March 16, 2011
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange is believed to have been tipped off more than seven months ago about Australian intelligence scrutiny of his whistleblowing activities.
Senior government ministers yesterday claimed to have no knowledge of co-operation between Australian intelligence agencies and the United States government concerning Assange after WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of secret documents leaked from the US Defence Department.
But sources within Wikileaks have told The Age that an Australian intelligence official privately warned Wikileaks on August 11 last year that Assange was the subject of inquiries by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and that information relating to him and others associated with Wikileaks had been provided to the US in response to requests through intelligence liaison channels.
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The Australian intelligence official is also claimed to have specifically warned that Assange could be at risk of ''dirty tricks'' from the US intelligence community, including the possibility of sexual entrapment.
The information is said to have been provided to WikiLeaks by means of a submission through the website's electronic ''drop box'' on the day Assange flew from London to Stockholm to speak on freedom of the press.
Nine days later, on August 20, a Swedish newspaper reported that Assange was wanted by Swedish police for questioning in relation to sexual assault allegations involving two women in Stockholm. Assange immediately tweeted on the WikiLeaks Twitter page: "We were warned to expect 'dirty tricks'. Now we have the first one.''
Subsequently, on August 23, Assange said in a telephone interview with Arab news channel Al Jazeera: ''We were warned on the 11th [of August] by Australian intelligence that we should expect this sort of thing.''
Assange is appealing a British court decision to uphold an arrest warrant for him to be extradited to Sweden for questioning about the sexual assault allegations. He and his lawyers have retreated from earlier claims that the allegations are the product of a conspiracy involving foreign intelligence agencies.
WikiLeaks also learnt its Australian intelligence source was aware of the group's intention to seek legal advice from a prominent Melbourne lawyer - information not public at the time and known only to people within WikiLeaks.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was confronted with a video message from Assange when she appeared on ABC TV's Q&A program on Monday.
Assange asked the Prime Minister whether her government had exchanged information about Australian citizens, specifically people linked to WikiLeaks, with foreign powers.
He asked that if she could not give a straight answer to the question, whether the Australian people should consider her to have engaged in treason.
Ms Gillard replied ''I honestly don't know what he's talking about,'' adding that no one had asked her about Assange during her recent visit to Washington.
''So I'm afraid I can't help him with a full and frank exchange about people who work with WikiLeaks.''
Mr Gillard did acknowledge Australia regularly exchanges information about Australian citizens with other countries in relation to law enforcement matters, but she said in regard to WikiLeaks, ''to my knowledge, it hasn't happened''.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister yesterday declined to say whether Ms Gillard had initiated any inquiries to determine whether Assange's claim was correct.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said that the Attorney-General was unaware of information sharing concerning Assange, but said it was ''entirely appropriate'' for the US to investigate the leakage of classified information.