Australian Defence Minister Recorded In A Closed Briefing Speaking About Snowden Leaks

Getty/Lisa Maree Williams

Defence Minister David Johnston has said Australia’s government is assuming there are worse spy leaks to come, in a recording of a closed industry briefing obtained by The West Australian.

Senator Johnston, who has responsibility for the Australian Signals Directorate, appears to answer a question posed by a lobbyist, about Australia’s response to leaked information supplied by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Here is his answer:

Suffice to say that this is not an area that I can get into great detail. But I simply say assume the worst.

We are watching with great acuity what is happening in the space. But we must assume the worst. There is no alternative for us.

The Five Eyes have achieved quite amazing and wonderful things in recent generational history.

As I said to the secretary of defence and secretary of state we have invested far too much in this space to allow this event — and it could happen to any one of the Five Eyes, a criminal act, someone going bad, lets keep it in context — we have invested far too much to even contemplate a backwards step.

We have to toughen up and get on with the job.

The minister did not provide any information which was not already public, a spokesperson said after the recording was released.

“The Minister was responding to questions at an industry briefing in Canberra.

“Senator Johnston said nothing that hasn’t been stated before by the Prime Minister or Attorney-General, George Brandis,” the spokesperson said.

A document from 2008 was released yesterday by The Guardian which appears to show what was then called the Defence Signals Directorate offering to provide overseas intelligence agencies with the personal metadata of Australian citizens.

The report said the document was from a meeting of of the “Five Eyes” at Britain’s GCHG. The partner countries are the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Attorney-General George Brandis and Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday poured cold water on the report, with Brandis telling the Senate the document was unverified and a draft.

Abbott said he was confidant no laws had been broken after the article suggested the spy agency may have been operating outside of its legal mandate by reportedly offering the data.

It was one of the roughly 200,000 documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now a fugitive who has claimed asylum in Russia.

Earlier The Guardian and The ABC had released Snowden documents which show the Defence Signals Directorate, which is Australia’s electronic surveillance agency, targeting a mobile phone owned by the Indonesian president.

This lead to a diplomatic nadir, with Indonesia halting intelligence and military cooperation, including joint activities to prevent people smuggler boats leaving the country bound for Australia.

You can listen to the recording here.

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