Australia To Back Legal Action Against WikiLeaks Founder

Australia on Monday pledged to back any legal action initiated by the United States against WikiLeaks founder and Australian national Julian Assange in the wake of his website's latest release of thousands of U.S. classified documents.

"Australia will support any law enforcement action that may be taken, the US will be the lead government in that respect, but certainly Australian agencies will assist," Attorney-General Robert McClelland told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

"From Australia's point of view we think there are potentially a number of criminal laws that could have been breached. The Australian Federal Police are looking at that," McClelland said.

Noting that release of the secret data could pose a risk to those named in the leaked documents, McClelland said the disclosures could also prove to be damaging to the national security interests of the United States and its allies including Australia.

He said Australia had already set up a task force to investigate the implications of some 400,000 U.S. secret military documents on Iraq war released by the whistle-blower web site in July, but acknowledged that the secret documents released in July "relate to issues broader than simply our defense strategy."

His remarks came a day after WikiLeaks, a website that publishes leaked classified information online, released some 250,000 classified cables sent from U.S. embassies across the globe to several newspapers on Sunday, causing further embarrassment to Washington on a diplomatic level.

The leaked cables published late Sunday contained Washington's evaluation of many sensitive international issues, candid references to several world leaders, U.S. efforts to combat an increasing al-Qaeda militancy in Yemen, the U.S. administration's concerns over Britain's military operations in Afghanistan and cables indicating a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, among others.

The leaks revealed that several Arab nations had urged the United States to launch air strikes on Iran's controversial nuclear facilities. They also highlighted concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program due to the country's growing instability and indicated that U.S. officials were instructed to spy on the United Nations' leadership.

Earlier on Monday, the White House condemned the leaking of thousands of classified cables by WikiLeaks, describing the move as "reckless and dangerous." It added that such disclosures put "at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government."

WikiLeaks, which campaigns for freedom of information and frequently posts such sensitive documents online, had angered the United States earlier this year by publishing classified documents related to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks had published some 77,000 secret documents on the conflict in Afghanistan in July and nearly 400,000 classified documents on the Iraq war in October, including damaging reports on civilian casualties in the two conflicts.

Following the first leaks on the Iraq war, Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst, was arrested in July for allegedly leaking classified combat video and other documents to WikiLeaks. Manning has been under detention since his arrest.

Since then, Sweden has turned down an application by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for residency permit in October and issued international arrest warrant for Assange earlier this month for questioning the Australian in connection with allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

The warrant came after a Swedish court upheld the prosecution's request for detaining Assange as part of an investigation into claims made by two women that the WikiLeaks' founder had molested and raped them during his visit to Sweden in August.

Assange, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, has admitted to meeting the two women while in Sweden, but denied having engaged in any non-consensual sexual contact with them. He claims that the case is part of a smear campaign aimed at discrediting his controversial website. He is currently believed to be in Britain.

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