Asia Pacific

Australian police raid journalist's home over secret spying report

AFP-JIJI

Australian police Tuesday raided the home of a prominent journalist who reported on a secret government plan to spy on Australian citizens.

The Australian Federal Police said the raid was carried out early Tuesday in a suburb of the federal capital, Canberra, as part of an “investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of national security information.”

“Police will allege the unauthorized disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security,” it said in a statement, adding that no one had been arrested during the operation.

News Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-controlled news organization, confirmed the raid targeted Annika Smethurst, political editor of the group’s Sunday newspapers, calling the police action “outrageous and heavy-handed.”

In April 2018, Smethurst reported that the home affairs and defense ministries in the conservative federal government had drawn up a plan granting new powers to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to secretly access emails, bank accounts and text messages of Australian citizens.

Under existing law, only the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the domestic spy agency, had that authority.

The ASD, Australia’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, was tasked with countering foreign threats.

Smethurst’s report included images of letters between senior home affairs and defense officials outlining the plan to allow the ASD to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” domestic threats by “hacking into critical infrastructure.”

The government declined at the time to comment on the leaked documents, and the plan was reportedly scrapped by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — a moderate who was ousted in a party coup in August by more hard-line conservatives.

His successor as prime minister, Scott Morrison, went on to enact a series of law-and-order measures, including a controversial law forcing telecommunications and tech firms to monitor encrypted communications between suspected terrorists or other criminals.

Tuesday’s raid came just weeks after Morrison’s government unexpectedly won re-election.

In its statement, News Corp. Australia’s biggest newspaper group, called the raid “a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths.”

“What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting.”