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Attack on WikiLeaks mounts as cables are withheld

Date

Philip Dorling

"Reckless, irresponsible and potentially dangerous" ... Australia has delayed sensitive diplomatic cables relating to Julian Assange until after a legal challenge to his extradition to Sweden has been decided.

"Reckless, irresponsible and potentially dangerous" ... Australia has delayed sensitive diplomatic cables relating to Julian Assange until after a legal challenge to his extradition to Sweden has been decided. Photo: AFP

THE Australian government has renewed its attacks on WikiLeaks, condemning the transparency group for ''reckless, irresponsible and potentially dangerous'' disclosures of secret information.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also delayed release, under freedom of information, of sensitive Australian diplomatic cables relating to Julian Assange until after a legal challenge to the WikiLeaks founder's extradition to Sweden has been decided. The delay follows expressions of concern by United States authorities about disclosure of US-Australian discussions about WikiLeaks.

Although the federal government has in recent months refrained from its previous strident criticism of Mr Assange, a senior Attorney-General's Department executive, responsible for international crime and extradition matters, last week renewed the government's condemnation of WikiLeaks's release of leaked US diplomatic cables as ''reckless, irresponsible and potentially dangerous''.

Writing on behalf of the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, to a constituent of a federal Labor MP, international crime co-operation branch head Anna Harmer insisted that ''debate about the WikiLeaks matter is not about censoring free speech or preventing the media from reporting news'' and confirmed the government's focus on the ''reckless … unauthorised disclosure of classified material''.

Mr Assange, who recently announced his intention to run for a Senate seat in the next federal election, is awaiting 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 facilitate his ultimate extradition to the US on possible espionage or conspiracy charges in retaliation for WikiLeaks's publication of thousands of leaked US military and diplomatic reports. In an interview this week, he also expressed concern that a successful appeal against extradition to Sweden would only be followed by the US seeking his extradition directly from Britain.

Last December, the Herald obtained the release of Foreign Affairs Department cables that revealed WikiLeaks was the target of an ''unprecedented'' US criminal investigation and that the Australian government wanted to be forewarned about moves to extradite Mr Assange to the US.

The Herald has now learnt from Australian government sources that senior US officials subsequently expressed ''concern'' about the disclosure of information and pressed for the US to be ''more closely consulted'' on any further FOI releases.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade this week delayed the release, under freedom of information, of more Washington embassy cables about WikiLeaks, written until the end of 2011, until at least late May - nearly six months after an FOI application was lodged by the Herald.

The Supreme Court in Britain is expected to deliver a decision on Mr Assange's appeal soon, possibly before Easter.

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