“Cabinet files”: ASIO left egg-faced
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation( ABC) has left Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), Australia’s domestic spying agency feeling the need to shed a tear, the issue of security leaks has come under scrutiny once again. Thousands of pages of government documents, most of them top secret, were locked in two file cabinets that unknowingly ended up at a used furniture shop in Canberra, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.Cabinet documents such as those obtained by the broadcaster are supposed to remain secret by law for at least 20 years. The leaks has led to public outcry on why Australia spends billions of dollars on ASIO only for it to fail on such a basic duty. According to ABC twitter page, ASIO officers have moved to secure the thousands of top secret and classified Cabinet files obtained by the broadcaster, in early morning operations in Canberra and Brisbane. Officers are said to have delivered safes to the public broadcaster’s Parliament House Bureau and South Bank studios around 1:00am local time. The accidental disclosures illustrate the risks of even well-intentioned, public-interest on highly secretive government documents.The inadvertent disclosures, which include technical details and other information, are another complication in the ethically and technically challenging Cabinet jobs makes everyone sober enough to agree that some things are off-limits for publication as ABC rightly put it.But media organizations including ABC will struggled to keep them that way.The broadcaster said it chose not to publish documents that could be damaging to the country’s national security but has published several of them in the last few days and since they originated from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the news organization is referring to them as the “Cabinet Files.”
Many of the documents detail that your blogger has read chronicles behind the scenes of various administrations and also shocking losses of secret documents by Australian Federal Police where it lost nearly 400 national security files in a period of five years.The classified documents lost by the AFP are from the National Security Committee of the cabinet, which controls the country’s security, intelligence and defence agenda.Another notable revelation is how former premier John Howard’s National Security Committee gave serious thoughts to removing a person’s right to remain silent when questioned by Australian police. According to ABC, the powerful committee’s debate on counter-terrorism laws came just after the arrest of Mohammed Haneef and is documented in files marked “secret” and “AUSTEO”, which stands for Australian eyes only. Dr Haneef was accused of providing assistance in the 2007 Glasgow terror attack. The cabinet documents reveal then-attorney-general Philip Ruddock wrote in his submissions; “I would also like NSC to consider whether amendments should be made to a suspect’s right to remain silent to allow a court to draw adverse inferences in a terrorism trial where an accused relies on evidence which he or she failed to mention when questioned by police.” Scott Morrison, the then immigration minister on the other hand agreed his department should intervene in ASIO security checks to try to prevent asylum seekers from being granted permanent protection visas. Morrison wanted changes that would prevent any asylum seekers who arrived by boat from ever being granted permanent protection in Australia but Department of Immigration and Border Protection informed Morrison that up to 700 asylum seekers have to be granted permanent protection under the existing legislation. ASIO main role is to gather information and produce intelligence so that it can warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia’s national security but on this occasion they failed miserably. Lessons to be learnt but this is no doubt a big shame for the organization.