National Security

'Not a journalist': Julian Assange labelled as 'activist' who dumped sensitive information online during time of conflict

June 28, 2024

Renowned Australian journalist and documentarian Michael Ware has refuted claims Julian Assange is a journalist, labelling the WikiLeaks founder as an activist who “dumped” sensitive information on the internet during a time of war.

Mr Ware spoke to Sky News Australia on Thursday as Assange enjoyed his first day of freedom on Australian soil after agreeing to a plea deal.

Assange pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified information, a violation of the US Espionage Act, in a US district court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday.

He was sentenced to 62 months in prison, but his time spent incarcerated in London’s Belmarsh prison was credited, allowing him to go free.

Mr Ware was heavily critical of the way in which almost 400,000 classified US military documents detailing the Iraq war was published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

The veteran journalist lived in Iraq for seven years after the 2003 US-led invasion, covering the war first for TIME Magazine and then for CNN.

He narrowly survived being kidnapped by Al Qaeda militants while filming in Baghdad in 2004.

“I regard him (Assange) as a traitor in the sense that, during a time of war, when we had American, British and Australian troops in the field, under fire, Julian Assange published troves of unredacted documents,” Mr Ware told host Peter Stefanovic.

“That puts the soldiers at risk, that puts our methods and our methodology at risk, and it also puts the locals, who were putting their lives on the line, at risk, whether they worked for us or whether they’re supplying us with information.”

Mr Ware said he felt the manner of publication of the documents represented a “grievous betrayal” of the West’s military presence in the dangerous combat zones at the time.

“Now if Assange had acted like a journalist, he wouldn’t have just dumped these naked documents, he would have processed them, sifted through them, and distilled from them the truly newsworthy pieces of public interest that needed to be out there, but he didn’t do that,” he continued.

“He later worked with journalists but he just took all this very, very sensitive information and dumped it out there for our enemies to see.”

The trove of documents released in 2010 exposed videos of US troops killing civilians in Iraq and diplomatic cables revealing candid assessments of unsavoury allies of America, according to the Washington Post.

Assange reportedly argued WikiLeaks had placed more of an emphasis on redacting sensitive information than its previous Afghan War documents leak months earlier, however a Pentagon spokesperson argued at the time the platform were not experts in redacting in ways that protected US forces or indeed anyone mentioned in the trove.

A lawyer representing the US in 2020 claimed Assange’s failure to redact some names published in the caches put lives at risk.

"The US is aware of sources, whose redacted names and other identifying information was contained in classified documents published by Wikileaks, who subsequently disappeared, although the US can't prove at this point that their disappearance was the result of being outed by Wikileaks,” James Lewis QC said during an extradition hearing of Assange’s.

Mr Ware said WikiLeaks, founded in 2006 by Assange, had “served a purpose and part of it has been a noble service,” but pointed to the "unbelievable" work of Netherlands-based investigative journalism group Bellingcat.

“When those Russian spies poisoned that Russian dissident in England it was Bellingcat who could literally track both of them virtually from the scene, to the train station, to the plane and figured out exactly who they were. Now that is journalism,” Mr Ware argued.

“Just dumping … unredacted documents that might be of use to the people shooting at our troops, is a totally different thing.”

Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson told a media conference in Canberra on Thursday the US had been attempting to prosecute the 52-year-old for “doing journalism”.

Mr Ware seemingly disagreed with the characterisation, instead arguing Assange was an “activist”.

“Assange is not a journalist, and that is one of the things that does upset me, the way he tries to claim. He is definitely an activist. I presume he will continue his activism but in no means is he a journalist,” he said.

“I would have taken those secret documents too. But I wouldn’t have just dumped them out there for our opponents to see.”

Shadow foreign affairs minister Simon Birmingham earlier on Thursday slammed the Prime Minister’s decision to personally call Assange and welcome him back to Australia.

Characterising the call as “neither necessary nor appropriate,” Mr Birmingham said the WikiLeaks founder had not been wrongfully detained like Cheng Lei, Sean Turnell or Kylie Moore-Gilbert.

“For 12 years Assange chose to avoid facing justice in countries with fair judicial systems. He is underserving of this treatment,” he posted on X.

Mr Birmingham was joined in his assessment of the situation by shadow home affairs minister James Paterson.

"Mr Assange evaded the war for extradition requests, first by hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy, then by using his legal rights in the United Kingdom to challenge them over many years,” he told Sky News on Thursday.

"He is now someone who has pled guilty to very serious national security offenses, which are not just offences against the United States, they're offenses against the Five Eyes intelligence gathering alliance, including Australia, because they put the sources of that alliance at great risk."

The government had continually reiterated there was “nothing to gain” by the ongoing incarcerated of Assange.

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