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The war on whistle-blowers

By Murray Hunter - posted Friday, 14 June 2019


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If the 20th Century was the age of the victory of democracy and freedom over tyranny, the 21st century is showing up to be the era where our rights are slowly being taken away. It appears we are on the verge of another ‘war’ of sorts.

Julian Assange is in a British prison fighting an expedition request from the United States relating to charges of espionage for purportedly encouraging and assisting Chelsea Manning provide Wikileaks classified information about US war crimes committed in Iraq. Chelsea Manning is also in prison for refusing to provide a grand jury information on Assange’s role in acquiring this classified information.

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On 10th May San Francisco police raided the home of a freelance journalist Bryan Carmody. Police used a sledgehammer to smash the door open, handcuffed Carmody for over six hours, and demanded to know the who leaked a police report into the sudden death of the city’s elected public defender Jeff Adachi to him. After a number of hours, police removed computers, mobile phones, cameras, and handwritten notes from Carmody’s home. This evoked massive public outrage.

On 3th June Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the home of award winning political journalist from the Daily Telegraph, Annika Smethurst over an article she had written more than a year ago. Seven AFP officers entered her home as she was leaving for work and made a complete search of the house. Smethurst revealed last year that the Department of Defence and Department of Home Affairs were planning new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to allow the monitoring of Australian citizens without their knowledge. Her article included images of secret letters between the Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriatty, who are incidentally career public servants and not elected politicians.  The warrant issued by a local magistrate gave the police authority to search the home, computers, and mobile phones of the journalist to seek out the source of the documents she published in her article.

Two days later on the 5th June, three AFP offices and three police technicians marched into the Sydney headquarters of the publicly funded national broadcaster ABC with a search warrant naming two journalists and a news director seeking access to their emails to find the source of leaked classified material that was used to write “The Afghan Files”, an expose of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

What is strange about the two Australian raids is the timing. The Smethurst raid occurred more than a year after her article was published and in the case of the ABC, more than two years after “The Afghan Files” was published.

The three raids taken by authorities in the United States and Australia occurred after the Assange indictments were made public. The common thread through the Assange case and the recent raids is that all action taken by authorities is concerned with capturing those who leaked information to journalists, rather than prosecuting journalists who have some mechanisms of protection behind them.

That’s why the US Government is painting Assange as a hacker and not a journalist and the fact that Carmody was a freelance journalist not mentioned in the warrant affidavit. In the Australian raids the targets were not the journalists themselves. The raids were fishing expeditions to seek the source of the leaks to the journalists.

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Authorities are searching old legislation for extra powers. The Assange indictment is relying on an old World War One piece of anti-espionage legislation. The AFP in the ABC raid is using the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914, where under Section 70 (1) it is a crime for a ‘Commonwealth officer’ to publish or communicate to anybody else, any fact or document which they know or have in their possession, by virtue of being a Commonwealth officer. The warrant for the Smethurst raid was concerned with ‘unauthorized disclosure of national security information that undermines Australia’s national security’, old standing legislation that hasn’t been used before in this type of situation.

In the Assange case the deadline for a full US request to the British Court for Assange’s extradition over the current 18 espionage indictments in his alleged role in acquiring classified information is 14th June. With Chelsea Manning refusing to testify before the grand jury, the FBI have been reintegrating an Icelandic citizen Sigurdur Thordarson who was involved in Wikileaks back in 2010. It is reported by Wikileaks that Thordarson was taken to the US with the objective of preparing a completely new indictment against Assange, in case Manning doesn’t talk.  

The legality of the Carmody raid is being challenged in court, where journalists in California are protected under the California Shield Law from such raids. As mentioned, the paperwork in the affidavit seeking the search warrant didn’t mention Carmody was a journalist, where police tried to paint Carmody as a co-conspirator in the purported theft of a government document, rather than a journalist who has protection of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, in a similar manner to the Assange indictment.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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