Snowden Allegedly Stole 20,000 Aussie Files
Edward Snowden stole up to 20,000 Aussie files
Cameron Stewart and Paul Maley
December 05, 2013 12:00AM
MORE than 15,000 secret Australian intelligence reports may have been stolen
by rogue US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in what the
Coalition government is now describing as the most damaging blow dealt to
Australian intelligence in the nation's history.
The spy scandal has not led to reduced intelligence sharing with the US,
but Australian agencies have expressed concern directly to their American
counterparts about the severe damage caused to Australia's national security
interests by the Snowden leaks.
News of the mammoth scale of the security breach comes at a time when Australian
officials are striving to repair the damage to relations with Indonesia in
the wake of revelations that Australian intelligence monitored the phones
of Indonesian leaders.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flew to Jakarta last night as part of a delegation
that includes defence secretary Dennis Richardson and the head of the Department
of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Vargese, for "broad-ranging discussions"
about a new way forward for the relationship.
Ms Bishop will discuss with her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa the
recent statement by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which
called for the relationship to be underpinned by new protocols of behaviour,
including a new understanding on intelligence co-operation.
The government hopes that the meeting will mark the first step towards the
eventual normalisation of relations after Dr Yudhoyono suspended joint
co-operation on defence, people-smugglers and the sharing of intelligence
in retaliation for revelations that the then Defence Signals Directorate
in 2009 monitored his mobile phone and that of his wife and eight other
Australian intelligence agencies are understood to have scoped the potential
damage for future leaks from the Snowden affair and have assessed that between
15,000 and 20,000 secret Australian intelligence files could have been accessed
by Snowden through his computer at NSA, although it is unknown how many of
these he actually stole before seeking refuge in Russia.
The majority of the stolen reports are likely to discuss political, economic
and military intelligence gleaned by Australian agencies, especially the
Australian Signals Directorate (formerly DSD), in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Australian files are among the millions of Western intelligence reports
Mr Snowden is understood to have been able to access.
The Australian understands a massive audit is under way to assess what was
in the files, although the volume of material means it is a slow, painstaking
In the strongest public comments made by the government, Attorney-General
George Brandis told The Australian yesterday that the Snowden leaks were
the most damaging in Australia's history.
"The Snowden revelations are the most serious setback for Western intelligence
since the Second World War and, given that most of the sophistication and
the structure of Western intelligence-gathering was developed since the Second
World War, it would not be an exaggeration to say it is the most serious
ever," Mr Brandis said. "It is more serious than WikiLeaks, it is more serious
than (Cold War British spies Kim) Philby and (Guy) Burgess and (Donald) Maclean,
because of its extent. The extent of it is vast -- we are talking about huge
numbers of files which Snowden has put into the public domain."
It is understood that Australian intelligence agencies have reviewed their
internal security procedures in the wake of the Snowden leaks to avoid the
emergence of local rogue leakers. Mr Brandis would not discuss details of
this review or confirm the number of Australian intelligence reports that
could have been stolen by Snowden, but he said Australian agencies had acted
lawfully in the past and that secure procedures were in place to prevent
a Snowden-like security breach inside Australian agencies.
"I have seen no evidence and have no reason to believe that the agencies
or individuals in carrying out their duties have acted unlawfully," Mr Brandis
said. "I am satisfied that the legal structure, practices and safeguards
as observed by Australian national security agencies are as strong as they
can be. However, there can never be a . . . complete guarantee against the
actions of a traitorous individual."
Although Australian agencies have expressed concern about the breach, sources
said Australia received enormous benefits from the close intelligence
relationship with the US and there was no desire to dilute that relationship.
However, the government believes further damaging leaks from Snowden material
are inevitable and could spark similar sharp diplomatic tensions with other
countries in the region as has happened with Indonesia.
Tony Abbott has expressed regret for any hurt caused to Dr Yudhoyono and
his wife by the Snowden revelations but he did not apologise for the revelations,
saying Australia had a right to protect its national interests.
Dr Natalegawa, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, claimed after the bugging
revelations that Indonesia did not spy on Australia but he was contradicted
by former Indonesian intelligence chief Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who
said Indonesia had monitored the phones of Australian politicians and it
was a normal part of intelligence-gathering.
Dr Natalegawa yesterday indicated he would be seeking further explanation
of Australian espionage activities when he meets Ms Bishop in Jakarta today.
"We need to draw a line . . . but before we move forward, we have to be informed
of what's happened in the past, so there's no more surprises, no more shocks,"
Ms Bishop, Mr Varghese and Mr Richardson are expected to join senior Indonesian
bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today before the ministers
The meetings suggest Canberra is now moving firmly to draw a line through
the row, which has reduced bilateral relations to their lowest ebb in 14
years. Ms Bishop's meeting with Dr Natalegawa is a key early movement in
the six-step process for reconciliation and restoration of full security,
military and policing co-operation set out by Dr Yudhoyono last week.
Dr Yudhoyono endorsed Mr Abbott's letter of explanation of the 2009 episode.
However, he said "it still seems there are some things that need to be clarified
by Australia", a theme his Foreign Minister returned to yesterday.
Dr Natalegawa said he would meet separately with Ms Bishop.
Marciano Norman, chief of the National Security Agency, said last week there
would be separate discussions between both countries' intelligence chiefs
to produce agreements that would be embedded in the code of ethical conduct
and security protocol that Dr Yudhoyono insists upon.
Additional reporting: Peter Alford