Sep 262012

THE US military has designated Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as enemies of the  United States – the same legal category as the al-Qaeda terrorist network and  the Taliban insurgency.

Declassified US Air Force counter-intelligence documents, released under US  freedom-of-information laws, reveal that military personnel who contact  WikiLeaks or WikiLeaks supporters may be at risk of being charged with  “communicating with the enemy”, a military crime that carries a maximum sentence  of death.

Julian Assange ... "enemy of the state".Julian Assange … “enemy of the state”. Photo: AFP

The documents, some originally classified “Secret/NoForn” – not releasable to  non-US nationals – record a probe by the air force’s Office of Special  Investigations into a cyber systems analyst based in Britain who allegedly  expressed support for WikiLeaks and attended pro-Assange demonstrations in  London.

The counter-intelligence investigation focused on whether the analyst, who  had a top-secret security clearance and access to the US military’s Secret  Internet Protocol Router network, had disclosed classified or sensitive  information to WikiLeaks supporters, described as an “anti-US and/or  anti-military group”.

The suspected offence was “communicating with the enemy, 104-D”, an article  in the US Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits military personnel  from “communicating, corresponding or holding intercourse with the enemy”.

The analyst’s access to classified information was suspended.  However, the  investigators closed the case without laying charges. The analyst denied leaking  information.

Mr Assange remains holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London. He was granted  diplomatic asylum on the grounds that if extradited to Sweden to be questioned  about sexual assault allegations, he would be at risk of extradition to the US  to face espionage or conspiracy charges arising from the leaking of hundreds of  thousands of secret US military and diplomatic reports.

US Vice-President Joe Biden labelled Mr Assange a “high-tech terrorist” in  December 2010 and US congressional leaders have called for him to be charged  with espionage.

Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee – both once involved in presidential campaigns  – have both urged that Mr Assange be “hunted down”.

Mr Assange’s US attorney, Michael Ratner, said the designation of WikiLeaks  as an “enemy” had serious implications for the WikiLeaks publisher if he were to  be extradited to the US, including possible military detention.

US Army private Bradley Manning faces a court martial charged with aiding the  enemy –  identified as al-Qaeda – by transmitting information that, published by  WikiLeaks, became available to the enemy.

Mr Ratner said that under US law it would most likely have been considered  criminal for the US Air Force analyst to communicate classified material to  journalists and publishers, but those journalists and publishers would not have  been considered the enemy or prosecuted.

“However, in the FOI documents there is no allegation of any actual  communication for publication that would aid an enemy of the United States such  as al-Qaeda, nor are there allegations that WikiLeaks published such  information,” he said.

“Almost the entire set of documents is concerned with the analyst’s  communications with people close to and supporters of Julian Assange and  WikiLeaks, with the worry that she would disclose classified documents to Julian  Assange and WikiLeaks.

“It appears that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the ‘enemy’. An enemy is  dealt with under the laws of war, which could include killing, capturing,  detaining without trial, etc.”

The Australian government has repeatedly denied knowledge of any US intention  to charge Mr Assange or seek his extradition.

However, Australian diplomatic cables released to Fairfax Media under  freedom-of-information  laws over the past 18 months have confirmed the  continuation of an “unprecedented” US Justice Department espionage investigation  targeting Mr Assange and WikiLeaks.

The Australian diplomatic reports canvassed the possibility that the US may  eventually seek Mr Assange’s extradition on conspiracy or  information-theft-related offences to avoid extradition problems arising from  the nature of espionage as a political offence and the free-speech protections  in the US constitution.

Mr Assange is scheduled this morning to speak by video link to a meeting on  his asylum case on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New  York. The meeting will be attended by Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo  Patino.

In a separate FOI decision yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs  confirmed that the release of Australian diplomatic cables about WikiLeaks and  Mr Assange had been the subject of extensive consultation with the US.

Poll: Do you agree with the US designation of Julian  Assange as an “enemy of state”?

Yes          10%

No           87%

Don’t know  3%

Total votes: 12288.

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