UNITED STATES prosecutors have drawn up secret charges against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, according to a confidential email obtained from the private US intelligence company Stratfor.
Assange speaks at London news conference
WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, says more 'explosive' information to be released on intelligence analysts Stratfor.
In an internal email to Stratfor analysts on January 26 last year, the vice-president of intelligence, Fred Burton, responded to a media report concerning US investigations targeting WikiLeaks with the comment: ''We have a sealed indictment on Assange.''
He underlined the sensitivity of the information - apparently obtained from a US government source - with warnings to ''Pls [please] protect'' and ''Not for pub[lication]''.
Mr Burton is well known as an expert on security and counterterrorism with close ties to the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies. He is the former deputy chief of the counter-terrorism division of the US State Department's diplomatic security service.
Stratfor, whose headquarters are in Austin, Texas, provides intelligence and analysis to corporate and government subscribers.
On Monday, WikiLeaks began releasing more than 5 million Stratfor emails which it said showed ''how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients''.
The Herald has secured 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 Australian 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 in retaliation for WikiLeaks's publication of thousands of leaked US classified military and diplomatic reports.
Last week the US Army Private Bradley Manning was committed to face court martial for 22 alleged offences, including ''aiding the enemy'' by leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks.
In December the Herald revealed Australian diplomatic cables, declassified under freedom of information, 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''.
In recent answers to written parliamentary questions from the Greens senator Scott Ludlam, the former foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd indicated Australia had sought confirmation that a secret grand jury inquiry directed against Mr Assange was under way.
Mr Rudd said ''no formal advice'' had been received from US authorities but acknowledged the existence of a ''temporary surrender'' mechanism that could allow Mr Assange to be extradited from Sweden to the US. He added that Swedish officials had said Mr Assange's case would be afforded ''due process''.
The US government has repeatedly declined to confirm or deny any reported details of the WikiLeaks inquiry, beyond the fact that an investigation is being pursued.
The Stratfor emails show that the WikiLeaks publication of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables triggered intense discussion within the ''global intelligence'' company.
In the emails, an Australian Stratfor ''senior watch officer'', Chris Farnham, 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.''
But Mr Farnham also referred to a conversation with a close family friend who he said knew one of the Swedish women who had made allegations of sexual assault against Mr Assange, and added: ''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 Mr Assange's ''clear anti-Americanism'', others welcomed the leaks and debated WikiLeaks's longer-term impact on secret diplomacy and intelligence.
Stratfor's director of analysis, Reva Bhalla, observed: ''WikiLeaks itself may struggle to survive but the idea that's put out there, that anyone with the bandwidth and servers to support such a system can act as a prime outlet of leaks. [People] are obsessed with this kind of stuff. The idea behind it won't die.''
Stratfor says it will not comment on the emails obtained by WikiLeaks. The US embassy has also declined to comment.