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Snowden a threat to Australian lives? Brandis refuses to show proof

George Brandis’ accusation that Edward Snowden has placed Australian lives at risk is the same unfounded accusation we’ve seen before from national security politicians desperate to avoid scrutiny.

United States whistleblower Edward Snowden had placed the lives of Australians at risk, according to Australian Attorney-General George Brandis, who made the sensational claim in Senate question time yesterday. Brandis’ statement marked a dramatic escalation in the government’s rhetoric against the whistleblower, and the first time the specific accusation of endangering Australians has been levelled at him.

However, Brandis failed to produce evidence to support the allegation, with the Attorney-General’s office failing to answer Crikey’s repeated requests for further detail.

As activists, civil rights groups, NGOs and some of the world’s biggest internet sites joined together to mark February 11 as “the day we fight back against mass surveillance”, Brandis angrily lashed out at Greens senator Scott Ludlam:

You celebrate and make a hero of this man who, through his criminal dishonesty and his treachery to his country, has put lives, including Australian lives, at risk. I wonder how you can sit in this Parliament and hold your head up high when you celebrate a man who, through criminal conduct and treachery, has put Australian lives at risk.”

Snowden has yet to be charged with treason even by the United States Department of Justice.

Both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have repeatedly made the accusation of treason, though the Prime Minister’s office has refused to provide any supporting evidence for the claim, while Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has lamented the “profound damage” he says Snowden has inflicted on the US tech sector (rather than the National Security Agency, which broke into companies’ back ends, or the companies themselves, which often co-operated with the NSA). Bishop tied herself into knots in January, insisting Snowden was a traitor but praising the review of mass surveillance into which Snowden’s revelations forced the Obama administration.

Brandis’ allegation that Australian lives have been placed at risk by Snowden represents an escalation of the government’s rhetoric against a figure who even US Republicans believe is a whistleblower who has exposed substantial wrongdoing.

It also echoes claims made against Snowden in the US and the United Kingdom, usually by intelligence agency figures but also by some politicians. However, in no instance has any agency or government produced evidence of any harm done by Snowden. Further, the review panel commissioned by US President Barack Obama found that there was no evidence that the NSA’s vast, and vastly expensive, surveillance apparatus had thwarted any terrorist attacks in the entire time it has been operating.

It’s also instructive to place Brandis’ claims in perspective. In November 2010, then-attorney-general Robert McClelland claimed that the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables release could “prejudice the safety of people” mentioned in the cables. Then-prime minister Gillard claimed the cable leak was “grossly irresponsible and illegal”. The White House claimed the leaks would put lives at risk, as did then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton; the UK Foreign Office said they might put lives at risk, as did any number of commentators.

But when Chelsea Manning, who provided the cables and other material to WikiLeaks, was sentenced last year after being convicted of espionage and theft, the military court was told that despite a “24/7”, 125-strong multimillion-dollar taskforce established by the US government to identify what damage the leaks had caused, not a single example of individual harm could be found. The head of the taskforce tried to claim he knew of one example, an Afghan national who had been killed by the Taliban, but had to concede that individual was not mentioned in the cables, and the trial judge rejected the evidence.

And as we’ve repeatedly discussed, governments are only too happy to leak national security information themselves, even information that can cause damage, if it’s in their political interests.

In their efforts to avoid transparency and accountability, politicians, security agencies and national security propagandists in the media instinctively smear whistleblowers and claim that any unofficial national security leaks place lives at risk. But they never produce a scintilla of evidence to back up their claims. Brandis’ smear of Snowden is only the latest example.

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  • 1
    Matthew of Canberra
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Of course not. Evidence would be “operational”

    But very very embarrassing is close enough.

  • 2
    chas powell
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Brandis is a moron.

  • 3
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The greatest threat to Australia is Brandis & his LNP mates with their lack of constructive policies and their Wall of Silence.

  • 4
    Brian Williams
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Once again Brandis shows himself to be an intellectual lightweight of the worst kind.

  • 5
    Dianne Longson
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Good article Mr Keane! Clearly Mr Brandis has a different definition of criminal behavior than I do. I think all the blustering about this issue by politicians in the US, UK and Australia is more reflective of their own wishes to behave as they want rather than as they should, than of any wrong doing by Mr Snowden.
    I would like to see stronger public questioning of the whole idea that Snowden has been a traitor in some way. To whom was he a traitor? In my view he did not betray his country. He reported wrong doing by the American Government and its agencies to the American people (who pay the government salaries) after finding no other way to manage it. How does that make him a traitor? Perhaps the meaning of the word traitor has changed without my knowledge! That it affected international relations is not relevant to the essence of the act and was what strategists might call “collateral damage”.

  • 6
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Australians” like Downer, Howard, Woodside maybe?

  • 7
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Brancid is definitely a turdy general of note.

  • 8
    Yclept
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s just the continued sending of a message to potential whistleblowers. In other words, if you dare to reveal their wrongdoing, you will be crucified.

    I feel young again as we approach 1984!

  • 9
    MJPC
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    If and when the ALP return to government I recommend a royal commission into the circumstances of Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war.
    That will show the Americans duped our sorry excuse for a government into becoming war criminals, something Mr Brandis seems to have forgotton (overlooked?) when considering history..
    Snowdon, Manning, Assange and the rest are all hero’s in that they had the guts to bring light to the shady world where innocent people are killed at the behest of corporations backed by government forces.
    As for governments leaking information, what like WMD’s where 1000’s of innocents were murdered in Iraq based on lies. The US Government admitted (Colin Powell) the intelligence agencies never broke Iraq military cyphers so any inside knowledge of WMD’s, even if they existed, would never have been obtained by the CIA or NSA.
    Let Brand and his merry men explain that one before criticising a hero.

  • 10
    Jimmyhaz
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    It boggles the mind that someone with such limited intelligence has reached the position he has.

  • 11
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Brandis probably subscribes to the absurd logic that if some targeted surveillance helps protect the population from extremists, then total surveillance will make the population even safer.
    Forget peoples privacy and forget just how easily this can undermine democracy.
    Atrocious that the Attorney General is decrying a man who brought light to highly questionable practises (if not illegal practises) carried out by the secret services.

  • 12
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s not about “safety” that’s their “Trojan Whores” - it’s about political and departmental voyeurism - we need “crises” (no matter how hysterical, ill-based and confected) to keep selling the need for their model.
    It’s one growth industry both government’s and their trained spoox have invested heavily in.

  • 13
    The Pedanticist
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    This is of course the same Attorney general that sanctioned the ASIO raids that stole legal documents from one of the lawyers representing East Timor in the International Court of Justice over the Timor Gap resources treaty…

  • 14
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    So, who shaved the Rottweiler?

  • 15
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    The irony from a man whose party send our soldiers into two needless wars to face danger is astounding.

  • 16
    Scott
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    So when the Attorney-General of Australia, whose portfolio responsibilities include a couple agencies that would know a little of threats to Australian lives and interests (i.e ASIO, the Australian Federal Police), says that Edward Snowden has put lives at risk, the response is “Not true” and “Show proof”.

    Somehow, I believe that his knowledge of the situation would be a little more detailed than BK’s (and the average crikey commentator)

  • 17
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Muhamed Haneef”.

  • 18
    Scott
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    What’s your point klewso? He was the cousin of a terrorist (which is a family business). Surely worthy of investigation.
    Besides, it all came out in the wash and Haneef ended up being compensated for his distress.

  • 19
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

  • 20
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Another example of verbal m*sturbation by the AG.

  • 21
    danger_monkey
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Why should we treat the AG as any kind of authority? Even if his remit includes several agencies that -would- know of risks to Aussies, who can say if he’s read or participated in the briefings? Perhaps he’s like the Immigration minister, citing documents he hasn’t bothered to read.

  • 22
    geomac62
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Wilke

  • 23
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    What is a “terrorist”?

  • 24
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Scott, you need to re-read the article. Or should that be to actually read it in the first instance?

  • 25
    Interrobanging On
    Posted Wednesday, 12 February 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    One wonders if “Mad” King George has just lost it or the hysterical increase in stridency and accusation is deliberate.

    I was a little taken aback by their repeated claim that the ABC reporting of the Navy abuse allegations was “malicious”. That is, the ABC is trying to specifically damage the Navy.

    Again, no evidence or even sense. But the same escalating rhetoric.

    It is early days…..imagine what it will be like after 3 years.

    There will be cartoon books galore warning the world of national broadcasters, greens, unionists, the Labor Party, traitors in other countries when it has noth

  • 26
    Rortydog
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    However, Brandis failed to produce evidence to support the allegation, with the Attorney-General’s office failing to answer Crikey’s repeated requests for further detail.

    Thant’s not how it works. Repeat a lie enough times and people will start to believe it. Neocons make me puke.

  • 27
    Ronny Bryson
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    What a load he speaks, can’t these people think for themselves, all they do is repeat the US party line, A line that has had nothing to back it up from the beginning. This just shows how mind numbingly low their effective IQ’s are.
    Snowden is a hero, and their lies and propaganda will not diminish that fact.

  • 28
    Ronny Bryson
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Scott”Somehow, I believe that his knowledge of the situation would be a little more detailed than BK’s (and the average crikey commentator)”
    His knowledge is unknown, but it is not his knowledge that is being questioned; it’s his statement, which is only a reflection of statements made in the US, statements that have already been proved untrue. His statements are just repeated propaganda, perpetrated by the USG. I would say a person of his position would know this, but it’s not what he said.

  • 29
    Angra
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    How come Snowden in the US could access secure Australian intelligence documents? (eg. those about bugging the RI President and his wife).

    Surely the sharing of such information with the US is itself a major security leak, and an act of treason to Australia?

  • 30
    Liamj
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    @ Angra - Australian spooks don’t see sharing such info as a security leak, they’re the biggest suckers for the pro-spook progaganda churned out by hollywood & they wet themselves at any opportunity to please the US & UK. Brandis is an evident moron, he’s not supposed to expose just how weak our ‘Intelligence’ is.

  • 31
    Itsarort
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    George Brandis - the Australian Attorney General. You’re nearly a laugh, but you’re really a cry…

  • 32
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Scott, I am the sister of a person who drives while drunk, should I be arrested, jailed, tormented and abused because of it? By your logic it was OK for the AFP and ASIO to do that to a man they already knew was not wanted for anything.

  • 33
    greg hoey
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    What can you say americans and american culture is probably the worlds most self-righteous, puritanical hypocritical, shallow and false in world history.

    And sadly the australian Abbott lead government are showing of themselves to be little more than a pack of American-centric lackey’s who if they cannot make australians subserviant to the british queen of england then they will aid and abett the complete sell-off of anything truly australian to these christian evangelical liars that run the United States of Amer-kkk-a.

    Who are in the main responsible for this mess too[afghanistan/iraq] like so many other conflicts throughout the 20th-21st century because basically- the cross of the KKK runs ameri-kkk-a [along with a bunch of greedy zionists], but instead of hoods, these days the fugg#ers wear suits and ties and get voted into government by a corrupted stupid american voting system.

  • 34
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Don’t underestimate “Beetle’s” intelligence or his conceited guile - honed in lawyer school - especially in his present position with it’s capacity to inflict what he can.
    What damage cockchafer grubs can do at root level.

  • 35
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 14 February 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    The recently appointed “Patron Saint of Politicians”, apparently looking down from heaven, and ready to answer any special pleading from the likes of Brandis, gleefully burnt to death anyone who proposed to outline the secrets of the Bible to the English in their own language.
    And Thomas More was a real traitor who lost head head to the sword when he ought to have been hung, drawn and quartered.
    Perhaps those now under his “special” protection can expect the same fate?
    Special “justice” for the nation’s top “Law officer”?

  • 36
    Patriot
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    This disheveled, mediocre dork Snowden has had his 15 minutes of fame. I’m sick of hearing about the guy. I wish the CIA would just whack him and get it over with.

  • 37
    morkk
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    A patriot is someone who defends his country against its government. Snowden is a patriot - you’re just a dickhead.

  • 38
    Patriot
    Posted Monday, 17 February 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    More leaks from this clown, I see, regarding the previous Labor government’s spying on Indonesia. In bygone days a bullet would have ended his stupidity long ago.

  • 39
    greg hoey
    Posted Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    what an ignorant nasty goon

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