Australian feds raid broadcaster’s office over Afghan war crime stories
Six officers, including three police technicians, descended on the broadcaster's Sydney offices with a warrant explaining the raid was "in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914." The classified material in question? Hundreds of pages of leaked defense documents marked AUSTEO (Australian Eyes Only) that formed the basis of ABC's 2017 story series 'The Afghan Files.' The warrant names the report's authors, Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, as well as ABC news director Gaven Morris.
The officers rounded up ABC's IT staff to assist in examining their email server looking for "a series of key words," while others scoured a hard drive, according to John Lyons, ABC executive editor and head of investigations department, who live-tweeted the raid. Officers helpfully told him they were interested in "very specific matters" and "certain things," dryly noting "this could take some time," Lyons reported. Four hours into the raid, they had collected over 9,200 files and were deciding which could be seized under the warrant.
"It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way," ABC managing director David Anderson told news.com.au, promising to support its journalists, protect its sources, and "continue to report without fear or favor on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest."
The federal police released a statement after the raid on Wednesday claiming "no arrests are planned today as a result of this activity" and denying it was connected to an intimidating visit paid to another journalist in Canberra the previous day – though it's hard not to see a connection, given both were publishing stories on government misconduct based on documents unavailable to the public.
Officers raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst's home on Tuesday, triggered by a story she wrote last year revealing the government's plans to dramatically expand the Australian Signals Directorate's spying on its own citizens, giving the agency power to secretly access bank records, text messages, and emails without an individual's knowledge. Officers reportedly spent seven hours picking through Smethurst's possessions; an unauthorized "leak of national security information" was cited as the cause.
That same day, 2GB radio host Ben Fordham said he had been contacted by the Department of Home Affairs in an effort to find out how he'd obtained "highly confidential" information for his reporting on asylum seeker vessels.
Condemning the "disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom," the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia's journalists' union, called the raids "nothing short of an attack on the public's right to know."
The Afghan Files describes a number of incidents in which Australian special forces shot civilians in addition to the insurgents they were supposed to be fighting and reveal Afghan authorities "were becoming increasingly agitated over Australians allegedly killing unarmed civilians" to the point that they "threatened to stop working with Australians."
PM Scott Morrison has refused to condemn the raids, declaring all Australians must abide by national security laws. He won a "miracle" reelection last month, giving his Liberal National party a third straight term in power. Morrison appears to be using his mandate to crack down on antagonistic journalism, the MEAA noted.
It seems that when the truth embarrasses the government, the result is the Federal Police will come knocking at your door.