Police have identified the prime suspect in the leak of top-secret information that led to a raid on the home of a News Corp journalist and Home Affairs chief Mike Pezzullo wants the leaker to ‘‘go to jail.’’
An inquiry into press freedom sparked by the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and the Canberra home of journalist Annika Smethurst has heard evidence revealing police believe they have identified the suspect.
Home Affairs department secretary Mike Pezzullo bluntly told the committee the public servant involved in the leak to Ms Smethurst was playing a ‘‘Canberra game’’ and insisted he or she was ‘‘not a whistleblower.’’
‘‘It was a whistle blown on a falsehood. I know the document intimately,’’ he said.
‘‘Nowhere in those document is it stated that the Home Affairs department wants quote ‘ASD (Australian Signals Directorate) to be unleashed on everyone’s bank account, text messages, WhatsApp messages‘. It is just simply a falsehood. So there is no whistle to be blown,’’ Mr Pezzullo said.
‘‘Frankly, subject to due processes, they should go to jail for that.’’
The investigation into Ms Smethurst and the ABC journalists is currently on hold after both media organisations launched legal action over the raids.
Brandishing a copy of Ms Smethurst’s “offending” article, Mr Pezzullo said that it was the publication of a screenshot of the top-secret document by The Sunday Telegraph that was particularly problematic.
The publication of the screenshot, he implied, essentially confirms that a crime had been committed if such a document had been provided to a journalist.
‘‘Notwithstanding the fallacious headline ‘‘Let Us Spy on Aussies’’ I won’t go to the merit of the article, or how Ms Smethurst mischaracterised the documentation she was given, I’ve dealt with that in estimates,’’ Mr Pezzullo said.
‘‘But here…I am happy to submit this in evidence… a screenshot of a top-secret document. Something very rarely seen. Which was obviously her way and her editors’ way of demonstrating we had access to this document.
‘‘It is completely unacceptable; it is completely unacceptable for someone to have given the journalist that document. It is a crime.’’
Mr Pezzullo said he didn’t want to use the cliche ‘‘frank and robust’’, but confirmed the publication had sparked enormous concern in the national security community.
‘‘It did cause director-general (Mike) Burgess, the head of the ASD, myself and Mr (Greg) Moriarty to have very direct discussions,’’ he said.
‘‘The fact this document could be displayed in the Sunday Telegraph, it is simply not acceptable.’’
Mr Pezzullo said the public servant involved was acting maliciously.
‘‘It was something to do with someone creating an impression that Home Affairs wanted to create certain authorities for onshore spying that was a complete falsehood.’’
The AFP also refused to rule out charging the journalist, Ms Smethurst, with a crime.
‘‘As we sit here, it remains the case that Annika Smethurst could be charged,’’ Labor’s attorney-general spokesman Mark Dreyfus remarked.
‘‘It remains the case that the investigation is ongoing,’’ Commissioner Colvin replied.
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Neil Gaughan said there was real concern about the suspected leaker and their role in the bureaucracy.
‘‘Particularly with the one we are talking about, there is significant concern around the person who has allegedly provided the information to the journalist,’’ he said.
‘‘There is significant concern around where that person potentially sits within the bureaucracy.’’
At that point, Commissioner Colvin whispered to his deputy ‘‘just leave it at that.’’
— Samuel Clark (@sclark_melbs) August 14, 2019
‘‘That is a very important matter for us to continue,’’ Deputy Commissioner Gaughan concluded.