Ben Roberts-Smith has told a Sydney court it was “a poor decision” for him to keep classified information at his home address, but denied his conduct jeopardised Australia’s national security.
The ex-soldier was sent several USB drives in the post anonymously between mid-2019 and early this year, after asking former Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) colleagues if they could provide imagery of Afghanistan missions.
The Federal Court today heard the drives contained images of a compound nicknamed Whiskey 108, at which Mr Roberts-Smith was accused of being involved in unlawful killings in 2009.
He is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times and three journalists over reports published in June 2018, which included those allegations and others.
Under cross-examination by Nicholas Owens SC, the barrister for two of the papers, Mr Roberts-Smith today agreed the material on the drives was secret, classified and protected by law.
But he said it was “extremely useful” for his understanding of the Whiskey 108 allegations.
“Is this right, you deliberately kept secret and classified material at your home, knowing it could imperil Australia’s national security if it was hacked or stolen?” Mr Owens asked.
“I think that is a stretch too far, I’m sorry,” the veteran replied.
“Those images had absolutely nothing to do with Australia’s security. Everyone could see that, because every one of those images was about a building.
“I believe it was the wrong thing to do. I accept that. To suggest it was putting our national security in jeopardy is completely false.”
Mr Roberts-Smith rejected that he was “prepared to break the law” if it meant “doing so will confer some advantage on you”.
He said he was being attacked by journalists over “the same stuff” and needed to explain the situation to his lawyers.
“I accept it was a poor decision by me to maintain those images,” Mr Roberts-Smith said.
“But I had absolutely no intention of doing anything untoward with them, other than to share them with my legal team to explain what was going on in these proceedings.”
Mr Roberts-Smith has answered a long series of questions about his communication with four former SAS colleagues, including his use of so-called prepaid “burner phones”.
He denies all wrongdoing, while the newspapers’ publisher is relying on a defence of truth.
Today is Mr Roberts-Smith’s sixth day under cross examination during the trial before Justice Anthony Besanko.