BFTN 44
June 6, 2019
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Australian journalists are under attack for publishing stories on domestic spying and our military. What kind of protections should we have in place for whistleblowers and journalists in a democracy? That’s what today’s show is about.

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The Australian Attacks On Journalism

  • In Western democracies we’re seeing a pretty scary crackdown on journalism 
  • Assange and Wikileaks are under attack by the USA
  • And in Australia over the last week we’ve seen several raids by the Federal Police on journalists and publishers 
  • These raids have been broadcast around the world and Australia’s government is under enormous criticism
  • CNN’s chief media reporter Brian Stelter:
  • “We almost never see this in a democratic country like Australia,” he said. “Something very troubling (is) happening on multiple fronts in Australia.”
  • Reporters Without Borders said the images of AFP officers entering the ABC headquarters in Sydney on Wednesday was more like a scene from an authoritarian country, rather than a democracy.
  • Here at home, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, a Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland, called the raids “a clear threat to democracy”
  • Even the right wing Institute of Public Affairs called the raids “Disgraceful”
  • Even our own former Human Rights Commissioner has called Australia the most repressive of the Western democracies. 
  • Of course, the government say it’s all above board
  • The opposition party condemned the raids – even though they helped introduce the laws that make it possible. 
  • Most of these police actions are related to whistleblowers and the publishing of state secrets
  • Some people think it’s okay for police and governments to prosecute whistleblowers and people who publish state secrets
  • Other people think those parties should be protected
  • I want to dig into these and other stories and see if we can work out what’s going on and think about the ethics of the situation 
  • Let’s talk about Australia 
  • And let’s start with News Corp raid 
  • On Tuesday 4 June, federal police raided the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst investigating the publication of a leaked plan to allow government spying on Australians.
  • AFP officers raided her home as she was preparing to go to work, with a warrant to search her home, her phone and her computer.
  • They spent 7 hours going through every drawer, including her underwear, every page of every book, inside DVD covers, under her bed – everything. 
  • Now the first thing that’s surprising about this is that it’s News Corp 
  • And the incumbent Australian government was pretty much put into power by News Corp 
  • And was returned to power by them in our most recent election on Saturday 18 May 2019
  • two and half weeks before the raid on Smethurst’s house
  • The cause of the raid was a story from April 2018 – over a year before the raid – where Smethurst reported that the heads of the defence and home affairs ministries had discussed new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australian citizens for the first time.
  • Spies would be allowed to secretly access emails, bank accounts and text messages with approval from the defence and home affairs ministers.
  • Who is ASD?
  • The Australian government agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence, cyber warfare, and information security.
  • What is signals intelligence?
  • Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is intelligence-gathering by interception of signals,
  • Includes communications between people (communications intelligence—abbreviated to COMINT)
  • and electronic signals not directly used in communication (electronic intelligence—abbreviated to ELINT).
  • ASD is part of the Australian Intelligence Community.
  • And ASD’s role within UKUSA Agreement (Five Eyes) is to monitor SIGINT in South and East Asia.
  • Australia joined the UKUSA Agreement in 1948, a multilateral agreement for cooperation in signals intelligence between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • The alliance is also known as the Five Eyes.
  • Other countries, known as “third parties”, such as West Germany, the Philippines, and several Nordic countries also joined the UKUSA community.
  • As the Agreement was a secret treaty, its existence was not even disclosed to the Australian Prime Minister until 1973, when Gough Whitlam insisted on seeing it.
  • The existence of the UKUSA Agreement was discovered by the Australian government during the 1973 Murphy raids on the headquarters of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
  • The Whitlam Government came to power 5 December 1972.
  • It was the first time a Labor government had been in power in 23 years. 
  • The purpose of the raids, instigated by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy, was to obtain terrorism-related information that the ASIO was accused of withholding.
  • ASIO – was set up in 1949. 
  • A Cold War intelligence operation. 
  • Infamous in Australia for the Petrov Affair
  • The 1954 defection to Australia of Vladimir Petrov, a Russia spy.
  • Petrov had been sent to the Canberra embassy in 1951 by the Soviet security chief, Lavrentiy Beria.
  • After Stalin’s death in March 1953, Beria had been arrested and shot by Stalin’s successors, and Petrov evidently feared that, if he returned to the Soviet Union, he would be purged as a “Beria man”.
  • But he was also the victim of a double agent. 
  • A Polish doctor he was trying to turn into an asset was secretly working undercover for ASIO. 
  • So Petrov decided to defect – but didn’t tell his wife, who he apparently didn’t like very much. 
  • When they couldn’t find him, the KGB said the Australian government had kidnapped Petrov and sent agents to collect his wife and take her home. 
  • But the Australian government stopped the plane as it was refuelling at Darwin airport, falsely accused the KGB of carrying weapons, which would have been against the law, and then offered the wife asylum, which she accepted. 
  • It caused a media and political firestorm. 
  • To deflect attention from how badly they handled it, the Government – which was the Menzies government, the Liberal party – held a Royal Commission in which they claimed documents Petrov gave them showed that senior Labor Party staffers were Soviet spies. 
  • But the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Dr. H. V. Evatt, was a former justice of the High Court of Australia and the third President of the United Nations General Assembly
  • And he appeared before the Royal Commission as attorney for his staff members who were accused of being spies.
  • His cross-examination of a key ASIO operative transformed the commission’s hearings into a shambles and he was basically booted from being allowed to appear before the Royal Commission. 
  • He accused the government of using it as a political weapon and that it was biased. 
  • As a result of the defections, the Australian embassy in Moscow was expelled and the USSR embassy in Canberra recalled.
  • Diplomatic relations were not re-established until 13 March 1959.
  • No-one was ever charged with an offence as a result of the commission’s work and no major spy ring was uncovered.
  • The Petrovs lived under aliases in Australia for the rest of their lives. 
  • He died in 1991, his wife in 2002. 
  • The defections came shortly before the 1954 federal election.
  • Evatt accused Menzies of having arranged the defections to coincide with the election, for the benefit of the incumbent Liberal Party.
  • And the Labor Party didn’t trust ASIO from that moment on. 
  • In fact in 1971, they nearly decided to disband ASIO as party platform. 
  • They didn’t. 
  • But when Whitlam came to power in 1972, the Labor Party still didn’t trust ASIO.
  • The 1973 raids happened because the Yugoslav Prime Minister was visiting Australia and the government believed ASIO was hiding information from them about the existence of a right-wing Croatian terrorist group that might try to attack the PM. 
  • After learning about the secret UKUSA agreement, Whitlam discovered that Pine Gap, a secret surveillance station close to Alice Springs, Australia, had been operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
  • a U.S. satellite surveillance base 
  • When it was set up in the late 60s, Australian had been told it was for “space research”
  • Governments lie. 
  • Pine Gap is now operated jointly by both Australia and the United States.
  • The existence of the UKUSA Agreement was not disclosed to the public until 2005.
  • This whole ASIO and Pine Gap affair created a rift between the Whitlam government and Nixon administration.
  • And in 1975, when the Whitlam government was removed from government by the Queen’s representative in Australia, it was seen by some people – and still is today – as the machinations of the USG. 
  • Anyway – back to the News Corp raid. 
  • * The cause of the raid was a story from April 2018 – over a year before the raid – where Smethurst reported that the heads of the defence and home affairs ministries had discussed new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australian citizens for the first time.
  • * Spies would be allowed to secretly access emails, bank accounts and text messages with approval from the defence and home affairs ministers.
  • The raid on her house was justified by the Federal Police because they claim the information she published was an official secret, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.
  • News Corp: “The Australian public’s right to know information about government laws that could impact their lives is of fundamental importance in our society,”
  • But do they defend Wikileaks in the same way? 
  • I don’t know. 
  • I know that lots of journalists in Australia have been happy to throw Wikileaks under the bus but are now complaining loudly about their own situation. 
  • Under Australian law, it’s not just the sources that leaked the classified information that face jail – it’s also the journalists. 
  • Up to 15 years.
  • When the story was first published, the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, aka Mr Potato Head, and his region is in the suburb next to mine, said it was nonsense. 
  • But they seem to be cracking down pretty hard on something that is nonsense. 
  • The government, with Labor, passed sweeping new anti-espionage laws in June 2018, but insisted exemptions had been put in place to protect journalists reporting on matters within the public interest.
  • And there were concerns at the time that these new laws would put whistleblowers and journalists at further risk. 
  • But here are the questions: 
  • One: Is it ethical and moral for someone working in government to leak classified information to a journalist if they believe the public has a right to know what’s going on? 
  • What should the repercussions be for that person?
  • Obviously secrets do exist. 
  • Who gets to decide what they are? 
  • And who gets to decide if the leaking of them is justified or not? 
  • Two: Should journalists and publishers who are given secret information be allowed to publish it without fear of jail? 
  • And should journalists be able to protect their sources? 
  • What are the implications if journalists and publishers are too scared to publish leaked secrets? 
  • All governments lie. 
  • All governments want to keep secrets. 
  • Sometimes for good reasons. 
  • Sometimes for bad reasons. 
  • Does the public have a right to know when they are keeping bad secrets? 
  • Under the proposal, which Smethurst reported she had seen, Dutton and the defence minister, then Marise Payne, would have sign-off powers to allow digital surveillance of Australian citizens without the need for a warrant, or the attorney general’s go-ahead.
  • That sounds like a secret people should know about. 
  • the Australian Signals Directorate, previously known as the Defence Signals Directorate, cannot gather data on Australian citizens, with its mandate directed outside the nation’s borders.
  • It can assist the AFP and Asio with technical advice if the agencies have a warrant to investigate a person of interest related to national security investigations, including terrorism and organised crime.
  • The Snowden leaks revealed in 2013 the surveillance agency had offered to share raw metadata it had collected on Australian citizens with the nation’s allies, leading to concerns the agency was potentially acting outside of its legal, and operational, mandate.
  • The third question is: why did it take over a year for the Feds to get a warrant? 
  • Surely this is something you would want to do quickly, before she had a chance to erase it. 
  • On the same day Smethurst’s house was raided, another journalist, Ben Fordham, who works for both Sydney radio 2GB and Sky News (Murdoch TV), said he was contacted by the Home Affairs dept about a story he published just the day before about asylum seeker boats arriving from Sri Lanka. 
  • Fordham said the ministry was looking for the source which he refused to provide and was told he could be subject to an investigation. 
  • Then the very next day, the AFP also raided the ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, our government funded media company
  • It produces TV, radio, web. 
  • Been around since 1929. 
  • Modelled on the BBC. 
  • Since the Whitlam government in 1973 and it’s been funded principally by direct government grants
  • It’s often accused of having a left-wing bias, but claims to be neutral. 
  • This raid was over articles written in 2017 about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan.
  • TWO years since they were published. 
  • Why raid the ABC now? 
  • The warrant the police had apparently gave them the authority to add, copy, alter or delete any documents they wanted to.
  • One document refers to ingrained “problems” within special forces, an “organisational culture” including a “warrior culture” and a willingness by officers to turn a blind eye to poor behaviour.
  • the ABC revealed the alleged cover up of the killing of an Afghan boy and another alleged incident in which a father and son were shot dead during a raid.
  • Those two incidents — which both occurred in September 2013 — are the deaths of a man and his six-year-old child during a raid on a house, and the killing of a detainee who was alone with an Australian soldier and allegedly tried to seize his weapon.
  • A report into another 2013 incident in which an Afghan man riding a motorcycle was killed by Australian troops, and a female passenger possibly injured, states that Afghan authorities were becoming increasingly agitated over Australians allegedly killing unarmed civilians, and threatened to stop working with Australians.
  • The documents also provide fresh details of some notorious incidents, including the severing of the hands of dead Taliban fighters by Australian troops.
  • Australian troops are required to collect fingerprints and eye scans of every Taliban fighter who is killed, if it is possible to do so.
  • But the mutilation or mistreatment of the bodies of the dead is a violation of the laws of war.
  • One SAS corporal – Special Air Service Regiment, our  special forces unit, motto “Who Dares Wins” – cut off the hands of killed enemy combatants using a scalpel, because he said he didn’t have time to take their fingerprints. 
  • Apparently they had training a week earlier”.
  • Someone asked, “So you’re sweet with us bringing back a hand?” to which the reply was, “Yes … you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do on the ground”.
  • New guidelines were quickly put in place emphasising that “the mutilation and otherwise maltreatment of human remains” is not permitted.
  • Documents also had information on an helicopter attack killing boys and their donkeys, and a boy mistakenly killed as he hid under blankets are all detailed in the documents.
  • These aren’t the only whistleblower cases going on at the moment.
  • The government is prosecuting a lawyer and his client, a former ASIS officer, who revealed an unlawful spy operation against Timor-Leste during oil negotiations.
  • the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) planted 200 covert listening devices in the Timor-Leste aka East Timor, Cabinet Office, to obtain information in order to ensure Australian interests held the upper hand in negotiations with Timor-Leste over the rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap
  • The first Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Mari Alkatiri – they had only recently won their independence from Indonesia – bluntly accused the Australian Government of plundering the oil and gas in the Timor Sea, stating:
  • Timor-Leste loses $1 million a day due to Australia’s unlawful exploitation of resources in the disputed area. Timor-Leste cannot be deprived of its rights or territory because of a crime.
  • Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer – the same guy who started the whole Russiagate investigation in the US – ironically responded:
  • “I think they’ve made a very big mistake thinking that the best way to handle this negotiation is trying to shame Australia, is mounting abuse on our country…accusing us of being bullying and rich and so on, when you consider all we’re done for East Timor.”
  • More lies from the government.
  • In March 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Australia to stop spying on East Timor.
  • And Richard Boyle, the tax office debt collector who revealed the government’s heavy-handed approach to recovering debts, faces 161 years in jail if convicted on 66 charges.
  • In 2015, both major parties helped usher in metadata retention laws, which prompted huge concern for the anonymity of journalists’ sources.
  • Metadata – details about a particular communication, rather than the content of the communication itself – now must be retained by telecommunications companies for two years.
  • A vast number of government agencies are allowed warrantless access to the metadata.
  • Late last year, the Communications Alliance said its members had received requests from at least 80 different government agencies.
  • The United Nations enshrines the right to access information and protections for sources and whistleblowers through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has ratified.
  • Australia’s whistleblower protections – chiefly available through the Public Interest Disclosure Act – face frequent criticism for their weaknesses.
  • Government whistleblowers must take extreme care to raise concerns internally and with external watchdog agencies before they can go public.
  • Even then, whistleblowers are able to obtain protection for disclosures to the media only in limited circumstances.
  • It’s a common theme among whistleblowers who have been prosecuted.
  • The ATO whistleblower, Boyle, raised his concerns internally through the PID Act before going public.
  • He now faces a maximum 161-year sentence.
  • Australia has more national security laws than any other nation.
  • It is also the only liberal democracy lacking a Charter of Human Rights that would protect media freedom through, for example, rights to free speech and privacy.
  • Were any of these leaks a threat to national security? 
  • The consensus from Australian journalists seems to be NO. 
  • What happens next?
  • And why is this happening? 
  • Western democracies are cracking down on leaks. 
  • Julian has said for years that leaks are the best way for people to fight back against corrupt governments. 
  • And these days all media outlets have set up their own methods for allowing leakers to get information to them using encrypted services. 
  • Assange and Snowden have shown the way. 
  • But the establishment won’t tolerate it. 
  • And there is at least one leak of classified information that hasn’t lead to a raid. 
  • That leak helped hold off proposed laws to fast track asylum seeker medical transfers.
  • It was a leak that BENEFITED the incumbent government. 
  • The AFP announced this week they had closed their case on that matter. 

Do you have anything? 

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