Greens demand Govt protect Assange

news The Government and the Opposition took squirming to new heights recently while handling — or rather not handling — the threat of prosecution faced by Australian citizen and WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange in the USA, a media release put out by the Australian Greens yesterday.

The party’s critical reactions came after its communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam questioned the Government about the latest WikiLeaks revelations and what the Government knew of the sealed grand jury indictment against Assange, and both questions drew a blank.

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that according to a confidential e-mail obtained from private US security organisation Stratfor, US prosecutors drew up secret charges against Assange more than a year ago. In an internal e-mail to Stratfor analysts on January 26, 2011, the vice president of intelligence, Fred Burton, revealed that “We have a sealed indictment on Assange.” The information, apparently from a US government source, comes with warnings ‘not for publication’ and ‘please protect’.

“Either the Government has been kept ignorant by their American allies for thirteen months, or they have been keeping the sealed indictment a secret from the Australian public. The Government says they are not aware of any charges by the US Government against Mr Assange. Let’s assume, then, that they’ve been kept in the dark for more than a year by Washington, which is hardly reassuring,” the media release said.

“Asked if the Prime Minister will ascertain whether this sealed indictment against an Australian citizen exists—the Government had no answer. Asked what the Government would do if the US attempted to extradite Mr Assange, the Government had no answer.”

In a senate speech yesterday, Senator Ludlam said: “There is a fierce campaign afoot to destroy WikiLeaks: to discredit Mr Assange and his associates and colleagues and to set the organisation back—in fact, to simply destroy it.” He said: “We need to know what the role of the Australian government in this has been” and added that a series of freedom of information requests he initiated last year about why it was so difficult to disclose this kind of information were stonewalled, blocked, and met with excuses. He called on the Australian government to come clean on what it knows.

Senator Ludlam later moved a motion for the Senate to acknowledge that Mr Assange had been recognised as a journalist by organisations including the Walkley Foundation and the British High Court. “This was too frightening for the Labor Party and the Coalition. They sat there and voted against a list of seven undisputed facts. What could have got them so spooked?” asked the Greens media release.

The news of the secret indictment comes as Assange awaits a British Supreme Court decision on his appeal against extradition to Sweden in relation to sexual assault allegations. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 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’ publication of thousands of leaked US classified military and diplomatic reports.

I am personally highly ambivalent about Julian Assange. I do not personally believe that he is a journalist — what ethical journalist would report on information that had been obtained from a company by means of hacking its internal database, as rogue Internet group Anonymous appears to have done with Stratfor? None. It is unethical for journalists to report on material which has been illegally obtained. Furthermore, with some of the material which Wikileaks has released, it is far from clear that there is a public interest in it being released.

However, Ludlam is right. Assange is an Australian citizen and must be afforded all of the protections such status offers. The fact that the Australian Government is not actively seeking to protect the Wikileaks founder is frightening for those of us who also seek to release confidential information in the public interest, and a damning indictment of our lack of strength when dealing with our American allies.

Image credit: New Media Days, Creative Commons. Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay.


  1. No way.

    If history proves anything, it’s that, here in the U.S. we can reach anyone. Aussies will rightfully give up Assange if we direct them to do so.

    My government is on the phone with your government every day. It’s only a matter of time before Assange is ours.

  2. “what ethical journalist would report on information that had been obtained from a company by means of hacking its internal database”

    Someone who think truth is more important than the law.

    The law is societies attempt to codify ethics, in the stratfor situation we have one group breaking the law (hackers), but doing it to expose an organization that is behaving unethically (stratfor).

    Assuming the law is correct and hacking is unethical, then we have two unethical acts, one that was done to expose the other.

    I know who i support, its the one who acting in support of the _principles_ of the law, not the one trying to exploit it for personal gain.

    • Can you give an example of where Stratfor has broken the law?

      And regardless, as a general principle, just because someone has broken the law, doesn’t mean it is OK for a journalist to break the law and their ethical stance to cover it. Unless it’s an unjust law, of course, in a dictatorship-type situation. But that is hardly true of Australia.

      • He never said stratfor was breaking the law, just acting unethically.

        He said anonymous broke the law, to reveal information that stratfor was behaving unethically.

        And, I’ll just leave this here as an example of good journalism:

        But hey, breaking the law is bad and should never happen and should never result in journalism because thats bad!

        • “So Stratfor selling secrets is fine”… are they?

          This passage from their CEO does not suggest they would be selling American secrets… they seem rather patriotic:
          “We have also been asked to help the United States Marine Corps and other
          government intelligence organizations to teach them how Stratfor does what
          it does, and train them in becoming government Stratfors. We are beginning
          this project by preparing a three-year forecast for the Commandant of the
          Corps. This is a double honor for us. First, the professional
          intelligence community is acknowledging us as being the gold standard of
          intelligence. Second, we are being asked to use our honest and unhedged
          views to support what is for Stratfor-an American company-its homeland.
          Again, as with StratCap, there is no tension. We will tell the U.S.
          government precisely what we tell our readers and we think ourselves. Our
          first lesson to the government is that intelligence organizations exist to
          make decision makers uncomfortable, not to make them feel better about
          their decisions. I didn’t come this far to compromise on that. ”

          I won’t give the link, out of respect for Renai, but the document id is 49613.

  3. “It is unethical for journalists to report on material which has been illegally obtained.”

    I think that this is pretty hypocritical Renai.

    I noticed that the press world wide were ethically troubled about the publishing by Wikileaks of the Iran and Afghanistan material and the diplomatic communications which had been obtained illegally . In fact they were so worried by the ethics of this that they couldn’t wait to re-publish the material in their own media.

    If every journalist who had decided to publish material that was acquired illegally, because they believed it was in the public interest and on the balance should be published, we would have no journalists left.

    • Actually as far as I am aware most of the material previously published by Wikileaks was legitimately leaked to Wikileaks by one or more insiders. This is legitimate journalistic activity. But hacking into an organisation to steal its data is not.

      • The person leaking the information in some cases was breaking the law you can’t have it both ways.

      • umm Renai… you do know that Bradley Manning is apparently being charged with treason for releasing the diplomatic cables right? I’m pretty sure that the act of treason is illegal in America….

        Everything Wikileaks has leaked is as a result of an illegal act. If it wasn’t an illegal act, there would be a lot more leaking going on in the world.

        Do you also think it was wrong for Daniel Ellsberg to release “The Pentagon Papers”?

        • Wikileaks probably didn’t break the law on the diplomatic cables due to the First Amendment and the fact they were only publishing material that, although illegally obtained, was obtained by a 3rd party, not Wikileaks. See

          The News of the World case is different because the illegal obtainment and publication were done by the journalists or people within their company.

          There is a difference between breaking the law and being ethical though. Of course, different people have different ethics so we can say somebody is a jerk but only the law can really decide if they were wrong.

          Although I think Assange can freely publish the material he has, I disagree with the slant that Wikileaks is placing on some of the information they publish. I think they’re letting their own ideological beliefs cloud their judgement so they look less like whistleblowers and more like people who don’t care what they publish, as long as they publish and receive donations to publish more. Wikileaks appears to believe that ‘information MUST be free’, versus the more nuanced belief I think most people hold that ‘information MAY be free’.

          There was actually an interesting speech Malcolm Turnbull gave on Assange a year ago, where he claims Assange broke no law, and attacks the government for suggesting he did:

        • Using information from an inside source, as a journalist, is fine. We do it all the time. But if someone knowingly hacks into an organisation and supplies you with information from that breach, I would regard it as highly unethical to accept that information.

          Personally, as a journalist, I would not accept information that had been hacked out of a company. I wouldn’t report that person to the police, but I wouldn’t accept the information either. I would back away and get out of the situation.

          • When you’re reporting on tech news in a country that’s lawmakers have done a good job regulating corporations, that’s fine. We are talking about corruption at the highest levels of the American government though, and a government that’s trying its hardest to keep this fact in the shade from its citizens. Drastic times call for drastic measures.

          • Hi Dylan,

            “We are talking about corruption at the highest levels of the American government though”

            In order for you to continue posting comments on Delimiter, I require you to justify why you made this statement. What evidence has been released through Wikileaks of “corruption at the highest levels of the American government”?

            My apologies, but this is a factual debate, and I will not tolerate factually incorrect statements.

            Kind regards,


          • Whilst we are talking about FACTS, how about you check yours, Wikileaks did NOT hack stratfor, Anonymous did, Renai, your credability rating is falling, seems you don’t adhere to your own beliefs, kinda like the U.S. govt’s ” do as we say not as we do”.. Oh and yes my “proof” in that statement is Internet censorhip, the yanks are now doing it as we all know by domain hijackings, but only 2 years ago Sec of State Hillary Clinton was outspoken agaisnt our Govt for trying to censor saying its a must that it should remain uncensored in every way.

            hello pot
            hello kettle

          • All these complaints about US Govt. corruption are fine… but surely the issue in this context is whether Stratfor is involved in such corruption? Stratfor is a private corporation. If you can’t prove that Wikileaks is exposing corruption that Stratfor has either uncovered or is involved in, then you seem a bit out of context.

          • “but surely the issue in this context is whether Stratfor is involved in such corruption. Stratfor is a private corporation”

            The fact that this private corporation you refer to was aware along time ago that a secretive indictment was made against someone, and not even that someones own countries Govt who is consider a close allie of the U.S. was not told, pretty much says yes they are involved. Why is Govt giving sensitive secret information to private companies.

          • “Why is Govt giving sensitive secret information to private companies.”

            I think its a case of ‘friends in high places’. The guy who got the info used to work for the US Diplomatic Security Service. To quote from Wikipedia: “Burton was also appointed by Washington to assist in the investigation of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He is the former deputy chief of the counterterrorism division of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Mr. Burton also investigated the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane; the al Qaeda New York City bombing plots before the September 11 attacks; and the Libyan-backed terrorist attacks against diplomats in Sana’a and Khartoum. He was involved in the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.”

            He did explicitly state that the info was not for publication i.e. it was a private conversation based on information he had gained privately.

          • Also, how is it more ethical to accept information from an inside source, as opposed to information gained by a hack? Either way the information is not approved for public release, and it is obviously against the company’s interest to disclose it or it would already be public. If you look at it from the company owner’s perspective, both of them would be treated with the same level of anger. Possibly even moreso for inside information, as you at one stage trusted the person who went behind your back and released the info.

          • “Also, how is it more ethical to accept information from an inside source, as opposed to information gained by a hack?”

            Inside sources can be protected under whistleblower regulations. In addition, there is a long history of and acceptance of this kind of behaviour in Western democracies — although, as some have noted, it can result in getting people fired if the identity of sources isn’t protected by the journalists concerned.

            Hacking is just purely illegal. It’s a pretty simple and objective difference. You may not appreciate it — but I assure you that any professional journalist does.

            I encourage you to examine the News of the World case.

          • If it is illegal it is illegal.

            PS. Bradley Manning wasn’t meant to have access to the material on SIPRNet that he had access to.
            He was hunting around in JAG officer folders etc.
            Just because they didn’t lock it down, doesn’t mean he wasn’t effectively hacking a network he wasn’t supposed to. I am pretty sure there were at least regulations (let alone laws about unlawful access) saying: “Don’t go looking in JAG officer private folders”.

            Just because his hack required absolutely no skill (he had a username and password that gave access) doesn’t mean he was given a bunch of diplomatic cables and told: “KEEP THESE SAFE FOR THE COUNTRY” he was given access to do his work, and went hunting for incriminating documents and evidence.

            Bradley Manning is just a really lucky hacker, who just happened to have been given permission to use some improperly configured or maintained security systems. (none at all).

            Some hackers would claim that their ability to gain access to a system at all is improperly configured or maintained security.

            Bradley didn’t see the blackhawk shooting helicopters – seek out evidence and leak it. He sought out documents on a secure network in folders clearly outside of his work and said: “Hey thats interesting, the JAG are looking at helicopters shooting people” and leaked it.

          • If his password gave him access then someone decided that such access was appropriate, thus Bradley was a leaker and not a hacker.

            Don’t stress on it though, it’s not as if he will ever meet a jury or anything.

      • “This is legitimate journalistic activity. But hacking into an organisation to steal its data is not.”

        My reading of the story Renai, was that the hacking of Stratfor was done by Anonymous. I have not seen any reports that Wikileaks or Assange have in fact been directly involved in the hacking of material that they have published . They most certainly have published hacked material eg. that which has allegedly been given to them by Manning.

        The main stream media in Australia have often reported on leaked classified and confidential information and documents. This information is often just as illegal obtained as it would be if it were hacked.

        The question of public interest must be balanced against the ethics of using material that has been illegally obtained. Unfortunately there is no black and white answer and largely we must rely on the experience and ethics of the journalists, editors and publishers to make the right decision on a case by case basis.

        An ethical standard set in stone can be just as dangerous as no ethical standard at all.

        • “The main stream media in Australia have often reported on leaked classified and confidential information and documents. This information is often just as illegal obtained as it would be if it were hacked.”

          No, that’s not true — it is not as illegal, due to whistleblower protections. There is an objective difference.

          • “it is not as illegal, due to whistleblower protections.”

            Sorry to disagree Renai but whistleblower protection protects the whistleblower from being prosecuted sued, etc., for an action to “blow the whistle” on illegal, corrupt or other similar activity. Whistleblower protection does not mean that the action of the Whistleblower is changed from illegal to legal it merely protects him/her from any possible consequences.

          • Fair call — but there is still a very big and glaring ethical difference in a journalist accepting material from an inside source and accepting material from an outside person who has hacked in to a company.

            These are the rules which I live and breathe by every day.

            I can imagine the reaction from any editor I have ever worked with (and I have been published by many of the major technology publications in Australia and some large global ones) if I told them I had knowingly received stolen material.

            They would tell me to get rid of it. And then they would brief the company lawyer.

  4. Having read through dozens of the Stratfor emails, and the interpretations of them made by Wikileaks, it’s probably best that Assange go to prison so he and his friends can stop writing crap.

    For example, Wikileaks wrote “Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky” in response to the Stratfor CEO saying “We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either.” Those ‘secret cash bribes’ are a payment for information, the same way newspapers pay members of the public for photographs.

    Wikileaks also thinks Stratfor should not be able to set up a hedge fund as a seperate legal entity to make investments based on the information it gathers and analyses, calling it a “money-making scheme of questionable legality”. Why the heck not??? If you look at the emails, half the time their discussions are based around online newspaper articles! Can I not make investment decisions based on what I read in a newspaper?

    The stuff on Dow hiring them to monitor Bhopal activists and members of the Yes Men is incredibly boring. It’s a short weekly summary of what obviously online information sources say they were up to. A bloke gave a lecture one week. Look out! Dow is using Stratfor as almost part of its PR function to ask the question ‘are we going to get any bad press this week?’ The security side of it is ‘are any activists protesting near our staff this week?’ which is probably something you’d like to know to keep your staff safe.

    Wikileaks is an organisation battling for relevancy, and the best they can do is publish the private emails of a security firm, including confidential legal, marketing, and source information that doesn’t say anything surprising. Putting Assange in jail would just be putting them out of their misery!

  5. The days of secret governments needs to end, and the U.S. govt needs to realise it is the govt of the U.S. of AMERICA – not the Govt of the U.S. of the WORLD.

    I also agree its hypocritical of Renai to make some of these comments. If the High Court of the U.K. has recognised him as a journo, then he is, end of story, any refusal to accept that fact reflects on how biased, self important, and “non accepting of facts” the other reporter is.

    This also shows that the Aust Govt, is in dummy spit mode to stay on the good side of the U.S. of A. bully boys, if this was any other citizen, they’d be in there full on, hell, look at how many times over the years they went to bat for CONVICTED drug pushers, but yet act like Assange is some nobody from some far away unheard of country. SHAME ALP and LNP, SHAME!

    • Maybe he is a journo. But if so, he’s an unethical one. As a journalist, you should not hack someone to get your information.

      Or have we learnt nothing from the News of the World scandal?

      • I would’ve thought the difference here was that Assange nor wikileaks did the actual hacking as you suggest, it was anonymous. Where as in the news of the world scandal it was the journos/staff that were doing the hacking.

          • Mike never said that Renai. Of course Wikileaks knew how it had been obtained. The difference is that Wikileaks were not the actual people that broke the laws… Anonymous broke the laws. Wikileaks just published what Anonymous gave them, much like they published the cables and Iraq war logs that Bradley Manning gave them.

          • Sure, but there is a critical difference. Manning was an insider. Anonymous is not.

            That may not sound like much of a difference to many people, but I can assure you that from a journalists’ point of view — any professional journalist — it matters very much.

          • Manning worked for the military.

            He didn’t work for the government sending and receiving diplomatic cables.

            So, by your logic, I can get a job as a janitor for a microwave factory for GE, and since I am now an insider at GE I can go and hack their banking division, since I (reasonably or not) suspect they are hiding some criminal activities.
            Once I found that information as a GE insider, you would have no qualms about accepting the information from me?

          • Absolutyely, if I am a media outlet, I am not to know your position or how you obtained the data, you are an anonymous whilstleblower – janitor, security guard, clerk, I.T., company executive, or disgruntled ex-employee, I take your info on good faith, just like every nightly television news does in many of its reports every single day of the week.

  6. It seems the Age and Sydney Morning Herald are full of unethical journalists as they like you cover and promote this story. Why cover it if you feel this way, confusing…

    • Mate,

      stories are nuanced ;) It is possible to be in favour of protecting Assange’s rights while disapproving of some of his unethical behaviour. Life isn’t black and white ;)


  7. Hmmm… a bit concerned about that blanket statement “It is unethical for journalists to report on material which has been illegally obtained”. Technically that rules out whistleblowing on a grand scale. Not to mention Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and a huge swathe of investigative journalism. Define ‘illegal’? Would exposing details of ACTA, SOPA etc become illegal because a bunch of braindead good ol’ boys in the US congress lapped up graft and lobbyist goodies and passed the odious bills?

    • No, there are laws to protect whistleblowers — we have that in Australia.

      Investigative journalism must be done legally. I’m sorry — that’s just the way it is.

  8. Just for clarification, can we have a link to articles that wikileaks obtained through the organisation directly hacking a source?

    The Stratfor hack was performed by Anonymous, not on behalf of wikileaks. The data once obtained by Anonymous was then uploaded to pastebin with public access. Wikileaks was reporting on already public knowledge.

    • “Wikileaks was reporting on already public knowledge.”

      That’s not my understanding of the situation. If so, why were there embargoed articles which went live this week when Wikileaks gave the signal?

    • The content Wikileaks has published includes email attachments. There are doc, xls, vsd, gif, pdf files, and perhaps others. Pastebin is text-only as far as I know. It seems clear that the hacker has either personally supplied the information to Wikileaks, or it has arrived there via intermediaries.

      In the Stratfor case it would have been blindingly obvious that they had received the information as a result of the hack, whereas in the diplomatic cables case it was at least plausible to assume it was a leak.

      Publishing leaks is far more justifiable than publishing hacks. In a leak, somebody on the inside has made the judgement that the information should be public, and they have somewhat of a moral obligation to provide it to the press or law enforcement if they feel wrongdoing is occurring. This is clearly not the case in a hack as the person who obtained the information had no right to it. I think the problem with the diplomatic cables was that whoever leaked them (presumably Bradley Manning) had not made a moral judgement because clearly he did not examine all the documents he leaked, but instead relied on others to judge under either the assumption they proved something bad about the United States, or simply out of malice or revenge.

      • Specialist Manning, deployed to Iraq, Eventually demoted to Private First Class for punching a female officer in the face, was supposed to have access to diplomatic cables from 2001 onwards?

        What?? What insane security system would they be running that gives every analyst deployed to Iraq intentional access to **diplomatic cables** (not even related to Iraq!?!).

        Hell, he only enlisted in 2007 according to wikipedia.

        No, I am pretty sure Wikileaks knew the cables Bradley Manning had were obtained completely outside of the law and more to your point, completely outside of what he was *supposed* to be accessing.

        Regarding Whistleblower laws, these in the USA don’t protect you for illegal actions. If you work for a company and hack their internal systems I think you still go to jail for releasing their documents. Whistleblower laws in the USA protect you from reprisement (in terms of getting fired or threatened) when reporting illegal acts performed by the government. Doesn’t ever protect you from performing illegal acts in the process of obtaining the reports that you later release.

        Manning hacked the system. A system with no security. But he wasn’t given access to that material intentionally. I think he did the right thing. And I also think he is a criminal. I believe he should be prosecuted for the crime (hacking the system), but not for releasing the documents (blowing the whistle).

  9. So nobody is disturbed by the fact that the Americans seem alot more determined to get ahold of Assange because he insulted a few Secret Intelligence firms then they ever were about hanging on to David Hicks? A man who was confirmed to be training with Al Qaeda?

    One is much worse then the other, in my view. I think Assange and Wikileaks have hung Stratfors dirty laundry out to dry and Stratfor are cracking the shits.

  10. Here’s the Green’s chance to prove they have bigger, and err grassier balls than Andrew Wilkie did.

    Who is taking book on this one? I bet a hundred bucks that the Greens quietly back down and the ALP just shrugs and ignores the whole thing.

    Any takers?

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