The AFP sanctions espionage and News Corp falsely claims vindication
TO the spymaster, there are no coincidences. Not at first blush, anyway, and not even at the second or third. I will therefore assume it is no coincidence that on the day the ABC published more highly sensitive information about another alleged unlawful killing in Afghanistan (with a pixelated photograph of the supposed culprit), the Australian Federal Police announced it would not bring charges against News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst for publishing illegally leaked and published documents (literally marked “secret” and “top secret”) about plans to broaden the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate. In fact, the AFP says “no-one will be prosecuted.” Confusingly, the Federal Police are also investigating the Afghanistan claims, as well as the ABC’s Dan Oakes and Sam Clark who have published sensational reports on the subject. That controversy has been bundled with the Smethurst case by the nation’s editorial boards to win legislated ‘protections’ for journalists. Far from being dumbfounded by this incestuous mess, Attorney-General Christian Porter said he was merely “frustrated” the prosecution so mysteriously terminated yesterday had taken this long “to resolve.” It’s not clear to me that the AFP and the intelligence agencies are still answerable to elected civilians.
Notwithstanding the possibility the ASD mole was identified and dealt with in-house, the abandonment of the Smethurst brief means two laws now exist in Australia: one for us and another for elites, now including reporters (of all people), who are regarded as legitimate players in the politics of national security. The AFP’s decision is doubly inexplicable because when the High Court ruled earlier this year that the raid on Smethurst’s home was illegal on a technicality, it nevertheless allowed police to keep and make use of the seized documents. That flagged the very real likelihood that the Court was unlikely to later rule the publication of the material was protected by the Constitution’s implied freedom of political speech. Incidentally, AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney says the documents have now been destroyed.
News Corp Australasia chairman Michael Miller reacted to Smethurst’s narrow escape with predictable tabloid hyperbole and straw-man hooey. The AFP raid had been “illegal,” he said, conveniently leaving out the prosaic reason why. Police in all jurisdictions are empowered to raid premises to gather evidence of any serious crime. Journalists’ homes have not hitherto been exempt. “The irony should not be lost on anyone that the story that led to Annika’s persecution was subsequently confirmed as being correct,” Miller crowed. Even if that actually was an example of irony, being correct is no defence for publishing classified material. A reporter who revealed the Manhattan Project in 1943 would never have seen the blue sky again. An ABC spokeswoman echoed Miller’s contrived logic by lamenting that Oakes and Clark are still under investigation for their “factual and important reporting.” This too is balderdash but of a more dangerous stripe. It is for a court – military and/or civilian – to decide if claims of war crimes in Afghanistan are factual or not. The ABC’s contempt for the accused’s presumed innocence – infamously showcased before in its illegal calumniation of George Pell – proves it should never be afforded special status to receive and publish official secrets.