Foreign Minister: Australia working with US on WikiLeaks Afghan files

By Rod Mcguirk, AP
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Australia working with US on WikiLeaks files

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is working with the United States to investigate WikiLeak’s publication of thousands of secret Afghan war documents but has not been asked to act against the website’s Australian founder, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Australia, which has some 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, launched its own investigation last month into whether the posting online of some 77,000 classified military documents had compromised the national interest or endangered soldiers.

The publication of the documents by WikiLeaks was widely condemned by U.S. officials. The White House said it was a breach of federal law and a potential threat to U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan — sentiments echoed in Canberra.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was asked by The Associated Press at a public function Thursday whether Australia had been approached by Washington about pursuing possible criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, or about putting restrictions on his travel.

“I have not had representations made to me about the matters you refer to,” Smith said.

“But quite clearly we’re working closely with the United States on these matters,” Smith said, citing Australia’s Defense Department and the Pentagon as the agencies working together. “These are very serious matters for concern.”

The Pentagon has a task force of about 100 people reading the leaked documents to assess the damage done and working, for instance, to alert Afghans who might be identified by name and now could be in danger. Asked how the Pentagon is cooperating with Australia, Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the U.S. task force is sharing details it finds in the leaked documents.

“Our task force is reaching out to our counterparts to update them on information that we may be finding that affects them,” including information that “may affect their forces,” Lapan told reporters Thursday.

“When we’re coming across things that involve our allies, we are sharing info with them,” he said, adding that he knows of no other form or more general military cooperation with allies on the issue.

Lapan didn’t name the nations that the task force has contacted.

Of Assange, Smith said he has no applications or requests made regarding his Australian passport.

Internet news site The Daily Beast earlier this week cited unnamed American officials saying the U.S. government had asked Britain, Australia, Germany and other allies to consider criminal charges against Assange over the Afghan documents.

Assange, whose Web site argues that the release of secret information can make governments more accountable, reportedly lives almost nomadically, moving between Australia and mostly European countries.

Assange has said his group sought to protect the identities of people who might be put in danger by the publication of the Afghan war documents, and that he is yet to see evidence to back Washington’s claims that posting them has put anyone at extra risk.

Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington.

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