(Reuters) - The Australian government Wednesday blamed the United States, not the WikiLeaks founder, for the unauthorized release of about 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables and said those who originally leaked the documents were legally liable.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd also said the leaks raised questions over the "adequacy" of U.S. security over the cables.
"Mr (Julian) Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the U.S. diplomatic communications network," Rudd told Reuters in an interview.
"The Americans are responsible for that," said Rudd, who had been described in one leaked U.S. cable as a "control freak."
WikiLeaks founder Assange defended his Internet publishing site Wednesday, saying it was crucial to spreading democracy and likening himself to global media baron Rupert Murdoch in the quest to publish the truth.
Assange has angered the United States and governments across the globe by publishing details of secret U.S. documents.
The original source of the leak is unknown, though a U.S. Army private who worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, Bradley Manning, has been charged by military authorities with unauthorized downloading of more than 150,000 State Department cables.
U.S. officials have declined to say whether those cables are the same ones now being released by WikiLeaks.
ASSANGE IN UK CUSTODY
Assange was remanded in custody by a British court on Tuesday over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden.
"I think there are real questions to be asked about the adequacy of their (U.S.) security systems and the level of access that people have had to that material over a long period of time," said Rudd.
"The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorized release," he said.
In an opinion piece in Murdoch's The Australian newspaper, headlined "Don't shoot the messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths," Assange said WikiLeaks deserved protection, not attacks.
"In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide's The News, wrote: 'In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win'," wrote Assange.
He cited the late Keith Murdoch, Rupert's father, who during World War One exposed the needless loss of Australian life at Gallipoli, where Australian troops under British command were slaughtered in a failed attack against the Turks.
"Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign," Assange wrote. "Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public."
Assange made no comment about his arrest in Britain after Sweden issued a European Arrest Warrant for sex crimes allegations. Assange, 39, denies the charges, and was remanded in jail until a fresh hearing on December 14.
Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, referred to his upbringing in a small Australian country town, where people "spoke their minds bluntly" and distrusted big government. "WikiLeaks was created around these core values," he wrote.
He said WikiLeaks was set up as a way of using new technology to report the truth and said not one person had been harmed by any information published over the past four years.
"Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption," he wrote.
Assange questioned why only WikiLeaks was under attack, when other media outlets like Britain's The Guardian, The New York Times andGermany's Der Spiegel had also published U.S. cables.
"There is a separate and secondary legal question...which is the legal liabilities of those responsible for the dissemination of that information, whether it's WikiLeaks, whether it's Reuters, or whether it is anybody else," said Rudd.
WikiLeaks has vowed to continue releasing details of the secret U.S. documents it obtained.
Monday, Rudd defended Australia's relations with China as "robust" after a WikiLeaks document showed he had advised Washington it might need to use force to contain Beijing. Another cable said Rudd was a control freak focused on the media.
Rudd said Wednesday Australia would provide Assange with consular help in relation to the court hearings in Britain over his possible extradition to Sweden.
Assange's UK lawyer, Mark Stephens, has said a renewed bail application would be made and that his client is "fine." He said many people felt the prosecution was politically motivated.
But a Swedish prosecutor was cited in newspaper Aftonbladet as saying the case was not connected with Assange's WikiLeaks work.
The Australian foreign minister also expressed concerns over any threats made against Assange, who says he has even faced calls for his assassination.
"We'd be concerned about the safety and security of all Australians. People should be free from any such threats," said Rudd.
(Editing by Mchael Perry and Mark Bendeich)