Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:13 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:13 | SYDNEY

Defence did not spy on Minister

4 June 2009 11:00

Nick Warner is Secretary of the Department of Defence

Yesterday the report of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security was released. This looks into allegations that employees of the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) and other Defence intelligence agencies improperly accessed IT equipment used by the Minister for Defence.

The allegations received saturation media coverage and it seemed that many journalists and commentators assumed they were true.

The Inspector General, Mr Ian Carnell, operates with complete independence and with statutory powers like those of a Royal Commission. His reach and authority within our intelligence agencies is very powerful. This gives the Government a way of reassuring Australians that our agencies operate within the law and to the highest ethical standards.

It should be welcome news to Australians that Mr Carnell, in his thorough and detailed way, found nothing to support allegations that the DSD and other Defence intelligence agencies had overtly or covertly spied on their Minister.

Significantly, Mr Carnell concluded that '…the allegations against the Minister could have been formulated without there having been unauthorised access to the Minister’s computing facilities.'

Mr Carnell’s findings are unambiguous. They add further credence to our inquiries in Defence, which went wider than the intelligence elements of the department, but also found no evidence to back the allegations.

The Defence review found that no investigation of the Minister, his personal relationship with Ms Helen Liu or of Ms Liu herself had been conducted by any element of Defence, including the Defence security and intelligence agencies.

Some commentators speculated that a ‘rogue element’ within Defence might have secretly been investigating the Minister. After interviewing hundreds of people and taking statutory declarations from about 1,400 individuals in relevant parts of the organisation, the Defence report shows that there is simply no evidence to back this claim. Let’s be clear: it would be very difficult for an individual to commit such crimes without leaving signs of activity and raising suspicions amongst other people.

If true, the allegations almost certainly would have led to those responsible being charged with criminal offences. There is simply no legal basis on which Defence could undertake such acts. DSD operates under a very clearly defined legal framework that prevents such behaviour, and is also subject to external scrutiny.

The scale of Defence’s investigation and our use of statutory declarations reinforced how serious we were in doing this review. Defence’s reputation was being questioned and I consider it reasonable that people in relevant parts of the organisation needed to demonstrate their bona fides.

Those who believed these allegations should pause to consider some realities. Defence is a disciplined organisation, operating within a rigorous legal framework, loyal to the elected government and staffed by people who honourably discharge their duty. Unlike the plots of many spy films, we do not dispense with the rule of law or operate outside it. Our intelligence and security areas have strong measures in place to prevent individuals from engaging in ‘rogue’ behaviour and there are powerful means to detect inappropriate actions if someone was foolish enough and so lacking in integrity as to attempt such behaviour.

Defence had a strong interest in seeing that these allegations were rigorously investigated. People who doubt that should look carefully at the two reports. Both are methodical and based on exhaustive checking. The Defence report used technical oversight from ASIO and liaised with the AFP. Inside the Department we handled the interview process so that the activities of key agencies were assessed by different areas — to ensure a necessary separation. Nothing was ‘swept under the carpet’ nor would I ever allow that to happen.

I am not surprised that the Inspector General’s report as well as our own found no evidence of covert ‘spying’ of the Minister. I have found that the people who work in Defence — military and civilians alike — are loyal and law-abiding. We serve the government of the day to the best of our ability. Defence’s intelligence and security agencies are well led and operate in a sound legal framework. The Australian people should expect no less of us and, on the evidence of these reviews, I am confident the Department is living up to that expectation.