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Sep 1, 2014

Brandis moves to jail whistleblower and lawyer for revealing ASIS scandal

The government's move to prosecute a whistleblower and his lawyer for revealing an ASIS scandal illustrates its determination to send a signal to all potential whistleblowers.


For several years, Crikey has been covering the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, in which a number of intelligence whistleblowers, even those who reveal vast incompetence or illegality within US intelligence agencies, are prosecuted by Obama’s Department of Justice. Currently, former CIA analyst John Kiriakou is in jail for revealing the CIA’s use of torture — the only person to be jailed over the agency’s use of torture, or its efforts to halt and spy on the congressional committee inquiry into its use of torture.

As Fairfax’s Tom Allard has revealed today in a fantastic scoop, that war on whistleblowers has now reached new heights in Australia, with Attorney-General George Brandis demanding the prosecution of the former ASIS officer who revealed ASIS’s shameful spying on the East Timorese Cabinet, with the possibility of a jail term. And Brandis appears to have gone further than Obama’s DoJ, also pursuing lawyer Bernard Collaery. As Crikey reported in May, Collaery has not returned to Australia from London, where he has been based while pursuing East Timor’s case against Australia at the Hague, having been tipped off that he would be prevented from leaving again if he did. The ASIS whistleblower — whom we can’t identify under intelligence laws — had his passport seized in an ASIO raid last year and has been prevented from leaving Australia.

However gung-ho Brandis might be to imprison a whistleblower and a lawyer who assisted him — and let’s not forget the ABC, which broke the story, is in the frame too — there’s one person who will be feeling very uncomfortable about the prospect of the East Timor matter seeing the inside of a courtroom: Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Vivienne Thom. Thom’s account of the circumstances relating to the ASIS whistleblower’s interaction with her predecessor, Ian Carnell, have been directly and explicitly contradicted by a statement in Hansard from Collaery. Thom has refused to even acknowledge any contradiction, let alone explain why Collaery says he has documents showing Carnell advised the whistleblower to pursue his own legal action, and Carnell acknowledged the engagement of Collaery by the whistleblower, when Thom claims no such interaction ever happened.

“Western governments want to send a clear signal to potential whistleblowers of the terrible punishment that awaits them if they do so.”

Let’s be clear about Thom’s position on this matter — it isn’t that Carnell said something different to what Collaery claims, or that there has been some misinterpretation: she insists that Carnell has told her there was never any such exchange of correspondence between the whistleblower and Carnell at all.

If Brandis and the Keystone Cops of the AFP — last seen apologising to the Seven Network for the Schapelle Corby raid and admitting they released confidential material on their own officers and suspects — manage to get Collaery and the whistleblower into court, the strength of Carnell’s and Thom’s denials will be put under judicial scrutiny, perhaps with Thom in the witness box. It will also ensure plenty of coverage of how ASIS used the cover of an aid program to one of the world’s poorest countries in order to help the Howard government better exploit East Timor over access to natural resources — unless prosecutors move to gag reporting of the trial.

Presumably Brandis and his chief of staff, former ASIO head Paul O’Sullivan, have thought through the risks of prosecution and assessed them against the broader objective, which is the same as that of the Obama administration. At a time when whistleblowers the world over are revealing scandals from within intelligence agencies, Western governments want to send a clear signal to potential whistleblowers of the terrible punishment that awaits them if they do so. That’s why the government has now proposed “Snowden amendments” to intelligence services Acts to address the potential collection of documents by whistleblowers, and proposed a draconian restriction on the reporting of “special intelligence operations” that even News Corporation complained was an attack on free speech and a free press. And these will be backed up by a data retention regime that will make it easier to track down whistleblowers and the politicians and journalists who deal with them.

For Brandis and intelligence agencies, the pursuit of Collaery and the whistleblower is intended as an exemplary punishment, to intimidate all those who would reveal the incompetence and illegal behaviour of our intelligence agencies.


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25 thoughts on “Brandis moves to jail whistleblower and lawyer for revealing ASIS scandal

  1. JohnB

    Why does the Government continue to showcase Brandis and his tendency towards recklessly unpopular policies? Surely, policies such as this article discusses have the potential, indeed, the promise, that they will explode in the face of those who promote them.

    Brandis is not an asset to the LNP Coalition, except as an example of “worse than Abbott”.

  2. leon knight

    Why should reckless and poorly thought out proclamations, together with divisive, vindictive and pig-headed thinking, be a barrier to being a front-runner in the TA policy machine?
    Brandis is eminently qualified as spear-thrower in this inept government….

  3. Djbekka

    Not such a proponent of free speech after all. Somehow it seems to depend on who is speaking and what is being spoken about. Not my understanding of the term Mr. Brandis.

  4. Djbekka

    Not exactly a proponent of free speech here. Does free speech depend on who is talking and the subject? Not my definition of free speech, Mr. Brandis. Surely how we treat weaker allies and regional partners is a matter of public interest.

  5. Inscrutable

    This should be front page news. We don’t have a democracy (ie cannot make informed decisions/voting) if we don’t know what our government is doing on our behalf.
    It’s hard to claim the moral highground on things when our government is doing things in secret that are immoral (or illegal).

  6. rhwombat

    “Poop Poop!” said Toad, sitting in the ditch with a beatific smile on his face.

  7. CML

    This government is going to hell in a hand-basket!
    It will all end very badly for the rAbbott and his motley crew!!
    Might take a while though. We have at least two more years of the lies, incompetence, fraud and arrogance from this disgusting lot.

  8. Gavin R. Putland

    Whatever the anti-whistleblower “laws” may say, if the jury acquits the whistelblower, the acquittal is binding. Tell it to all and sundry.

  9. Yclept

    I feel sooo safe living in a right wing police state…

  10. Luke Hellboy

    Let no good deed go unpunished…

    @CML – the problem is they’re going to drag us down to hell with them

  11. Scott

    “Attorney-General George Brandis demanding the prosecution of the former ASIS officer who revealed ASIS’s shameful spying on the East Timorese Cabinet, with the possibility of a jail term”

    I’m not sure if this is whistleblowing…the former ASIS officer disclosed intelligence not to a repuditable press organisation to highlight some sort of illegal behaviour…it was disclosed directly to a foreign government (i.e East Timor’s lawyer) as a means of trying to invalidate a resource sharing contract. It’s espionage, pure and simple, the disclosure of protected info for East Timor’s commercial gain…hardly behaviour fitting an senior ex ASIS operative.
    Throw the book at him I say.

  12. graybul

    Why is it, throughout history, that rotund, bald headed white men evidence a proclivity to act as lightning rods?

    The rampant propensity for the grand gesture, profile or proclamation inviting we the proletariate to indulge in caricature and satire??

    Bugger if I know . . but history, as all know, never lies!!!

  13. klewso

    The use of national resources to benefit a private company? Of course we shouldn’t be allowed to know anything about that – it happened during the previous government of which Beetle was a member? …. Now if it had been Labor…..?

  14. klewso

    “Keystone Cop(rophile)s”?
    What’s changed since Haneef and (Maksoud) Latif?
    Brandis for Andrews – interchangeable faces?

  15. Andybob

    He went to the Inspector General first. You won’t find that as a recommended step in Espionage for Dummies. This is someone who’s conscience was revolted by the shit that he was ordered to do by a Minister who retired to a comfortable consultancy with the commercial interests concerned.

    If there is no law protecting him, there should be.

  16. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Scott, if that is going to be your standpoint, and it might as well be, then throw the book at AWB, Alexander Downer and the Howard government first. Talk about a “resource sharing contract”!

  17. David Hand

    The spying on SBY’s wife was not illegal.

    According to an article by Cameron Stewart in the Australian on 14 December 2013,

    “AUSTRALIAN intelligence agencies targeted the mobile phone of Indonesia’s first lady in 2009 because she had become the single most influential adviser to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and was thought to be hatching a presidential succession plan for her eldest son.

    The decision to target Kristiani Herawati’s phone was not done on a whim but was part of a deliberate and calculated strategy to learn more about the shifting balance of power inside Jakarta’s ruling elite.”

    This is a legitimate, legal reason to spy on her, though Bishop’s agreement on spying last week may make it illegal today.

    So rather than this being a heroic whistle blower exposing nefarious deeds of our wicked government, he is actually the source of a very damaging intelligence failure that has made relations with Indonesia much more difficult for the Abbott government.

    And that’s why Brandis wants to get him and why you all love him. It’s really about the Abbott government.

    This episode did enormous damage when it came out last year.

  18. David Hand

    Oops, wrong spy story.

  19. Dennis Bauer

    I wonder what Brandis reward will be for taking all this flack, second in command for Attler when they win the next election.

  20. botswana bob

    Bookcase Brandis may very well win the award as the worst of phoney Tony’s motley collection of henchpersons though there is strong competition from MorriSCUM and Pyneocchio. The man is truly awful from his advocacy of the rights of bigots to wanting to collect metadata without being able to define what it is to appointing that Institute of Public Affairs bozo to the Human Rights Commission.
    He seems to have done what most hitherto thought impossible-Make phoney Tony, on occasion, look good.

  21. Jaybuoy

    this LNP government is a weird hybrid combination of Dunning Kruger and Munchausen by proxy syndrome… no sign of Stockholm yet..

  22. ab gunter

    There won’t be a court hearing. All will be held in secret tribunals. If it does go to an independent court then it may be forced to accept “evidenciary certificates” issued by ASIO and even illegally obtained evidence under the National Security Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014 which goes before Parliament in this sitting for a second reading. Bernard Collaery could be locked away for up to 10 years under new provisions in this same Bill. The Bill does NOTHING to target Islamist Jihadis, it doesn’t mention them at all and will make no difference to the fight against Islamist terrorism. Asio have not even updated their banned group list to include Hizb Ut Tahrir

  23. rani davis

    What a bunch of blithe fools we have on both sides of the right wing. The Libs seem as ignorant of popular opinion in power as Labor was. Just as blind Freddy could have told Labor that the public wouldn’t buy Rudd’s sacking and Gillard’s prosaic nasal elocution, so could he tell the Liberals that Hockey, Abetz and Brandis acting stupid to make Abbott look smart, will inevitably kill off any hope of another term. Well let’s hope that’s the case, for in the same way that politicians appear foolish to underestimate the intelligence of Australian people, it would be equally foolish to overestimate it.

  24. david fisher

    Shouldn’t we be gunning for Downer, and seizing his assets as proceeds of crime? Let’s not forget this whole episode is about ripping off a new country in its infancy, a country that initially relied on Australia to remove it from Kapasis’ grip.

  25. Sharkie

    Spot on re Downer. Not only did he oversee spying via aid work, he also worked for the oil company who benefitted from it. Of all Howard’s ministers Downer disgusted me the most. The man has an evil streak a mile wide and would use his power mercilessly against the weak and defenceless. Downer and Brandis are in up to the necks in this particular stench.


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