ASIO mounts early morning “non-raid” to secure ABC’s Cabinet Files

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ASIO operation at the ABC office, Canberra

The Australian Security Information Organisation (ASIO), which has internal security responsibilities similar to America’s FBI, entered the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) at 1am this morning to secure the trove of mislaid security files now known globally as the Cabinet Files.

ASIO operation not a raid

While the operation had all the cosmetic trappings of a raid by security services, the early hours arrival of ASIO agents was much less heavy-handed than it might first appear. The main purpose of the visit was to deliver new safes to keep the thousands of Australian cabinet files (as in files belonging to the Prime Minister’s cabinet) secure while they are in possession of the ABC.

According to the the ABC website, “The ABC still has access to the documents, now kept in the safes, and negotiations are still underway between lawyers for the ABC and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).”

The PM&C had launched an urgent investigation yesterday within an hour of the ABC’s revelation that the massive security breach had occurred. Two filing cabinets full of classified papers had been sold at a Canberra second-hand furniture store that specializes in government surplus. The papers had remained untouched for over two months before the owner finally managed to pry the locked filing cases open with a drill, and in a part of the story that remains untold, they ended up in the hands of the ABC.

In the national interest

ABC news director Gavin Morris explained that the ASIO operation had been conducted with the ABC’s cooperation.

“This was an agreed process with the Government, we wanted to ensure that as the national broadcaster we were doing all we could to work to ensure the documents were safe,” he told (unsurprisingly) the ABC.

He also defended the ABC’s judgement of which stories to publish in the public interest, and which to keep confidential. “We haven’t gone anywhere near stories or issues that may have a national security implication,” he explained.

In contrast, the ABC’s conduct has been criticized sharply by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Among the stories from the papers published by the ABC was the allegation that Rudd he had been warned about “critical risks” in his government’s home insulation programme in advance of four young installers dieing in 2010.

In a statement Rudd said, ““The report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) alleging I ignored warnings on risks to the safety of installers of home insulation is a lie…The ABC was told of these facts before publication. For these reasons, legal proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting have now commenced.”

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