The story surrounding the terrorist security leak is changing rapidly. This morning, the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, announced that he had supervised the deal with the The Australian newspaper to embargo the story.
This now implicates the Federal Government at the highest level.
Thus, Australian anti-terrorist security is, again, an international embarrassment. Is there nothing that we can do right? After the Dr Haneef fiasco, we had all hoped that lessons had been learned, things would improve … not so.
We now discover that (allegedly) a group of Islamic terrorists from Somalia, who Australia embraced as refugees, had planned to make war on their new homeland by a suicide attack on Australian Army bases, particularly the Holsworthy base in NSW. They would attack and kill as many Australian soldiers as they could before they were killed themselves. The alleged terrorists lived in Melbourne.
The Army (and presumably the Government) knew of the threat. Their response was to have Holsworthy protected by unarmed private security guards. Yes, the Army apparently could not protect its own base. So hopeless was the security that a Daily Telegraph reporter and photographer were arrested yesterday inside Holsworthy after the said security guards had let them into the base.
An extremely secret taskforce (AFP, VicPol and ASIO) investigated and arrested the alleged terrorists last Tuesday. Apparently a few days before that, Cameron Stewart, The Australian’s Melbourne-based associate editor had received a massive amount of detail on the then ongoing, top-secret terror investigation.
Stewart went to the AFP to cut a deal that he would not publish his information provided that the AFP “gave him the nod” as to the time of the arrests so that The Australian could get a scoop. This was negotiated by McClelland who agreed to an embargo.
Now a bitter dispute between VicPol and The Australian has broken out over whether an early edition of The Australian carrying the story was on the streets before the early-morning warrants were executed. Victoria’s new Police Commissioner Overland is very angry — maybe the fact that he protests too much raises the suspicion that the leak may have come from VicPol.
But the security elephant in the room is being ignored by media, police and government.
The fundamental problem is that there has been a massive leak of national security material. It could have only come from the task force members, that is, ASIO, AFP or VicPol.
This raises two matters of great concern. One, Prime Minister Rudd needs to seize control of this matter and do everything possible to investigate and prosecute those responsible the leak. It must never happen again. At the moment, nothing is happening.
Serious issues like this involve serious investigation: the Australian Crime Commission must be appointed to investigate the source of the leak. They should immediately coercively interrogate Cameron Stewart. I believe in freedom of the press, but here national security trumps press freedom. There is a major mole who must be identified now.
Two, I am very troubled by Stewart’s conduct. I fully understand his motives as a professional journalist, but I think that he should have, in this case, put his country first. As soon as it became obvious to him that he was privy to a massive national security leak, he should have gone to the AFP, identified his source and assisted them to arrest the source. Stewart could not know whether the mole was leaking to other sources, possibly even to the alleged terrorists. I think Stewart is playing a dangerous game which he may come to regret.