With another dozen stories across the media on the “Zhenhua Data leak” today, Australian journalists are doing a splendid impersonation of cats in YouTube videos — the ones where an innocuous piece of fruit or veg is placed behind an unsuspecting animal, yielding theoretically amusing reactions of shock in the poor feline.

Elsewhere, a more apt indifference greeted the allegedly deeply worrying database that has the Australian Financial Review pontificating about Chinese interference.

“Not something that’s useful enough for military or intelligence targeting” and “totally aspirational” were two of the descriptions used by one US cybersecurity expert. “Open-source data is universally used for spying,” according to a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee.

Oh, wait, so… we might be doing exactly the same thing as the miscreants at Zhenhua?

One of the many AFR writers — this is the biggest AFR beat-up since its last Tim Wilson industry super fund story, all packaged under the absurd title “The China Files” — admitted that it was “conceivable” that “US, British, Australian and other nations are also mining and scraping publicly available information for their own ends”.

Well, it’s more than “conceivable”. We know for a fact they do it from the Snowden material. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are among the apps targeted by the NSA, Australian Signals Directorate and other Five Eyes intelligence agencies.

In fact, then-president Barack Obama at one stage piously complained about the privacy impact of Big Tech social media platforms while saying nothing about how his own intelligence agencies relied on it.

But what would AFR readers know about what Edward Snowden revealed? The AFR studiously avoided covering Snowden’s extensive revelations of the crimes, abuses and misconduct of Five Eyes intelligence agencies — despite the fact that one of his key revelations was the massive extent to which Five Eyes agencies engage in commercial espionage rather than pursue terrorists or criminals.

Perhaps the AFR approves of our intelligence officials when they busy themselves for the betterment of shareholders, rather than protecting Australia?

What the AFR offered about Snowden instead can be summed up by the following headlines. “Was Edward Snowden a Russian agent?“; “Edward Snowden: whistleblower or traitor“; “Edward Snowden is a criminal“; “Most powerful spy says Snowden leaks will cost lives“; “Latest Snowden leaks ‘deeply troubling’”; “Edward Snowden gets Russian web tech job: report“; “Media crossing the line on spy leaks“.

Clearly the AFR has been too busy smearing Snowden and the journalists who reported his important revelations to pay attention to what he actually showed about what Western spy agencies do — and to their own citizens, not just Chinese politicians and business figures.

Peter Fray

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