Australian Police Raided a Newsroom and a Journalist's Home for Reporting on Government Secrets

The police conducted two searches in two days to track down who is leaking things leaders don’t want the public to know.


Earlier today, Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the offices of a media outlet responsible for a series of stories alleging unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan, published back in 2017. This follows on the heels of a raid earlier in the week, in which the police searched the home of a journalist who reported in 2018 that the government was considering expanding secret surveillance of citizens.

Both reports were based on documents that were leaked to journalists, and it's obvious that both raids are attempts to track down the sources of the leaks. No journalists were arrested or charged with crimes.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC, no relation to the American company with the same acronym) published the series of stories about the behavior of Australian special forces troops in Afghanistan, including allegations that they killed unarmed men and children. The reports leaked to ABC indicated that some incidents were being investigated as unlawful killings.

This morning, AFP raided ABC's Sydney headquarters. Law enforcement finally left the building after spending eight hours copying files connected to the news coverage onto two USB drives.

Yesterday morning, the AFP raided the Canberra home of Annika Smethurst, a journalist with News Corp who reported the plans to potentially expand domestic surveillance of citizens. As with ABC, Smethurst's reporting was based on leaks of secret documents provided to her from sources likely working with or within Australia's government.

ABC's reporting of the raid on their own office notes that the justification for these searches comes from Section 79 of Australia's Crime Act of 1914, which criminalizes the exposure of government secrets.

Though it's unlikely any of these journalists would ever be charged with crimes, representatives for both ABC and News Corp expressed outrage at the searches, which seem intended to discourage government employees from leaking secrets to the press:

ABC managing director David Anderson said it was "highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way".

"This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters," he said.

"The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest."

It's also worth noting that these raids happened just days after federal election results were hammered out in Australia, preserving incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal/National Party coalition's government majority for three more years. Morrison didn't seem terribly concerned that the police were raiding the homes and offices of journalists, stating, "It never troubles me that our laws are being upheld." He also declined to state whether he supported the expansion of surveillance authorities Smethurst exposed in her reporting.

These stories were not reckless publications of secret government documents; ABC exposed troubling behavior by the country's military in a war zone while Smethurst exposed government officials recommending more surveillance tools to be used secretly against the country's own citizens.

Government officials like Morrison are presenting these leaks as dangerous events that have to be stopped because they reveal information that's supposed to be withheld from the public. But that's simply not the case here—Australians have every right to know these stories. These examples look very clearly as though officials are declaring this information to be classified government secrets because they don't want their own citizens to know about the contents, not because there's any sort of legitimate national security interest.

Below, watch more about these raids and the responses from The Project, on Australia's Channel 10:

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  1. It never troubles me that our laws are being upheld.

    Selectively? Do they have any press freedom codified down under?

  2. >>>Government officials like Morrison are presenting these leaks as dangerous events that have to be stopped because they reveal information that’s supposed to be withheld from the public.

    zero information should be withheld from the public.

  3. Just as a reminder, the First Amendment doesn’t only anchor our rights in law–it’s an important part of what makes us American.

    Even governments that share our heritage of the Magna Carta, English common law, etc. don’t have our First Amendment, and it’s in large part because a huge chunk of the people of Australia, Canada, the UK, and elsewhere don’t want people to be free to say whatever they like. They look at the U.S. and think, “We don’t want to be like that”.

    Speaking the truth isn’t necessarily a valid defense in a libel case over there, and that’s because our libel laws had to evolve in a way that more or less conforms with the First Amendment.

    That Commonwealth hostility to free speech is driven by the same kind of inertia that drove Alphabet to announcement, today, that it’s doubling down on censorship:

    “YouTube said on Wednesday that it is prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.”

    The United States is an exceptional nation in the sense that our First Amendment, etc. is exceptional. And, yeah, YouTube is being unpatriotic. Even if they are doing this at the behest of advertisers, they should still be ashamed of themselves. If they’re doing this because they’re facing an antitrust probe by the Justice Department and they’re hoping to curry favor with the Democrats in Congress, then the Democrats in Congress should be ashamed of themselves, too.

    1. But this is Australia, so is it a first amendment issue or a fourth?

      1. The extent to which Assange, Manning, and Snowden received public support here in the U.S., I think it was largely due to our reverence for the principles of the First Amendment. Did the news media here in the U.S. show any scruples about publishing whatever Wikileaks was giving them?

        “ABC’s reporting of the raid on their own office notes that the justification for these searches comes from Section 79 of Australia’s Crime Act of 1914, which criminalizes the exposure of government secrets.”

        That’s incompatible with the First Amendment.

        I was trying to say that I think our libel laws are different from Australia’s in the same way that our protection for journalists publishing the truth is different. It is not unusual for Australian (or Canadian) politicians to sue news outlets for what’s being said about them–and whether what you wrote about them is true may not be an excuse.

        Even in the comments section in the newspaper websites over in Australia, you may find that all the comments are shut down or censored (before they’re published) on stories about ongoing trials or criminal investigations–because if someone in comments alleges that the subject of the story is guilty before a jury finds them guilty (or before the person is even charged), the news outlet will be sued for libel.

        This is all First Amendment stuff far as I’m concerned. The way our libel laws and our understanding of the proper role of both the press and free speech for individuals in a free society has evolved, there are a few simple points that save average Americans from these kinds of abuses. 1) You generally need to prove both damages and malice in a libel case (malice in an American libel case is sort of like the way mens rea functions in a criminal case), and 2) people generally can’t be punished for telling the truth. So long as it’s true, or you believe it’s true, you have little to worry about.

        In that light, if there’s a difference between what’s happening in this case with private citizens and what would happen in the U.S., it’s that the First Amendment would likely shield private parties for publishing the truth. Snowden and Manning were working for the government, and Assange may or may not have been an accessory to espionage or something like treason.

        If a journalist helps a government employee steal or conceal the the theft or information, that isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

        If Ed Snowden shows up in your office with a USB drive full of files proving that the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment rights of 300 million people, is there a law against a journalist publishing that information? If there isn’t, I suspect it’s because that would clearly violated the First Amendment. If the First Amendment protects anything, surely it’s speaking the truth–especially when it’s about the misbehavior of the government.

    2. segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.

      Does this mean groups demanding the Jews leave Judea and Samrea will get banned from YouTube?

  4. Perhaps a whole First Amendment isn’t a bad idea, eh rest of the fucking world?

    Australia is hardly a hot spot for free speech.

    1. Visit international forums and discuss concepts of free speech as we know it in the USA.

      First they tend to say that they DO have free speech. Once you point out all the the ways that they DON’T have free speech and freedom of the press, many of them go quiet or say that speech can be controlled by government if it’s not ‘reasonable’.

      1. That reminds me, there’s now a post office in Israel I’m not allowed to return to … and it rained a few drops today.

  5. If you go towards the end of the video around 5:15, he talks about special laws which “exempt journalists” from this sort of thing– then he mentions that the law being used in this case is “an old law” which doesn’t have a special exemption for journalists. Now do you understand why making journalists a special class is a bad idea?

  6. It was an honest mistake. They thought they were San Francisco cops

  7. This will just result in an investigation, which is a good thing according to Reason because it can prove you’re innocent, or something.

  8. You mean after Australian Socialist confiscated most of the guns in Aussie-Land, the police just start kicking in doors for reasons outside the current law?

    Shocking, I tell you! Shocking.

    1. Actually, it was the Australian conservatives that “confiscated most of the guns in Aussie-Land”.

      It was probably only the National Party wing wanting to protect farming and rural interests that they didn’t take them all.

      1. But you are probably right that if the actual socialists (ie Labor) had been in power the confiscations and restrictions would have been much more extensive.

  9. That reminds me, if anyone sees the new King of Kashmir, tell him I said, “Hi.”

    1. I’m not sure if this is fake news or if ISIS is trying to liberate mad people:

      Considering how many Muslims China sends to reeducation camps in it’s Southwestern provences, the Mad Pride movement and ISIS might have overlapping goals in that region.

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