy’s confidential reports have been extensively redacted on the grounds the disclosure of “assessments or comments on legal proceedings in the United States including the pre-trial hearings in the matter of Bradley Manning” would “cause damage to Australia’s relations with foreign governments.”

Earlier Australian embassy reports, previously released under freedom of information, quoted senior US Justice Department officials saying the US criminal investigation directed against WikiLeaks was ''unprecedented both in its scale and nature'' and that media reports that a secret grand jury had been convened in Alexandria, Virginia,
were ''likely true''

US Ambassador Bleich last night told the ABC TV Q&A program that it was “ludicrous” to suggest that the US had any intention of seeking Mr Assange’s extradition from the United Kingdom, or from Sweden where he
is wanted for questioning about sexual assault allegations.

Mr Assange has been granted asylum at the Embassy of Ecuador in London on the grounds he is at risk of extradition to the US to face conspiracy or other charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining secret US
government reports allegedly leaked by private Manning.  Mr Assange claims that extradition to Sweden would facilitate his eventual extradition  to the United States.

“Julian Assange was in London living freely for two years, so if the United States had wanted to extradite him from England they could have done so," Ambassador Bleich said.

"We have a more robust extradition treaty with the UK than we have with Sweden.
"There is no reason to come up with some convoluted false charge by two women who claim that he slept with them and forced himself on them without a condom."

Foreign Minister Carr similarly dismissed the idea that the US wishedto extradite Mr Assange, either from Sweden or the US.

“Julian Assange being in the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge has nothing to do with the United States,” he told the Q&A program.

"To suggest that the Swedes are after him as a CIA conspiracy to get him to Stockholm and allowing him to be bundled off to Langley,Virginia is sheer fantasy."

"If the Swedes had him in Stockholm it would be even more harder for the US to extradite, if that's what they want to do, than he's been for the last two years in the United Kingdom."

Senator Carr added that the Australian Government had "precisely no status" in relation to legal proceedings concerning Mr Assange in Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Mr Assange has announced his intention to run as a Senate candidate in Victoria at the September 14 federal election.

This story Australia alert to US Wikileaks probe first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.